Matching Food & Wine
Matching wine with food may appear to be a complex subject, but it’s not about following a set of strict rules. It's about understanding the affinity between wine and food, and how they can complement each other. Here are a few helpful tips:
Weight and intensity
The most important thing to consider is getting the right balance of 'weight' between food and wine, so that neither overpowers the other. It would be pointless serving a heavy red wine with seafood, as it would completely dominate the delicate flavours of the dish. Nor would you serve a light, neutral white wine with a rich, meaty stew as without the weight and flavour, it would not make enough impact; the stew needs a much more robust wine with good tannic structure such as a New World Shiraz or southern French red.
Just as important is the flavour intensity (not to be confused with weight). A dish can be heavy but plainly flavoured such as a grilled steak, or light yet powerfully flavoured such as Thai stir-fried chicken. Both weight and intensity should be considered together.
Flavour and sensation
Every dish is likely to have a dominating flavour or sensation, whether it's acidity, saltiness, bitterness, sweetness or spiciness, and the wine should match or provide a contrast to this.
Some foods taste very acidic such as those flavoured with citrus or vinegar. These types of dishes need a wine that's equally high in acidity to avoid it tasting flat against these sharp flavours. All wines contain acidity in varying degrees; those from cooler climates - especially whites from northern Europe - tend to have a higher level than those from the warmer southern hemisphere where grapes ripen well. Wines with a good level of acidity also work well with oily or creamy dishes, where the sharpness cuts through the oily texture and cleanses the palate – a classic example is Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) with goats’ cheese.
Dessert wines by their very nature are sweet, but they don’t have to just be served with sweet food, they also go really well with a number of savoury dishes Sauternes from France is a match made in heaven with Roquefort cheese, and is a perfect partner to Goose Liver.Some wines that have a floral quality or a very ripe fruity flavour can taste deceptively sweet; a good example is Alsace Gewurztraminer (which is in fact dry!), whose aromatic style goes particularly well with the variety of flavours you get in Thai dishes.
Other examples of sweet-style wines are Germany Rieslings, where unlike the method of using Botrytis grapes for dessert wines, instead have the addition of unfermented sweet grape juice during production. Medium Rieslings do wonders for duck or pork patés and meats with fruity sauces.
The classic sweet/salt combination of port and cheese works well because the saltiness is counteracted by the sweetness found in the wine; this also explains the successful partnership of duck with plum sauce, and gammon with pineapple. These wines don't have to be dessert wines - a medium-dry white German Riesling or any wine with an element of fruity sweetness works well. Avoid drinking wines with lots of tannin (found in red wines) as this has a dry, bitter and furry sensation, and the salt will only exaggerate the tannin's bitterness, creating a metallic flavour. Instead, opt for something soft and lighter like a Rioja or Beaujolais.
This is the sensation found in foods that are rich in iron such as red meat and green vegetables. Tannin has a similar bitter sensation, so pair a rare steak or spinach dish with a Claret or a Côtes du Rhône which have good tannic structure. It's better to match the flavours of red wine rather than contrast them.
Indian cuisine has many complex ingredients so it's difficult to identify one key flavour. Dishes can be extremely hot at one end of the spectrum and mild and creamy at the other. White wines generally go best with highly spiced dishes - Alsace Gewurztraminer or the Rhone’s Viognier are intensely fruity and full-bodied. For creamy or coconut-based dishes go for a medium- to full-bodied New World Chardonnay or Semillon. If you prefer red wine, stick to ones that are not too tannic or peppery, as the food will accentuate the wine's pepperiness - go for a soft fruity aromatic style such as a Sicilian red or Rioja.
The lighter style of Chinese cuisine needs a wine that's more delicate. Fruity German Rieslings go particularly well with typical ingredients such as ginger and spring onion. For sweet-and-sour flavours opt again for an Alsace Gewurztraminer, generally too overpowering for most Chinese dishes but here it works well. For red wines, choose ones that are very low in tannin and light to medium-bodied such as a Beaujolais or Chinon.
Similar wines will go with Thai food although it is considerably hotter owing to the generous measure of chillies. There are also many complex flavours including lemongrass, lime, ginger and coconut. These typical fresh citrus flavours can be mirrored by crisp, dry white wines such as New World Sauvignon Blancs and Chablis. These also offer the weight and intensity needed for powerfully flavoured food.
Finally, you can't go too far wrong if you pair a wine and food from the same region. Look to the European countries where wine and food have gone hand in hand for generations. Every country has its own regional dishes and individual wines that, over time, have developed the perfect partnership. Consider classic combinations such as Sancerre with goats' cheese, Muscadet with shellfish and Vinho Verde with Portuguese sardines. See our cuisine matching guide.
Try for yourself
These are just a few tips that are worth considering to help you get the best out of food and wine.
Ultimately, it's about discovering different wines and food combinations that work for yourself, friends and family. Enjoy the adventure.
CHEESE IN GENERAL:
A cheese board is a complete minefield where wine is concerned but White wines generally fare better than Reds. There is no real sure fire winner here but a rich full Chardonnay will go with more types of cheeses than most wines, and as such is a good all rounder.
It is actually much better to serve just one or two great cheeses with a well-matched wine than a big cheese selection.
Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Cambozola, Dolcelatte
Roquefort and Sauternes, and Port and and Stilton (Vintage or Tawny are best) are two of the food and wine marriages made in heaven. Gorgonzola is not easy to match but a Bual Madeira, or an aged Tawney would work best.
Mild creamy cheeses like Cambozola work quite well with a Tokaji and Dolcelatte being that bit stronger would work with Rioja.
Goats' cheese has a real affinity with Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre or Pouilly Fume.
Cheddar, Red Leicester, Mimolette, Parmesan, Manchego, Gruyere
Hard cheeses probably fare better with Red wines than any other type of cheese. For Cheddar, Red Leicester, Gruyere, Parmesan and Manchego, medium to fuller Reds, such as a mature Bordeaux Red, or Spainish Rioja, or a full bodied Chardonnay from Burgundy.
Mimolette is the perfect partner to a good Red Bordeaqux.
Smoked Cheese is very difficult to match, try an Alsace Gewurztraminer.
Brie, Camembert, Chaumes, Chaource
Mouth-coating soft cheeses are very problematical with Red wines. However both Camembert and Chaumes work fine with a Red Burgundy or a ripe Pomerol or St. Emilion.
For Brie choose a rich White Burgundy and a steely Chablis for the Chaource.