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'If you like a cup of strong tea with a big fry-up, then you already understand the basics of food and drink matching.' ~ Ross Golden-Bannon.
A good rule of thumb for successful wine and food matching is to turn your focus away from the main meat of your dish and look to the ingredients and sauces. Consider a chicken Kiev: this is a simple gathering of garlic and herby butter flavours. An ideal match would be a rich white like a Viognier or an oaky Chardonnay, but what if you pan-fried the chicken instead with some honey, ginger and lime? You’re flavours have all changed so cast your eye on a semisweet white grape like a Riesling or Moscato.
A stonking T-bone steak with a peppered sauce is going to be very happy with Pinotage or Shiraz but a chilli beef stir-fry is going to want the low tannins of a Gamay. Check out our six new ways of looking at wine below and enjoy the journey!
1. Use Your Cup of Tea as a Guide
The reason a cup of tea tastes so good with a fry-up is because the tannins in the tea are cutting through all those big flavours and fats. That's also why coffee doesn’t work so well as it has less mouth-puckering tannins. The same principle is at work with big reds like a spicy new world Cabernet Sauvignon, magic with a peppered steak or beef bourguignon, not so good with a chille con carne (see number 5).
2. The Marmalade Test
Have you ever had a glass of orange juice after you’ve brushed your teeth? The previously sweet-citrus joy of the juice suddenly takes on an altogether thoroughly unpleasant taste. This is the same principle behind the two big wine and food matches to avoid. The first is matching a dry wine like a Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) with a sweet dessert. The wine, which worked so well with your briny oysters, will suddenly taste acidic and bitter with a sweet dessert.
3. Light Wines with Light Foods
Flavour intensity and weight are a good guide to picking the right wine. A delicately flavoured dish needs a delicate wine so if you’re serving some steamed fish with just a hint of seasoning then a light white like an Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio will do the job. The wine acts as a gentle partner instead of overwhelming the food flavours. But keep in mind that flavour intensity is not the same as weight: a plate of mashed potatoes is light in flavour but big in weight.
4. The Salted Caramel Test
If you like salted caramels then you’ll understand how well sweet things can go with salty things. The classic match in the wine world is Sauterne and blue cheese. If you’re going down the classic route and matching a dessert wine like a Muscat with a dessert then the rule is that the wine has to be sweeter than the dessert. Otherwise the wine doesn’t taste sweet enough. Another good idea here is to match flavours with flavours so the famed nectarine notes in a Moscato are going to work well with an orange dessert. Semi-sweet whites like Alsatian Pinot Gris make for a good match with spicy food.
5. The Fire Extinguisher Test
If you love hot and spicy food you may already know all about the pitfalls of matching a high alcohol, high tannin wine with hot food. A wine which is high in alcohol will amplify the heat of the chillies, and then the heat of the chillies make the tannins taste nasty and bitter. The best match with a spicy dish is a light red like a Pinot Noir, a Gamay or a sweet white Riesling or Gewürztraminer.
6. Breaking the Rules
By all means you should be choosing wines which you like. If you prefer red wine with everything there’s nearly a red wine to go with everything. Fish works very well with a light Pinot Noir and if you’re having a gang around and you’re unsure which to go for, pick food friendly white and a food friendly red and let people choose themselves. But do keep in mind that as your guests move from starters to main courses and desserts, the same wine might not follow them all the way to the finish line.