Food & Wine Pairing - The basics
Pairing wine with dinner can be a daunting task, with so many options out there where do you start? We have put together a simple guide giving you the basics of what to look out for.
To simplify your options whilst shopping our website why not search for a wine by food pairing? We have been busy creating electronic tags for all of our wines which may help you chose that elusive wine for a specific dish.
Try the search bar in the top right hand corner of the site or search via the 'All Wines' section of our catalog. Select the food type you are serving for dinner and the site will filter to a selection of wines that best match the choice!
See below where you can find this search function:
Balance is vitally important. Rich meaty dishes tend to go best with rich, full-bodied wines. Lightly flavoured dishes tend to go better with light-bodied, more delicate or ‘mineral’ wines – so that one doesn’t overpower the other.
If there’s sweetness in the food, the wine should be sweeter. If there’s vinegar or citrus juice in the food (salad dressings), or if the dish has a bitterness about it, the wine should be of above-average acidity.
Cheese and wine combos can be particularly challenging – trying to find the balance between malolactic acid found in grapes and Lactic acid found in cheese!
To achieve the best match it is necessary to analyse the basic components in both the wine and the food. The principal is to try to balance them so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other.
The main elements of food and wine matching to consider are:
Try to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine:
Rich, heavyweight foods, like red meat casseroles need full-bodied wines.
Normally it is powerful Red wines that are the favoured choice but it is the weight of the wine, not the colour or flavour, which is the most important consideration.
- Hence a full-bodied White wine is usually a better match with meat than a light-styled Red wine.
- Lightweight food like poultry and fish are complemented by more delicate wines.
- Whilst a White wine is the instinctive choice light, low-tannin Reds also work.
Flavour Intensity and Character
Flavour Intensity – match full flavours together, like Sauvignon Blanc and asparagus, mild flavours like Muscadet and oysters.
Flavour intensity, although similar to weight, is not the same thing.
A big bowl of boiled pasta or potatoes without a dressing or sauce is heavy in weight but light in flavour. As opposed to red or green bell peppers which are lightweight but very flavoursome.
- The same goes for wines; the Riesling variety makes lightweight, intensely flavoured wines
- whilst Chardonnay makes heavy (full-bodied) wines that are lightly flavoured.
Quite often it is not the main ingredient in a dish that provides the dominant flavour: In a creamy chicken curry, the sauce will be heavier and more robustly flavoured than the chicken. In this instance you need to match the wine to the sauce.
The flavour characteristics of some foods and wines are very similar and consequently they make good combinations:
- Light fruit-based desserts can be matched with the "grapey" flavour of the Muscat variety.
- Spicy dishes can be matched with Gewurztraminer, a variety often described as spicy or Gruner Veltiner.
- (Spicy wines may have white or black pepper, cloves, ginger, allspice aromas and flavours for example.)
- Cream or butter sauces go well with wines that have been fermented or aged in new oak barrels.
- Oak imparts vanilla-scented, buttery, creamy flavours to the wine.
- Delicately flavoured wines like Italian whites (Vementino, Pinot Grigio, Gavi, Soave, Verdicchio, Orvieto) and Loire Muscadet complement shellfish and seafood.
High acid wines complement fatty foods in the same way that lemon cuts through the greasiness of smoked salmon.
Food and wine can both have acidity. Tomatoes, citrus and green apples are high-acid foods. Certain grape varieties naturally produce high-acid wines, Muscadet for example. Wines from cool climates will have more acidity than those from hot climates.
- When vinegar or lemon juice is used as a condiment you will need to find a high- acid wine to complement it.
- A classic example is Champagne served with smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon.
- High-acid wines are also used to cleanse the palate when eating oily food.
- Even without the lemon, smoked salmon is made more palatable when the Champagne cuts through the natural oiliness of the fish.
In Italy where many dishes are made with lots of olive oil you will find the majority of Italian Red wines have noticeable acidity and so complement the regional dishes perfectly:
- Think of Barbera, Chianti, Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Valpolicella, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
In the wines above, their natural acidity matches the acid characteristic also found in the tomato sauce whilst cutting through the olive oil.
Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness:
- Parma Ham and Melon is a classic example.
The same thing can be achieved with wine:
- Sauternes, a lusciously sweet wine from the Bordeaux region, is a famous match with salty, Roquefort cheese.
Whilst salt clashes with tannin (it makes tannin seem more bitter), it works miracles with acidity:
- An example of this would be salty nibbles served with Champagne before a meal.
For a dry wine to work with salty food it should have low tannins and noticeable acidity.
It is easier to find White wines with these characteristics than Reds, but there are some Red wines to fit the bill, Beaujolais is a perfect example.
The more textured the food (e.g. fatty – like duck, chewy - like steak) the more tannin you need in the wine.
Tannins cause your gums to pucker and dry when you drink wine. Typically detected in Red wines (tannin comes from the grape skins and stalks used in red wine-making).
Grape varieties vary enormously in tannin content:
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Tannat all have very thick skin and so it can make deeply coloured, high-tannin wines.
Wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins:
- Your saliva is full of protein molecules and this is why your gums pucker and dry when drinking tannic wines.
- Lamb is a good example of a food with a high-fatty protein content which when eaten coats the mouth with fat.
- If you then drink a tannic Red wine the tannin molecules attach themselves to the protein molecules and strip them from your mouth, leaving it feeling refreshed and cleansed and ready for the next mouthful.
The wine should always be sweeter than the food. Sweetness in wine also acts as a foil to rich foods.
Sweet foods make dry wines seem over-acidic and tart.
The general rule of thumb is to serve a wine at least as sweet or sweeter than the food being served.
Sweet wines with a good level of acidity, such as Sauternes, Barsac and Côteaux du Layon are a perfect match for rich foods like pâté, foie gras.
- The acidity will cut through the fat in the pâté and the wine's sweetness will complement the richness of this food.
- Sweetness also balances salt and so sweet wines are classic companions of blue cheeses e.g. Port with Stilton.
Here we have a simple but tried and trusted list of components to try out with your next bottle of wine. It certainly is comprehensive but this should allow some transparency regarding your choice of pairing.
Artichokes and Sauvignon Blanc
Asparagus and Sauvignon Blanc
Beef and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc or Bordeaux-style red blends
Bobotie and fruity Pinotage, or off-dry Chenin
Bolognaise and full-bodied reds
Bordeaux-style red blends and most types of red meat
Butternut soup and Chardonnay
Buttery or Creamy sauces on fish, chicken or vegetables, with lightly-oaked Chardonnay
Cabernet Franc and spicy meat dishes, pork, veal, ham and quail
Cabernet Sauvignon and steaks, roasts, casseroles, stews, venison
Chardonnay and most types of fish, especially shellfish, also buttery/creamy dishes, Hollandaise, tripe
Charcuterie and Shiraz or other spicy wine
Chenin Blanc and seafood, spring rolls and salads if medium-bodied, with chicken and spicy dishes if full-bodied
Chicken and Pinot Noir if roasted poultry, Shiraz if braaied, Chenin and Chardonnay to be safe
Chocolate (dark) and sweet dessert wine or Port
Colombar and light salads or fish
Crayfish and lightly-oaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
Cumin and Coriander (e.g. with lamb) and spicy red (e.g. Shiraz)
Curry and Gewürztraminer or Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc
Foie gras and Noble Late Harvest or Straw Wine, or Riesling
Game/venison and smoky Shiraz or fruity Pinotage – meaty game fish and medium-bodied reds, e.g. Pinot Noir, Pinotage
Gewürztraminer and smoked meats, curries, Thai
Ham & Melon with Viognier
Lamb and medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, or full-bodied Cab or Bordeaux-style red blends with rack of lamb, or Shiraz with lamb shanks
Merlot and cold meats, carpaccio
Noodle dishes (sweet-and-sour) and Riesling or Chenin
Oysters and sparkling wine, or crisp Sauvignon Blanc, or rich Chardonnay
Pinotage (full-bodied) with spare ribs, pepper steak, rich game fish and venison, BBQ sauce, oxtail, osso buco – or with boerewors and lamb if medium-bodied and fruity
Pinot Noir and light meals of salmon, tuna, duck, chicken, ham, veal, pasta
Pork and dry Rosé or Blanc de Noir, or Semillon
Port and nuts, fruit cake, chocolate
Relish and Shiraz
Riesling and pork, bobotie, smoked snoek, curries, Chinese food, foie gras, pâté
Rosé & Blanc de Noir (dry) and ham, pork, or if off-dry then with lightly-spiced food
Salads and Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin or Semillon
Sauvignon Blanc and oily/buttery food, various salads, most fish dishes
Semillon and flavoursome chicken, pork, Thai, salads, most seafood
Shellfish and Chardonnay or top Chenin
Shiraz and oxtail, goulash, bredies, venison
Shrimps and light white or dry bubbly
Snoek and Pinotage, or Riesling with smoked snoek
Spare ribs and spicy Shiraz
Sparkling Brut and oysters, smoked salmon, shrimp, sushi
Steak and Cabernet Sauvignon, or Bordeaux-style red blends
Sushi and Sauvignon Blanc
Sweet Dessert Wine and foie gras, Malva pudding, brandy tart
Thai and Semillon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin
Turkey and Chardonnay
Walnuts and dry Sherry
Cheese & Wine or Wine & Cheese
Blue cheeses and sweet dessert wines or Port
Brie & Camembert are difficult to match with wine – can try a wooded Chardonnay
Chardonnay (lightly wooded) is the most versatile wine with a board of mixed cheeses
Cheddar (12 months or older) and Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux-style red blends, fruity Pinotage
Cream cheese and light, fruity Chenin
Feta and steely Sauvignon Blanc
Goat’s milk cheese and Sauvignon Blanc
Gouda and medium-bodied, fruity Pinotage
Gruyère and sweet dessert wine
Hard cheese and bold red or wooded Chardonnay
Noble Late Harvest and Roquefort
Pinotage (medium-bodied/fruity) and Cheddar or Gouda
Port and Stilton
Roquefort and Noble Late Harvest
Sauvignon Blanc and goat’s milk cheese
Stilton and Port
Washed-rind cheese and Chardonnay