Basic rules

Historically wine was produced to accompany food. This can help us with the often difficult task of matching food and wine, a good starting point is to add a dish to a wine that comes from the same region. There are no definitive right or wrong wines for a each dish as matching is largely subjective, but there are definitely better matches than others.

When attempting to match a wine with food, you must establish the basic components of each. You must consider the weight, richness, flavour, acidity and sweetness of both the food and wine. Once you know what you’re dealing with you’ll be able to find a balance, where one don’t doesn’t overpower the other.

The weight of the wine – the first element of pairing is to match the weight or richness of the food to the wine. Rich, heavy foods need a wine that is full-bodied, while lighter foods require something more delicate. You shouldn’t just consider the main ingredient in the dish, as the garnish or sauce also play an important role.

The intensity of each flavour is important too. This is different from the weight or richness of the food. For instance, potatoes and rice are quite heavy with relatively low flavour, while a chilli has little weight but masses of flavour. Wines have similar characteristics. An un-oaked Chardonnay might have quite a full body but relatively low flavour, while a Riesling will feel lean and delicate in the mouth but have bags of flavour. Delicate wines do not make a good match for strong flavoured foods.

When considering flavour, the method of cooking plays a vital role. Slow cooked food, for instance something steamed, will require a delicate wine. Roasting food gives it a lot of flavour, and so requires a more robust, flavoursome wine.

We don’t often think about food being acidic, but sour dishes are high in acidity. They need to be matched with a wine also high in acidity, otherwise the lack of acid in the wine will make it taste less refreshing.

A food that is sweet will make dry wines taste tart and overly acidic. So, sweet foods need a wine that at least matches the sweetness of the food.
Tannin in wine can react badly with some foods, oily food can acquire a metallic taste while salty food can taste bitter. So, avoid a high tannin wine such as Nebbiolo when eating an oily fish, though you could enjoy it with a low tannin wine. The tannin in wine is softened when it comes into contact with protein, so a rare red meat will balance out a tannic wine. Wines with low tannin will compliment food that have less protein, such as fish or white meat.

When pairing food and wine, you can create contrasts too. A food that is high in salt can be complemented by a sweet wine, a classic example is blue cheese which goes perfectly with a sweet dessert wine such as Sauterne.

Tips:

  • Pair rich meat with tannic wines.
  • Salty foods with sweet or acidic wines.
  • Fatty and oily foods with acidic wines.
  • Match, or sometimes contrast, flavour characteristics of the food and wine.