Wine and food in general work very well together and there are only a few combinations that don’t work. Here is our guide to food and wine pairings following two simple rules, contrast and complementary.
- Combining a fresh and acidic white wine with a rich, oily fish dish is an example of contrast; where the wine is different in character to the food, yet still complementary.
- The combination of a sweet wine with pudding is an example of food and wine complementing; one another, both working together through their similar trait, sweetness.
It’s worth bearing in mind that food from a region or country will often pair well with the local wines, complementing one another. Simple pasta dishes will usually go very well with any Italian red wine, be it inexpensive. In fact, these wines which tend to have higher acidity than many other red wines, will pair well with many foods. Another example is the rich cooking of Burgundy, which often works well when combined with the wines of the region.
This is another tip worth bearing in mind, when thinking about wine with food. If cooking with wine, serve the same wine with the dish, it will help the two marry together. Wine and cheese is a classic. Red wines tend to go better with hard cheeses such as blue cheese as they can accommodate more tannins. However, white wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc suit soft cheeses such as brie, Camembert and goat’s cheese, as the creamier textures require more acidity for balance. Another classic is Stilton with port.
Wine with fish
There used to be a simple rule about always only having a white wine with fish. This is a sensible rule as many of the best fish dishes are uncomplicated and could be spoiled by a complex red wine. For instance, oaked white wines or red wines containing tannins don’t make a great match when it comes to fish, unless the fish is served in a rich sauce. Red wines containing tannins in combination with fish, will impart a metallic taste to the wine which can be quite unpleasant.
The same can be said for many red wine and cheese combinations. Fresh, un-oaked and acidic white wines, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon are good wines to have with most fish dishes (and cheeses). They do not contain the tannins ingredient; as a result, the acidity helps to cut through the occasionally oily richness of the dish.
Red wines that work well with fish dishes, such as salmon or trout, are low in tannins. These can be light Burgundies as well as Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. Alternatively, red wines that are high in tannins can work with meatier fishes, such as sturgeon, tuna, and swordfish. Red wines such as Merlot, Pinot Noir or Beaujolais go quite nicely with these fishes.
Wine with meat
The rule with meat and wine used to be; white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. However, nowadays most people don’t just eat meat and potatoes. Although, this rule can still apply with some wines and dishes, quite often it depends on the textures and flavours of the wine as well as weather the tannins ingredient is high or low. Cabernet Sauvignon, (high in tannins) is a good match with juicy proteins such as a rare steak. The protein softens the tannins making the wine taste smooth and fruity. A well done steak however may taste too dry with a tannic Cabernet, so try something that is a little lighter.
Game birds such quail, pheasant, turkey, duck, squab and guinea hen have earthy flavours that are more robust than chicken. Wild game often goes well with racy red wines, like the classic Pinot Noir. Sweeter meats such as glazed pork can be harder to match due to their challenging flavours. An off-dry wine such as Riesling or Chenin Blanc would be a fine match.
Wine with desserts
It isn’t easy matching wine with desserts as it is such an expansive category, with so many different flavours it takes more than a dozen wines to effectively pair the basics. If you are struggling to pair up a wine with your dessert, then usually a nice Riesling or Muscat wine will do. These are quite sweet, dark wines which generally go better with desserts. Rich desserts such as chocolate and creme brulee require a wine that is sweeter than the dessert; otherwise the wine will taste bitter.
Sweeter wines such as Sauternes, ice-wine, late harvest wines and port will work extremely well with these desserts; Citrus desserts such as lemon tart, apple pie or even Meringue are acidic desserts.
Acidity kills flavour, like vinegar in food, therefore a Muscat wine or even sparkling wine would suit these sorts of flavours; ice cream and sorbets, like some cheesecakes can be hard on wines; too much fat and cold create a battlefield for the wine to break through, therefore it isn’t often a particular wine is recommended. If wine is needed, I would go with a fruit wine or a fruit liqueur.
Cooking with wine
Wine is a wonderful ingredient to add flavour to your food. It can be used as flavouring, as in wine jellies or in soups, stews, braised foods, reducing sauces and more. Adding wine to a recipe can enhance and intensify the flavours of the food and help create a remarkable meal. All types of wine can be used in cooking, however we would recommend a good quality wine, one that you enjoy drinking. “Cooking wines”, typically located in the seasoning aisle, tend to be particularly salty and are not really recommended for cooking as they do not add to the quality of your meal.
If your dish calls for a white wine, but you are not too sure which white to select, Sauvignon Blanc is usually a good choice. When cooking Italian food and requiring a white wine, suggest Pinot Grigio. When red wine is called for in cooking, usually a Burgundy or Chianti is a good choice to make.