Pairing wine with food: what goes well with what?

I love wine (like that was a surprise). I really do but, like most people, I also love food.

It is apparent to me that there has been a shift in how people view food. When growing up, for me, going to a restaurant for a meal was a treat and something that we seldom did, however there has been a bit of a change in attitudes towards dining out and I believe that this is largely attributed to the gastropub.

Gastropubs offer people the option to have something to eat in a less formal setting. Now, there are loads of casual eateries, ranging from big chains like Nando’s and Zizzi, to independent outlets, offering affordable food with no preconception of ‘correct’ dining etiquette. I fully embrace this attitude to eating out.

This is a great thing to happen to the dining scene but one thing I notice with these types of eateries is that there isn’t much emphasis placed on a wine list and there still seems to be a bit of a ‘wanky’ stigma to pairing food with wine.

On a number of occasions I’ve experienced someone saying something along the lines of, “Come on then ‘Mr Wine Expert’. What would you pair this with?” It’s annoying because I’ve never claimed to be an expert in this area but, because I showed an avid interest in it, people seemed to think that I had this arrogant sense of superiority. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to pair food with wine but it can be a daunting task because it takes a good knowledge of qualities in certain wines and qualities of certain foods.

Good food and wine pairings help to enhance an experience. Anybody who has read this blog before, had a tour of the vineyard or just spoken to me will know that I place a massive emphasis on making memories and enhancing experiences. With this in mind, I thought I would create a simple guide/list to pairing food and wines. I’ll start off with whites and light reds.

To get a good pairing, it’s all about understanding taste profiles and learning which profiles go together. For example, people often think that a rich/mature hard cheese has to go with a big red wine, however I have recently been pairing richer cheeses with the 2016 Phone Box White from Luckett Vineyards which is a fruity, off dry, slightly sweet blend of L’acadie, Osceola Muscat and Traminette. The sweetness of the wine really cuts through the strong cheese taste and makes for a very pleasant experience.

Oak-aged Chardonnay: A common misconception is that all white wine and fish go together but this isn’t really true because different fish have different taste profiles, just like different whites. Chardonnay has a buttery taste, is low in acidity and when it has been aged in oak it takes on a smoky, nutty, vanilla taste. Think of these characteristics and think of what would/wouldn’t go with them. I personally wouldn’t have an oaky Chardonnay with something that is rich in acidity because the acidity would have the potential to make the oaky, buttery richness of the Chardonnay seem bitter. So salads with a fruity vinaigrette are probably something to avoid. I would personally pair an oaky Chardonnay with something like a rich risotto, a chicken pie with lovely buttery pastry or a creamed soup. These richer flavour profiles would complement the buttery/nutty taste of the wine.

Sauvignon Blanc: I got really into New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs earlier this year and actually wrote a review with a good food pairing (find it here). Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp white wine, high in acidity and goes well with foods of a similar nature. So, for example, where an oaky Chardonnay wouldn’t necessarily go with a crisp salad topped with a fruity vinaigrette, a Sauv Blanc would. Lighter white fish, like sole, or a lovely goats’ cheese would match well with this kind of wine. It’s worth pointing out that, like with any other grape varietals, Sauvignon Blanc will differ from region to region and this is more an example of the general/universal qualities that is shared by most Sauvignon Blancs. I would always look to pair a Sauvignon with anything that was a bit tangy or citrusy and herbaceous because these lively flavours will compliment the crisp zippiness of the wine. Keep this in mind and avoid pairing it with food that is more on the bitter side, like asparagus or smoked meats.

Pinot Grigio: Pinot can come in many styles. For example, Pinot Gris (the French term for Pinot Grigio) from Alsace is on the fruity and sweeter side, however I’m going to focus on Pinot Grigio in its most well known form; dry with mineral characteristics. This form of Pinot is often produced in northern Italy and this region is probably the most well known for it, however other countries and regions produce the wine too – such as Austria, Hungary and the Okanagan Valley in Canada. Much like Sauvignon Blanc, Italian Pinot Grigio is crisp and dry, it isn’t as fruit forward and to me has a more neutral smell. With these flavour profiles in mind, I would pair it with lighter foods. Think a light linguine dish with prawns (shrimp), a bit of garlic, some lemon and a nice sprinkling of parsley. These citrusy, yet light, herbs would really go well with the Pinot. As Pinot Grigio tends to be a lighter, crisper white wine, you would want to pair it with a lighter, inoffensive cheese. What better cheese than buffalo mozzarella? The delicate flavour of the cheese matched with the crisp acidity of the wine would go great together, throw in some cherry tomatoes too and that’s going to be a winner. Cherry tomatoes are also acidic but don’t worry about it as acidic foods do tend to go well with acidic wines.

Chenin Blanc: I love Chenin Blanc. It’s rich in acidity and, in a lot of cases, slightly sweeter than the aforementioned wine styles. It can come in many forms but the most popular/readily available are South African Chenin Blanc and Vouvray. Vouvray is demi-sec (off dry), which means that it has more sugar content and is therefore sweeter, whereas a South African Chenin will be slightly dryer. The lovely, vibrant acidity of Chenin Blanc makes it a joy to pair with acidic/sweeter food and white meat. A few days ago I cooked for a couple of friends and made pork steaks with a caramelised apple sauce. We paired it with a Chenin Blanc from Swartland, South Africa which went ever so well. The apples were caramelised in maple syrup and I added a bit of lime and apple vinegar to balance out the sweetness with acidity. The wine really went well with the food as it had just enough acidity to stand up to the strong flavours in the food but not overpower it.

Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir, oh how I love you. Many regions and countries produce Pinot Noir, but I really fell in love with it on a trip to Burgundy where the Pinot is silky and smooth. In most forms, Pinot is a light red wine with delicate flavours but you can get fuller bodied ones from certain regions like Central Otago in New Zealand. There’s all sorts of different food pairings that certain styles of Pinot go well with but I am going to focus on the lighter ones. Because it is so light, you want to avoid pairing it with big red meat dishes or ingredients that have been flame grilled because those flavour profiles would overpower the delicacy of the wine. However, Pinot has great versatility and because it is on the lighter side it can pair well with both fish and meat. I paired an Oregon Pinot Noir with duck and made an orange sauce which went very well with it (read about it here). A young Pinot Noir will normally be pretty fruit forward so I would recommend pairing a younger Pinot with a light, slightly sweeter cheese like goats’ cheese, or even try chilling it and drinking it with a mild curry with light spices such as jasmine.

As much as this is the tip of the iceberg, overloading you with too much information at this stage might be a bit overwhelming. I am a regular reader of Wine Folly (click here) and, if I’m ever slightly unsure of something that I am writing, it is one of the first sources that I go to in order to validate my points. The best way to develop your palate for tasting is to eat and drink more and think about what would work with what, e.g. acidity and acidity, sweet with salty, high alcohol percentage (full body) and fatty or sweet foods. If you’re dining out then ask a waiter if they have any pairing recommendations. Most importantly though, have fun with it and enjoy the food and drink!

– James








One thought on “Pairing wine with food: what goes well with what?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s