A Modern Approach to Pairing Food and Wine
"Red wine with red meat; white wine with fish or chicken."
Whilst this might hold true in some cases, a winter beef or venison stew in a hearty sauce would overpower a delicate white wine, and the flavour of a delicate white fish like sole would be masked by a wine like a big red Australian Shiraz.
But think creatively, with the international range of food that we now consume and the range of wines available, the traditional wine pairing rule could be said to be passé.
This is not a definitive list of which wine goes with which dish, but rather my encouragement to think outside the box and experiment, matching the flavours and style of the wine and whether it will enhance the food.
A Failed Challenge
A few years ago, I was working for a wine company. We would challenge our customers to name any food, and we would suggest a wine to go with it. We successfully played this game for quite a while until some wag said 'grapefruit'. Game over: we lost.
China is a huge country and its cuisine is as varied as the country. I will therefore talk about the generalities of the Westernized food we get in our local Chinese restaurants.
With certain exceptions such as when chilies and Szechuan peppers are used, standard restaurant Chinese food is relatively lightly spiced, the flavours coming from any combination of onions, vinegar, soy, vegetables and seafood.
I would like to enhance the flavour sensation so would suggest a light Pinot Noir or even better still a Cru de Beaujolais, like AC Brouilly, a lighter wine with aromas of cherries, blueberries and red fruit with a slight hint of banana.
Or you could go with a Chenin Blanc, a refreshing white wine which would counter the saltiness of heavy Soy sauce dishes. A dry Chenin Blanc should have flavours of apple, pear with hints of ginger spice.
If the dishes you are having are spicier, perhaps go for a sweeter Chenin Blanc, something like an AC Vouvray, a medium sweet wine from the Loire Valley, France.
The essence of Mexican cuisine is their use of lime, chillies and cilantro (coriander in UK) Flavours that would kill most wines, red or white, stone dead. The Mexicans also use a lot of fruit in their cuisine, so my recommendation would be to try a big, fat, heavily oaked Chardonnay.
One of those chardonnays where the fruit flavours of melons, pineapple and kiwi fruit are really brought out by the use of new Oak barrels, wines that are bold, buttery and with vanilla notes.
This style of wine would readily stand up against such bold flavours and would work well against the heat of the chilli.
I am a brave man. I am willing to look at different wines, apart from the Italian favourites to accompany Italian food. Though I do realise that anyone with an Italian heritage will take exception to this and immediately have me thrown in prison or handed to the local Mafiosa.
Italy annoys me, they are the largest wine producing nation in the world, they produce some fantastic little known wines and we just do not get to taste them.
However, when matching a pasta dish with wine we have to look not at the Pasta, which is a relatively bland staple, but at the sauce.
A heavy, rich meat sauce, I would pair with a Red Zinfandel, full bodied with black fruit and peppery flavours with an underlying touch of sweetness.
I am being a bit careful here, in that Zinfandel is the same grape
variety as the native Italian Primitivo grape found most famously in Aprila,
Southern Italy but not so readily available elsewhere.
A creamy sauce or one with cream and mushrooms, I would suggest pairing it with a dry gewurztraminer, this wine is renowned for its spiced, lychee style flavour and its’ acidity would cut through any butter or cream sauce.
A tomato based sauce I would suggest a medium weight red wine with good tannin and acidity, something like a Southern French wine called AC La Clape or a good Shiraz (called Syrah in France).
If you have a seafood sauce or indeed any seafood Italian dish, I would enjoy a pairing of a fresh, dry, vibrant rosé.
You see I am a dreamer, I would be with my wife (or as this is the Italian section, my mistress) and can see ourselves sat at a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It is very warm and sunny but we are sat in the shade of a tree. The table is laid with crisp white linen and silver cutlery. The waiter serves us a large platter of totally fresh seafood, simple and with the finest produce brought from the market that morning. To accompany this we are served a wonderful refreshing Rosé wine, cold so that when it is poured into the glass condensation appears on the outside of the glass.
The flavours of strawberry, peach and summer fruit match with the freshly caught lobster and clams.
A Rosé from Provence or the Loire valley in France would be my choice or perhaps even a pink Champagne, if I was really pushing the boat out.
Pizza, OK it depends on the pizza, but I would tend to go for a lighter style of red wine with my pizza, perhaps something that is light and fresh with plenty of summer fruits, something like a Rioja, though it has to be one that is labelled ‘Joven’ (which means young - this signifies that the wine is not or is hardly aged in the barrel), I would serve this chilled, at about 15 degree centigrade, as they would do in this famous area of Spain.
In many Italian restaurants you will have an antipasti starter or similar, now this style of starter is somewhat mirrored by the Spanish. And one of their favourite ways of having such a starter is with a dry sherry. Try it, you will not be disappointed (though please do make sure it is one of the modern fino style of sherries)
Indian and Spicy Asian Food
Whilst I appreciate that a lot of people enjoy a beer or lager with a curry or heavily spiced Asian dishes, I actually find gassy beer too much with a heavy, westernised Indian or Asian meal.
Why not try a spicy meat dishes with a sweeter white wine like a Riesling. You will find that in this case the depth of flavour of the fruit in the wine enhances the spice in the dish and the sweetness of the wine tempers the piquancy of the food (a traditional way to cool the heat of a curry was to have something sweet, like a banana after it).
Or how about having a full flavoured and slightly sweeter Rosé with a curry. Again the fruit and sweetness counter the heat of the dish, but here you are pairing different fruits to the dish. Succulent raspberry and strawberry fruit flavours would go fantastically with something like a Lamb Rogan Gosh.
Steaks, Burgers and Barbeques
It is reckoned that the best beef comes from Argentina. Having tasted Argentinian beef, I would tend to agree though, as I have not tasted beef from every beef producing country, I cannot be that certain!
There is a school of thought with wine pairing that it is sometimes better to stay local, in which case with your steak or hamburger try an Argentinian Malbec. They are big, big red wines with cherry and bramble notes. These wines have strong tannins which really cut through the richness of the meat.
OK this is not an outlandish choice, but it would be mine!
Dishes like pulled pork and foods in any barbeque sauce, I would go back to those heavy, oaky Chardonnays, the flavours of buttery exotic fruits would be perfect!
For dishes like Jamaican jerk chicken, well sorry, but an ice cold can of Red Stripe (Jamaican lager), followed by a rum punch. Oh yes, some rules you cannot break!
Just to sum up really, this is not a definitive guide to wine pairing, it is a never ending search. This is really just my thought process when choosing wines to go with different dishes, I hope it helps and would love to hear of your food pairings.
If you want my suggestions for any other wine pairings, just let me know where you are and what the food is and I will try to help.
Just do not ask me to pair a wine to go with grapefruit!
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Dave Proctor