How to Pair Your Wine
Jane Masters MW is Opimian’s Master of Wine
When it comes to deciding what to drink a wine with, I believe there are no hard and fast rules. It’s down to personal taste – if you like a pairing, that’s the most important thing. Matching wine and food should be fun.
Gastronomy is constantly evolving, and today’s chefs pride themselves on finding increasingly unusual pairings that would have previously seemed unthinkable. If you are open minded and willing to give them a try, they can be fantastic. Wine is no different. Your starting point may be a particular dish, and the challenge is to find wines that could go well with it. Or maybe you just fancy a glass of a particular wine and will then choose what to eat with it.
Rules such as white wine with fish or red wine with meat are pretty simplistic and not really very helpful. White wines range from light, crisp and fruity to rich, heavy, toasty oaky styles. Red wines also offer a gamut of flavours, body and structure. Fish and meat are prepared in a variety of ways – simply lightly grilled, roasted or with rich buttery or spicy sauces. Hence successful food pairings depend on how ingredients are cooked, and what they are served with. I tend to think of the flavours and richness of the food and wine. Pairing like with like flavours works well but having a contrast between the wine and food can also be great. There are many books on the subject but one of my favourites is written by Canadian François Chartier, called Taste Buds and Molecules. It identifies flavour compounds that characterize various foods that are also present in certain wines and groups them together to try and give an understanding as to why some matches work so well.
Many wines come from regions that have a local traditional cuisine based on the produce, wild herbs and spices available. Wine and local recipes developed over time to enhance one another, often leading to classic pairings like Piemontese white truffle dishes with local Barbera and Dolcetto wines, or Red Bordeaux with Pauillac lamb. Barbera also pairs well with lamb, as well as simple beef and pork dishes. Traditional pairings can be a guide to what may work well in another region or country which has its own different local cuisine. Rich hearty Amarone enhances traditional gamey dishes like venison and braised beef, so should also work nicely with elk, moose or caribou. Canadian maple syrup, when used in sweet marinades, goes well with oaky reds such as Shiraz, or in desserts with sweet wines.
Syrah/Shiraz often has black pepper flavours and can go well with peppery sauces. For rich, complex spicy dishes like Moroccan tajine, I go for fuller spicy red wines. Lighter dishes, chicken, veal and fresh vegetables tend to go well with lighter dry white wines like Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio or Soave, as well as lighter, less tannic reds like Pinot Noir or Valpolicella. Rich buttery or creamy sauces can go very well with more buttery or oaked white wines. Hence for pasta dishes and risottos, the sauce is an important factor. For tomato-based sauces, I would suggest reds like Montepulciano or even Pinot Grigio. Spicy Arrabiata or Puttanesca works with Primitivo and Sicilian reds. Creamy white or mushroom sauces can go well with white and lighter reds. Smoky flinty wines made from Sauvignon Blanc go well with oysters and other seafood. Dry Rieslings pair well with sushi, raw, smoked and cured fish. Indeed, the tangy acidity and touch of residual sweetness means German wines go nicely with various Asian dishes.
Generally, for mature wines which are developed and complex, I would look for more complex meat dishes. Mature Barolo and Barbaresco go well with wild mushrooms, slow-cooked meat, and light gamey flavours like pheasant. Yet some of the most enjoyable pairings are the simplest – good steaks or good charcuterie will pair with a range of red wines. One of the most interesting ideas I came across recently was mortadella with dry sparkling rosé. Variety is the spice of life as the saying goes, and with wine, there is always something new to try.