Julie Harrison - Wine and Food Matching

Publish Date
Thursday, 1 October 2015, 3:52PM
By Julie Harrison

Whilst I don’t believe in having to have a certain wine with a certain food there are some things that go together and some that definitely don’t. So what are some perfect matches? A lot of matching food and wine is all about balance. The key thing is that the wine should not overpower or detract from the food and vice versa.

Wine and cheese are a classic combination. Fresh cheeses are good with fresh, crisp white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris. They can also work well with dry rose or champagne.  Creamy Brie is great with Chardonnay, dry sparkling wine or a low tannin red such as Beaujolais. As cheeses get older and harder the wine match can get bolder.   Swiss style cheese such as Gruyere and Emmental is good with Riesling, full bodied Chardonnay or fruity reds like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais. Aged, hard cheese like cheddar, aged Gruyere and Gouda, Comte and Parmigiano-Reggiano match well with Cabernet Sauvignon, big Italian reds like Barolo and Amarone as well as sweet white wines. The sweet wines work as they balance the saltiness of this type of cheese and the red wines work as the cheese tones down the astringent tannins in the wine. Salty cheese like Roquefort is fantastic with a sweet Sauterne.   Smelly cheese like Livarot needs something to take the edge off and aromatics like Gewurztraminer help with this.    Don’t forget fortified wines, Port and Sherry go well with all but the really delicate cheeses.

I love roast chicken with a rich Chardonnay but with a versatile meat like chicken or pork it is the flavours the meat is cooked with that really determines what wine goes best. Cooked in a tomato based sauce I would go with a lighter Italian red or Pinot noir. With something like Coq au Vin you should be drinking the wine you used for cooking. If you are having chicken with lemon try Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc and chicken in a rich mushroom sauce would go well with a Pinot Noir.

Think about matching like with like. Asparagus dishes go well with Sauvignon Blanc. Venison with a red current sauce works well with the dark berry fruit character of Cabernet Sauvignon. Duck with a cherry based sauce is perfect for Pinot Noir and any mushroom dish also goes well with a good, earthy Pinot Noir. Food high in acidity works best with acidic wines. If you have a food that is often accompanied by lemon or lime match it with an unoaked acidic white such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or dry Riesling. Fatty foods are also great with acidic wines as the wine tones down the richness. Reasonably acidic Pinot Noir helps cut through the fat of duck or salmon and Sauvignon Blanc goes well with Pizza!

When it comes to fish the stronger the fish the stronger the wine can be. Delicate white fish needs a delicate white wine such as Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. The more robust character of Tuna and Salmon means they can take on Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Shell fish works well with Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc and Rose.   Again look at what you are serving the shellfish with. Rich seafood such as scallops or lobster with a buttery sauce is great with Chardonnay.

Beef is a natural partner of strong reds like Bordeaux blends, Malbec and a good Australian Shiraz. The tannins in the red wine cut through the fat in the meat and the richness of the meat smooths out the wine.   Malbec makes a great match for meat fresh off the barbecue. Lamb often needs something a bit more subtle and is a natural match for a good New Zealand Pinot Noir.

It is often hard to choose a wine for Asian Cuisine and it doesn’t help that you often eat a number of different dishes in one meal. Aromatic wines are a good option so you are looking at Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Choose something that is off-dry.   Sushi works well with bubbles.

Salty foods make tannins seem stronger so red wines are better avoided. Salty foods can be balanced by wines with a bit of sweetness or acidity like an off-dry Riesling or Champagne.

Desserts can be tricky when it comes to wine matching. A dish with a tart fruit component will work best with a more acidic wine. Sparkling wine is often a good safe option for dessert.   A Rose Champagne is wonderful with a raspberry or strawberry dessert. With heavier desserts you can’t go wrong with a Muscat and fortified wines like a good sweet Sherry or Port.

My personal favourite wine and food matches most of which fall into the “special treat” category are:

  • Foie Gras or Roquefort with Sauterne
  • The Spanish white wine, Albarino with oysters
  • Champagne and caviar
  • Sancerre (French Sauvignon Blanc) and fresh goats cheese.

The key is not to take it too seriously and enjoy what you enjoy, but when you find a combination that really enhances both the wine and the food the result is delicious.

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