An introduction to food and wine pairing
Food and wine pairing is a fairly subjective business. While tastes vary, some matches are better than others, and the best pairings can truly make your dish sing. The guidelines below provide a good starting point.
Food and wine pairing
To find your perfect match, try to complement, balance or contrast components. Key considerations are flavour intensity, weight, acidity, sweetness, salt, oiliness, meat and tannins, and flavour characteristics.
Flavour intensity and weight
One of the chief tenets of food and wine pairing is to match the flavour intensity and weight of the wine to that of the dish being served (and vice versa). For example, delicate, light-bodied wines such as Italian Pinot Griogio will be overpowered by intensely flavoured, heavy dishes such as game or roast meats. Likewise, a full-bodied, oaked Chardonnay or a robust Cabernet Sauvignon will overwhelm steamed white meats. Even dishes that aren’t rich or heavyweight can be intensely flavoured. Asparagus, for example, requires lightweight, flavourful wines such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. It is very important to take the sauce and cooking method into account when choosing food and wine combinations.
Acidity adds freshness and lift. If the acidity of your dish outweighs that of your wine, the wine will appear flat or washed out. Italian wines are naturally high in acidity, making them a perfect match for tomato-based sauces. Fresh whites, such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, often pair well with Greek salads.
Wines can seem bitter or sour if paired with sweeter dishes and desserts. But take note, it is important to match the degree of sweetness. A rich, ripe South African Chardonnay, for example, is a better match for dishes with just a hint of sweetness, whilst sweet puddings and late-harvest Chenins are a winning combination.
Classic combinations such as Roquefort and Sauternes demonstrate just how well sweetness can enhance salty foods. Dry, high-acid white wines are also a strong match – think oysters and Chablis, or caviar and Brut Champagne.
High-acid wines are wonderful with rich, fatty foods as they cut through the oiliness and refresh the palate. Fatty meats and rich, dark sauces work well with high-acid reds such as Barbera or Cabernet Sauvignon-led blends. Cooking methods such as frying increase the fat content of a dish, and this too can be balanced by crisp whites or reds.
Meat and tannins
Red meats pair well with tannic wines as the proteins reduce the drying effects of the tanins. Young Syrah, for instance, can be quite astringent, but the proteins in steak or roast meats bind with the tannins, making the wine appear softer.
Wines can help to accentuate the dominant flavours of a dish. Fruity dishes are complemented by fruity or floral wines, whilst smoked or barbecued foods are well suited to smoky wines, such as Hawkes bay Reds. Indian curries often work well with spicy Gewurztraminer or lightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc.