The Right Approach to Pairing Food and Wine

When considering food and wine options for a meal, whether it be an evening at home cooking up a fancy feast, eating out at your favourite restaurant or trying new cuisine, the main thing to keep in mind is what wine will enhance the flavour of the food.

Traditionally, you would pair red wine with red meat, like beef and lamb and white wine with everything else.

Today that is not the case.

Be brave and explore the whole gamut of both red and white wine varieties to pair with the food you are making or going to consume.

If you are a novice at knowing which wine is good to go with a particular cuisine, focus on the basic flavours and textures that make up the dish.

Is it spicy? Or is it thickly sauced?

Does it come richly ladened with cream, cheese or a tomato-based sauce?

Is it fresh and raw food? Is it a purely vegetarian or a big meaty dish?

Each of these elements is considered part of the selection process for choosing a good wine to pair with your food.

It is also good to understand the basics of what the best wine variety and styles are to go with basic flavours.

Basics – Red Wine

Red wine comes in many colours, from young, darkly coloured grapes of violets to mature brick red wines.

The varieties range widely from the uber-popular to the distant and quirky blends. From the single origin, and single variety to the transcontinental mixed blends.

When it comes to red wine pairings, it is a good idea to match a dish that is heavily tomato and cheese based – like Italian food, lasagne or a BBQ meat dish – with a medium to full-bodied red wine. This will round out and cut through the richness of these dishes.

A wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz can cope with a rich, meaty dish and even compliment it with its robust to full-bodied tannin flavour.

But also, why not break out of the norm, try something different, and pair your rich dish with a bright and juicy Tempranillo or a rustic and fruity Sangiovese?

The complex savoury flavours and tangy acidity of these varieties pair very well with these tomato-based and meaty dishes.

For spicy or thickly sauced foods, like an Indian or Thai curry, you’re going to need a wine that can handle the heat and intensity of the food.

Try going for a smooth and subtle Merlot or a fruit-heavy and sweet Grenache. Slightly chill these varieties to help balance the heat of the dish.

These wines will provide a soft, light-bodied, medium acidic, almost candied fruit flavour. They will also give a dish that is heavy, spicy and meaty a real lift that will initiate a very good ‘mouth feel’ to truly amplify its flavours.

Basics – White Wine

White wine is fermented without the skin. The colours come in a variety of yellows, from straw yellow to yellow-green and yellow-gold.

The varieties and characteristics of white wine range in complexity and taste based on the fermentation and ageing process.

When pairing a glass of white wine with food, consider the lightness, freshness and crispness of a dish and the refreshing taste to the palette the wine would provide.

White wine complements most food styles of the lighter variety, such as shellfish, fish, poultry, salads and cheeses.

A Sauvignon Blanc with its citrusy and highly acidic taste will make the flavours of a seafood dish more vibrant.

While a full-bodied and enlivening Verdelho pairs favourably with chicken and fish dishes. Creating an all-seasons approach to the food with wine scenario.

In being an ‘everything to everyone wine, you should move away from those old standard favourites and try something a bit different.

Like Albarino. Fresh, fruity and with plenty of minerality, this wine would pair very well with kingfish ceviche, oysters or even sushi.

And Viognier. Elegant, lush and fragrant, this drop would match excellently with chicken tagine, red duck curry or roast pork.

Each of these varieties will provide a pleasing pairing that is harmonious and balanced with flavour profiles that both elevate and highlight each individual dish.

Picking your style and flavour profiles

Choosing a wine to pair with your food should be an enjoyable, relaxed and fun experience. It shouldn’t leave you scratching your head in the local wine store or having a mild panic about what to bring to the party or dinner.

Pairings should be easy and there are plenty of ways to get a good selection for your next food and wine experience.

Select a wine that will complement a dish, or drink a wine that will enhance it.

Match the flavour and intensity of a dish, keep a check on the tannins and acidity, keep the food and wine weight balanced and go with your gut. There are no hard and fast rules.

Wine pairing is subjective, so go with what you love, but also keep the simple rules in mind and remember to try something new or different from your usual choices.

Give a new varietal a chance, try a wine from a different continent or a new blend, and don’t forget that opposites can sometimes attract.

Read the wine-tasting notes on the bottle and seek out the ones that make you go ‘Hmmm that sounds delicious!’.

Final Thoughts

If you go to your local wine store and you don’t know what to choose. Ask the assistant. They will usually be able to give you a basic guide to look at a few varieties of wine. They might even be able to steer you into trying something new that would suit your tastes.

Some food and wine pairings advice can be overly inflexible. You can pair any wine with any food, however, know the simple rules first, then go break them. If you are an informed rule breaker, you will come across lots of surprises with your food and wine pairings.

For all food lovers, pairing a delicious plate of food with a glass of wine can be a combination that catapults your taste buds into the stratosphere of pure epicurean delight.

Any wine, red, white or sparkling comes with its complex and distinct characteristics. So choose one that has a combination of the simple rules as a starting point. Then go with the dish’s flavour profile to pair it with your own tastes to enhance and blend the whole dining experience.

Alternatively, if all this seems a bit too complicated, why not organise a Gathar private chef experience with someone who will do all of the work for you?

Mia Hughes

Mia Hughes, with a Master's in Cultural Studies from the University of Edinburgh, has made her distinguished mark in travel and lifestyle journalism with a dedicated service for over 15 years. Joining our team in 2016, she brings a wealth of experience, having previously worked as a senior editor for a renowned travel magazine. Her expertise extends to exploring diverse cultures and destinations, bringing a rich narrative to her writing. Beyond work, Mia is an avid hiker and photographer, often found capturing the essence of her travels. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and has been involved in various projects promoting eco-friendly travel practices.

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