There are certain pairings that go perfectly together (think sweet & sour or salt & pepper) and this is definitely the case with good food and good wine. Sommeliers will often use opposing tastes to get the most out of a meal, believing that by balancing flavours, both the food and wine can shine.
Certain wines compliment certain dishes, resulting in both the food and the wine tasting better when paired correctly. An idyllic wine pairing may be something as simple as a dry rosé on a warm summer afternoon with a selection of hors d'oeuvres, or as complex as an aged sauternes with grilled foie gras. You may love to sit over a bowl of mussels while sipping on a pinot grigio or prefer ripping into some sticky barbecue ribs with a plum flavoured malbec.
When it comes to pairing, it's always wise to consider the preparation of the dish — its sauces and spices — and not just the main element. Use this basic guide to pairing to help get you started, but always remember to use your palate as a guide:
First off, the rules:
1. Focus on the characteristics of the wine you wish to champion. You want the wine to shine, not fight against the food.
2. Steer clear of pairing bitter with bitter. Wine Folly advise not selecting a wine with high tannins when serving food with a bitter flavour.
3. Try to serve wine that is sweeter than the dish but offers more acidity.
4. Pay attention to the time of year. For example, a sauvignon blanc is better suited to a summer evening outdoors than a chilly winter's night by the fire.
Now for the wine:
Pinot noir: Tastes like cherries, strawberries and spices. Best served with dishes containing earthy flavours, such as mushrooms, truffles, roast pork, game meats and leek.
According to wine connoisseur James Halliday, an aged pinot noir works perfectly with a grilled calf's liver in Autumn.
Old world wines: These refer to wine hailing from traditional wine making regions such as Italy, Spain and France. On their own, old world wines can taste too earthy and tart, but when teamed with a dish containing even stronger earthy flavours, the wine offers a sweeter, fruitier taste that's delicate and delicious.
As a general rule, serve old world wine with food traditional to the wine's region (think Tuscan wine with Tuscan soup). The flavours, having grown up together, seem to compliment each other impeccably. Try an old world wine served with pappardelle and veal ragu, smoky shrimp and chorizo soup or cassoulet with duck confit.
Cabernet sauvignon: Tastes like cassis, black currants, herbs and cedar. Best served with meat such as lamb shank, duck and sausage and beef. This wine is ideal to keep the chill off with a beautifully braised dish in winter.
Chardonnay: Tastes like tropical fruits but with a buttery finish. Best served with pork, chicken, snapper, prawns, strong cheeses and pasta with a creamy sauce. A mature chardonnay can be paired with Quiche Lorraine in the warmer months.
Champagne: The level of sweetness in your Champagne depends on the type you select. A "Brut" Champagne is quite dry, while one labelled "Doux" contains a high level of sweetness that should only ever be served with dessert (when you follow the principle that wine should be sweeter than the food). Brut Champagne is best served with salty foods such as crispy Udon noodles and nori salt, oysters, eggs benedict with smoked salmon, and tapas. The combination of salty and sweet makes the pairing a match made in heaven.
Sauvignon blanc: Tastes like citrus, tropical fruits, herbs and gooseberries. Best served with salads, vegetable tempura, fish, goat cheese and dishes that emphasise fresh herbs. Because of the tangy flavours of the wine, sauvignon blanc is the perfect partner for dishes that contain tart dressings and sauces.
Pinot grigio: Tastes like lemons, green apples and pears. Best served with salads, simple fish dishes like mussels, ceviche, crab cakes and whitebait. The light, delicate flavour of the wine brings the food to the forefront, packing light seafood dishes with more of a punch.
Rosé is the French word for pink and is known for its sweet, dry and refreshing flavour. While popular in France for some time, it has only been in recent times that the world has jumped on board with the delicious trend of a summer glass of rosé. The USA didn't catch on until the 1960s, but within a very short time it has become one of the nation's most preferred drops.
Rosé is crisp and invigorating, making it a perfect pairing for a variety of French cheeses. The wines are most popular during the warmer months thanks to the light, delicate flavours. A bottle of rosé is best paired with fromage fort, asparagus and cheese tartines, cheese souffle, quiche, Brie cheese, blue cheese, hors d'oeuvres, caesar salad and trout mousse.
Sparkling rosé, such as Rosé Champagne has a deeper flavour and a richness that works better with main dishes. Sparkling rosés are better served with dishes such as beet risotto or chicken sofrito.
Now you know the basics to finding a bottle of wine to best suit your meal. Whether you're eating at home or dining in a restaurant, use these tips to find a combination that works and enjoy your food and wine the way it should be enjoyed.
Mireille Kilgour has been an entrepreneur for 35 years in the hospitality sector. French born, she has been an accomplished business owner and operator for a number of Sydney venues. Leading the industry with high profile institutions such as Lamrock Café Bondi, she has endless passion for the industry, and now has the pleasure of supporting restaurants to fill their tables with the new Good Food Gift Card program.