Wine Pairing 101

For centuries, countless volumes have been dedicated to the crafting, perfecting and savouring of wine, in all its many heady forms. Today the science of wine and winemaking (also known as oenology) has been raised to an art form with vineyards and vintners all competing to be the best. And chances are, if one were to ask any of these aficionados about wine pairing, a long list of rules would ensue. All of which can be intimidating for someone new to the joys of wine pairing, but it needn’t be a daunting task if you follow a few basic principles.

While many things may have changed in the culinary and wine world, certain long-established opinions remain true, for example: the principle that one should drink light wine before heavy – a heavy wine can over load the palate and if followed by a light wine, the delicate notes and flavours will be lost. The best approach is to keep things simple and to be open-minded, and while that might be a liberating approach, it can also be a little vague for those of us not in the know, so what should you keep in mind as you try to create the perfect marriage between food and wine? According to Honest Cooking, an international online culinary magazine, these are the principles to follow:

Acid needs acid: if you’re serving a dish with strong citrus elements or perhaps tomato based, then it’s better to match that level of acidity with an acidic wine which will enhance the zesty notes. For example, fish – which is most often served with a squeeze of lemon – is best matched with a Sauvignon Blanc, while fattier fish is best suited to a Chardonnay.

Tannins need fat: tannin is that bitter astringent taste you get at the back of your throat and when pronounced, it needs fat to soften the effect and create balance – think pork belly served with a Cabernet or rich duck breast served with a Merlot.

Pair dominant flavours: the old rule of white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat is not always the best advice, it’s better to let dominant flavours lead the way. While you might want to serve a Pinot Noir with your beef dish, if the creamy lemon sauce the beef is served in takes centre stage, then it’s better to pair that flavour with a wine, and not the meat; in which case, you might prefer a Chardonnay rather than a red.

Heat needs sugar: if you’re serving a spicy curry, you don’t want to amplify the heat with a high alcohol, tannin heavy wine, instead you want to serve something sweet to temper the heat – Riesling is ideal or the fruitier Gewürztraminer also works well.

Sweet needs sweeter: the sweetness of the wine should not be outmatched by the sweetness of the dessert. A port or a late harvest wine is the ideal complement to a rich and chocolate based dessert, while a slightly sweet wine is best suited to a lighter last course.

The important thing to remember is that while these general guidelines can help in your quest to find the perfect match between food and wine, there really aren’t any absolutes and it’s about what tastes best for you. So, follow your taste buds and enjoy the vineyard meander – who knows what delectable pairings you might discover along the way.