THE ‘ART’ OF FOOD AND WINE MATCHING is actually a relatively recent invention (1980s); before this most people unthinkingly drank local wines with local foods – and lived to tell the tale! But for whatever reason, today, it’s an overly-prescribed area that can even create anxiety for some people.
The stressing is unnecessary though, as most pairings actually work pretty well. “Food and wine matches are like sex – even the bad ones are still pretty good”, says American wine writer Mark Oldman.
The most important rule is to simply pick the wine you want and the food you want. No one has ever had a bad night doing that.
That said, keeping a few simple principles in mind won’t hurt.
• White wines with fish and chicken – whites tend to be fairly acidic, so can act like a squeeze of lemon for fish. Most reds will overpower to a greater or lesser extent simple white fish. Some pink fish (e.g. salmon, tuna) can work better with lighter reds (e.g. Gamay, Mencia, Pinot Noir).
• Red wines with red meat – again, a sound maxim. Fatty, protein-heavy foods like meat help to tame a wine’s tannins. A typical white with, say, a steak in pepper sauce risks tasting like vaguely-winey water.
• Watch your weight – Mismatching light/full bodied wines with heavy/light dishes nearly always means that one party gets overwhelmed – a delicate Muscadet would be eclipsed by lobster in a rich butter sauce (though it still sounds lovely). Match like with like.
• Complement or contrast – these different approaches can work equally well. A lamb cutlet seasoned with rosemary or other herbs would go beautifully with a garrigue-scented Minervois (complement). But a sweet, fruity Tokaji works perfectly with a salty blue cheese too (contrast).
• Avoid upstaging – Serve great, complex or very old wines with relatively unadorned food; serve simpler, one-dimensional wines with more intricate dishes – there can’t be two stars. Champion either the food or the wine, not both. “One must listen while the other speaks or there is a muddle.” Evan Goldstein, Master Sommelier.
• If it grows together, it goes together – wines and cuisine from classic areas evolved together over many centuries so it is always a safe bet to choose a wine from the same area that your food comes from. For example, an aged Barolo sounds lovely with Wild Piemontese Boar in a Truffle and Barbera Jus, doesn’t it?
Proceed directly to these tried-and-tested favourites if you want guaranteed amazing results!
• Olives and dry Sherry • Caviar and Champagne • Shellfish and Chablis • Seafood and Muscadet (or Albariño) • Goat’s Cheese and Loire Sauvignon Blanc • Smoked fish and Riesling • Asian food and Alsatian whites • Charcuterie and Beaujolais • Game and red Burgundy • Roast lamb and Bordeaux (or Rioja) • Paté and Sauternes • Stilton and Port
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