Chef with a blow torch searing the top of a piece of salmon at the Watershed restaurant on a Margaret River Wine Tour

Marrying wine with food. How do I know what works and what doesn’t?

Like most wine ‘rules’ the traditional wine and food pairings are only suggestions. Depending on your individual preferences, the weather and the time of day, you might experiment by taking a journey of discovery to find which wines you prefer to enjoy with your favourite food. There is actually no right or wrong when it comes to drinking wine, but there are a few standard compatibilities that the experts recommend when it comes to marrying wine with food. Of course, there’s no real reason to stick to traditions especially if you like to experiment, but If you’ve got an upcoming dinner party or event, working with what wine makers and chefs recommend is a pretty safe place to start. Food makes all the difference, when it comes to enjoying wine. If you’ve been on a wine tour or tasted a new variety of wine, without food to accompany it, you may not have given that type of wine a chance to prove itself to you. Once we add food, wines can really come to life and shine to their full potential. A Nebiolo on its own might dry your palette out and leave you wondering why this variety of wine was ever used, however, once you serve it with a rich slow cooked game meat in the middle of winter, you’ll realise this wine is the top dog when it comes to cutting through the fat and complementing rich, meaty flavours. Very few wines are awesome without food and let’s face it, the more we eat, the more we can drink so it makes sense to think about how we put the two together.

Seafood is usually matched with a white wine. But which one will work best?
Shellfish such as crab, crayfish and prawns pair beautifully with a sparkling white wine, a Semillon or a Riesling. A wooded chardonnay might work well with crayfish, Atlantic salmon or a creamy fish dish and a crisp white such as a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc or sparkling wine is likely to be the perfect accompaniment to a summer seafood platter that might include oysters and deep fried fish. Wines such as Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling clean out the flavour of salt and balance the rich ocean flavours of oysters. Don’t rule out red wines completely either when it comes to seafood. A dish with a tomato and caper based sauce or a soupy tomato dish such as chilli mussels for example might be beautifully matched to enjoy with a Sangiovese, Grenache or Temperanillo.

Food that features dominant spice blends, such as many Asian dishes, are some of the hardest to match wine with. Crisp white wines such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc will usually work well and wines with a little more fruitiness or sweetness might also be a great choice. A chardonnay or a rose can also be a great choice to enjoy with spicy food but generally just remember that it is better to select unwooded wines and you should be right to mix it up a bit, depending on your mood. Heavy red wines such as cabernet sauvignon are not really suited to Asian food either, however some of the lighter reds such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Temperanillo can work well. Shiraz and its peppery flavour might intensify the heat and confuse the palette so that might not be ideal but if you fancy a Margaret River shiraz, which will be more elegant and medium bodied than a Barossa shiraz for example, it might be just the trick if you are planning to enjoy a semi-sweet dish such as Szechwan or Satay.

Red meat is generally paired with red wines and depending on the dish, you might select a lighter or heavier red. A steak is the perfect partner for one of Margaret River’s iconic Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blends, while a pasta dish such as Lasagne or Spaghetti Bolognaise will make your tastebuds sing when served alongside a Sangiovese or Tempranillo.

Shiraz is the ideal choice if you are planning to slow cook some lamb shanks in red wine. Just add plenty of fresh herbs during cooking, such as garlic and thyme, and you will have created a party for your tastebuds. Cured or smoked red meats might also go beautifully with a sweet white wine such as Chenin Blanc when served as an appetiser or on a platter alongside cheese and a sweet fortified like port after dinner.

Poultry dishes such as a roast chicken will go well with a wooded white, such as one of Margaret River’s famous buttery chardonnays, however chicken and turkey can also be served with a light red wine, depending on the sauce you serve it with and the age of the chicken. As soon as you add tomato to a dish, you can start working with red wines and there is plenty of wiggle room when it comes to what will taste good with poultry so don’t be afraid to experiment. A white wine added to a tomato sauce while cooking creates a beautiful flavour that is easily accompanied with a glass of white with dinner (and during cooking if that enhances your culinary abilities).

Vegetable dishes such as roasted root vegies will go well with a light red or a rich white wine such as Chardonnay or Viognier, while green vegetables will be more suited to a lighter white wine or a sparkling. Mushrooms will lean towards a red wine as do dishes like Eggplant Parmigianino, however if you add a little soft cheese to the centre, a rich white wine might be just the trick.

Whatever you try and wherever your food and wine journey takes you, just remember that if you are enjoying it, then it’s awesome. You might hear that a chocolaty dessert won’t go well with a dry red but you might also find that a dark chocolate, which is more bitter than sweet in flavour, will be the perfect ending to your meal. If you fancy it, try it – its not like the wine pairing police are going to knock on your door anytime soon, plus you might discover a new combination that keeps your palette excited and interested so who can argue with that? Food and wine choices are personal and change over time. Your mission is to find what you like through experimentation. Personally, I think that any wine shared with loved ones and friends, served with local, seasonal produce is a winner. Good company and fresh ingredients paired with a wine made by a passionate winemaker works for me every time.