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 to find which wines you prefer to enjoy with which food. There is no reason to follow traditions, but If you’ve got an upcoming dinner party or event, there are some standard compatibilities that make marrying wine with food a breeze.
When it comes to enjoying wine, food makes all the difference. 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 wine a full opportunity to shine. Nebiolo drunk on its own is so dry it might leave you wondering who on earth would enjoy it but if you taste it with a rich slow cooked game meat in the middle of winter, you see that a super dry wine cuts through the fat and complements rich, meaty flavours.
Seafood is frequently matched with white wines. 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. 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 some Asian dishes, are some of the hardest to match. Crisp white wines such as riesling and sauvignon blanc or wines with a little more fruitiness or sweetness might be a great choice. A chardonnay or a rose may also pair well spicy food but generally anything unwooded should be fine if you and your guests are not too fussy.
Heavy red wines such as cabernet sauvignon are not really suited to Asian food, however 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 a Margaret River shiraz might be just the trick if you are planning to enjoy a semi-sweet coconut-based dishes.
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, with older, more gamey meats being more suited to light table reds. Tomato-based dishes pair well with both red and white 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.
Vegetable dishes such as roasted root veggies go well with a light red or a rich white wine such as Chardonnay or Viognier, while green vegetables are more suited to a lighter white wine or a sparkling. Mushrooms lean towards red wine as do dishes like eggplant parmigiana, however if you add soft cheese for example, a rich white wine might be even better.
There are no rules, so f 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 you love and 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 good company and fresh ingredients paired with a wine made by a passionate winemaker works for me every time.