Food & Wine Matching

with Angela Mount

Food and wine matching red wine

One of the questions that I’ve been asked most over the years, about wine, is the age-old one – what wine to serve with various dishes. At wine events, at dinner parties, at the school gates, the question is always the same – even my mother emails me, describing the food she is cooking for friends, and asking me what wine she should be serving.

This made me ponder in more depth, how people buy wine, and what influences their buying decisions, other than price; and in many cases, it’s occasion that prompts the selection. Is it a wine for weekday suppers, Friday night chill out, or Saturday evenings with friends? Many wine drinkers simply buy their favourites, but there is a whole host of people out there, who want to know which wines go with what food – not in great detail, but just a few, simple guidelines.

From talking to hundreds of enthusiastic wine drinkers over the years, and as an ex-supermarket buyer, who catered for people who just enjoyed a glass of wine, not for the wine experts, I learnt that most wine drinkers were far more interested in the taste of the wine, the flavour, and what it went well with, than the fact that it was grown on limestone soil, in a tiny hamlet on the edge of woodlands, by a beret-wearing, opera-singing Frenchman.

Basic Food & Wine Matching Tips

Many people don’t care which wine they serve with food – they just buy their favourites; but just as many do want to know which styles of wine work, especially for special occasions, or if they are unsure. The majority of wine drinkers follow the simple, and long –established view that red wine goes with red meat and cheese, and white wine goes with fish, and white meat. But it’s not quite that simple…

My main message is that there are no set rules with food and wine matching; it’s entirely subjective and what may rock my boat, won’t rock yours. It’s all about balancing depth and intensity of flavours of the food and the wine; there are some classic combinations, and some totally left-field ones – matches that on paper shouldn’t work, but somehow do, in a glorious medley of perfectly fused flavours. So if anyone tells you that red wine doesn’t go with fish, ignore; true many of the big, burly, bold reds wouldn’t work, but there are some delicious, lower tannin, fruity reds that work well, especially with more meaty types of fish, like monkfish. Similarly , ignore the old-fashioned view that only red wine works with cheese – I can think of no worse combination that a glass of full-bodied red, with a slice of delicate goats cheese or young brie.

However, there are some simple guidelines, which will make the enjoyment of the food and the wine complete. How often have you tasted a wine, enjoyed it, then put it with food, and either hated the taste of the wine, or the food? It’s all about balance. If you put a light, delicate, crisp white, which is delicious on its own, with a red hot curry, it’s going to taste sour, acidic and thin, because the flavours of the curry totally overwhelm the delicacy of the wine; the same would go for a firm Bordeaux red, with ripe tannins – the intense curry would make the elegant Bordeaux taste very astringent. Similarly, pair a big , heavy red with a delicate tuna nicoise and everything will taste sour and tinny.

The secret is to match the intensity of the dish with the intensity of the wine, so that they balance out; for example, one of the very best matches for curry is a fruity New world Rose, because the rich, fruitiness and ripeness of the wine, and the low tannins, will cope really well with the intense, yet often, sweet spiciness of the curry. Not conventional , but it works. Think about the food you are cooking, or choosing – is it spicy, salty, smoky or sweet? How rich and intense is it? What are the predominant flavours?

There are also some definite foodstuffs that are almost anathema to wine – so powerful, that they can totally overpower a wine, but with a bit of careful research and trial and error, there is usually a wine match that works – difficult foods and foodstuffs to match, depending on how they are cooked, can include eggs, vinegar, wasabi, pickles, and red hot chillies.

Therefore, throw out the rule book, but stick to some basic key pointers; experiment… you can play safe or be bold and try a few more unusual combinations; some will work , others won’t, but it’s all a voyage of discovery, and you will have fun exploring this world. My simple guidelines on the following pages are not rules – they are general ideas of the styles of wine which work with different food types, and which partnerships work for me; so use this as a starting point and begin to experiment!

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