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Wine 101

Wine 101

Pairing wine with a meal can be fun and a great way to move you out of your comfort zone and experiment with different varietals. 

The diversity of our culinary landscape and the development of fusion cuisine means that there are no hard and fast rules anymore but, for those of you that would like a bit of a steer, here’s a few tips and a guide to matching wines with some common foods.

TOP TIP

One good rule of thumb is to pair wine and dishes that both traditionally come from the same country or region.  For example, for an Italian pasta sauce, try a Chianti/Sangiovese.  For olives and tapas, try cava or a dry Spanish red, and so forth.

WHITE vs. RED

We know white wine usually goes with fish and red usually goes with meat but there are times when you feel like drinking the opposite or you’re sharing a bottle of wine that has to work across both fish and meat.  The trick to wine and food pairing is the sauce.  Try a medium body red wine like Merlot, Chianti and Cabernet Franc with white meat or fish with a heavy sauce (think chicken with béchamel or sea bass with hollandaise.)  The best white pairing for these same dishes is a big, rich Chardonnay.  If the fish or white meat is grilled, go with a light white wine like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc and for red, stay light too, and try Pinot Noir, Grenache or Sangiovese.

Leafy salad greens with a vinegary dressing

To take on the acidity of the vinegar you need a wine that can compete in the acidity stakes.  Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc or an un-oaked Chardonnay would all work.  Stay away from wines that have been aged in oak. 

Olives

While olives and wine are not a natural pairing (olives being heavily brined), you could try a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.  An earthy red like Tempranillo would work too.

Smoked salmon appetisers

Look for a wine with good acidity and un-oaked.  A dry to off-dry Riesling or perhaps a ‘toasty’ Brut Champagne.

Asian appetisers (spring rolls, prawn crackers, sesame toast)

Asian appetizers are flavoursome, often spicy, and garlic is a widely used ingredient.  Here you need really aromatic wines with a lower alcohol level (high alcohol and the spicy hot flavour will turn bitter).  Gewürztraminer is the obvious choice, but a Pinot Gris, dry Riesling or Pinot Blanc will also handle the Asian flavours very well.

White fish

White fish, being delicate, deserve a light, bright wine if steamed or delicately sautéed – try a Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or un-oaked Chardonnay.  Reds like super delicate Burgundies (Pinot Noir) or Gamay are excellent for pairing as well.  With more neutral flavoured fish, it will ultimately come down to the garnish so don’t forget to factor in the sauce.  For an oily fish, like sardines, something light and crisp – an un-oaked Chardonnay or an Albarino.  With more meaty fish that can be a bit ‘fishy’ tasting, an oaked Chardonnay or a Viognier would work well. 

Pan-seared tuna

This is an opportunity to go white, red or rosé.  A Pinot Gris or lightly oaked Chardonnay would work, as would a dense rosé.  With reds, look for a fruit-driven (rather than earthy) Pinot Noir or a Shiraz / Viognier.

Tomato-based pasta sauce

A tomato-based pasta sauce would work well with a red blend like a Grenache Shiraz.  Merlot, Chianti, Nero D'avola, Zinfandel and Gamay are all good choices to match the high acidity in tomatoes and add to the flavour of the overall dish.

Roast Chicken

Roast chicken is a great way to try many different pairings.  Try sparkling wine or Champagne, Verdelho, Albarino, or Chardonnay.  For reds, Pinot Noir to lighter bodied Grenache or Merlot blends pair very nicely.  Just keep it light - try to stay away from big, over the top high alcohol wines like Cabernet or Shiraz.

Lamb

Pinot Noir is a classic pairing but an earthy NZ Syrah would work well too - the meat has a gamey, spicy quality which marries well with the spicy nuances found in local Syrah.

Steak or hamburger

A Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc), Zinfandel or Malbec would all stand up to the rich flavours and support the juiciness of the dishes.

Pork

Pork can be challenging depending on the preparation and sauce. Generally speaking, you always need wines which have acid, just to cut through the fat content.  Try a big Chardonnay or a Rhone-style red blend (Grenache / Shiraz) or lighter Pinot Noir.

Desserts

As well as late-harvest ‘stickies’ from New Zealand, obvious natural partners to desserts are Sauternes from France,  Tokaji from Hungary and PX sherry from Spain.
 

Ordering wine in a restaurant can be an intimidating process. There’s often pressure to impress your guests and the sommelier, appease your own tastes and save your wallet!  Know your general price point and try to choose at least the second or third least expensive offering of a particular region or varietal, never the cheapest.  Ordering wine at a restaurant is a great opportunity to try something new from a curated list, so try ordering a wine you’ve never heard of before.  If there’s a sommelier, ask them for recommendations – that’s what they’re there for!  When presented with the wine, smell the wine, not the cork.  Finally, trust your palate, trust your taste and enjoy.
 
 
 
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