Pairing food and wine can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Whilst it’s not an exact science, there are a few basic rules you can follow to help to guide you. But if you’re wanting to improve your food and wine pairing matches, here’s some key tips to follow.
There are six predominant flavour elements that we cook with – salt, acidity, sweet, bitterness, fat and spice. Three of these elements are also important to wine making – acidity, bitterness and sweet. Some of these flavours work in perfect harmony when paired, while others not so much.
At our restaurant, Head Chef Vinnie Robinson starts with our hero – the wine – to develop his dishes. At home, you may prefer to start with your food – think about the meal you’ll be serving and its main components. Are the dishes light or heavy? Salty or sweet? Creamy or acidic? Next think about whether you are wanting to base the wine pairing on complimenting or enhancing the dish.
Just as winemaker Paul Bridgeman looks to produce wines with balance, you want the food and wine to complement each other. When it comes to balance, pair lighter foods with lighter wines, and richer dishes with more full-bodied, tannic wine.
Chicken, pork, seafood, and vegetable-based dishes often pair better with white wine and lighter reds such as Pinot Noir, while red meats work better with heavier reds such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
When it comes to pairing, it’s often best to think about the flavour of the sauce that will accompany the dish rather than the main protein itself.
Complement or contrast
The next thing to think about are the predominant flavour elements of each dish – is it sour/acidic, sweet, salty, spicy, savoury/umami or bitter?
If you want to complement the dish, you want the food and wine to have similar flavour profiles. For example:
* Mac ‘n’ cheese with a buttery Chardonnay
* Steak and a mushroom sauce with a Cabernet Sauvignon
* Vegetable ratatouille with Pinot Noir
If you want to contrast the dish, think about creating opposing flavour profiles between the food and the wine:
* If the food is salty, bring in a more acidic wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc
* If the food is acidic, bitter or spicy you might link to pair a wine with a little bit of residual sugar such as Riesling, or a Pinot Noir that is a bit fruitier
Dessert and cheese
The rule of thumb with pairing sweet food with sweet wine is that the wine needs to be sweeter than the dessert. If not, the wine may taste dull in comparison to the food.
If your dessert is cream-based, a Botrytis will cleanly cut through the richness. If your dessert is more fruit-based, a sweeter Riesling with a bit of acidity will pair perfectly. Rieslings can vary greatly in terms of sweetness, so choose carefully.
If you’re enjoying a chocolate-based dessert, why not try something different – 70% dark chocolate is a match made in heaven for Syrah (cool climate Shiraz).
When it comes to cheese, the complement or contrast rules come back into play. There is a cheese for every occasion, with many flavour profiles to choose from.
If you have a fresh or creamy cheese such as burrata or goat’s cheese, choose a lighter wine such as a Chardonnay. If it’s an aged, hard cheese such as cheddar or pecorino, a Cabernet Sauvignon can be a great pairing.
If you have a blue cheese, or soft creamy cheese such as Brie or Camembert, Botrytis will complement this. If your cheese platter also features pâté or foie gras, Botrytis is a great option.
Ultimately, we all have individual palates and sometimes simply working with what you like is best. Don’t be afraid to experiment – you never know when that next perfect pairing will reveal itself.
Looking for the perfect pairing for your favourite Levantine Hill wine? Our Head Chef, Vinnie Robinson, has created some matching recipes and you can discover them here (login to your member account required).