Matching your dish with your drink

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This week I caught up with a chef friend of mine to help him match the wine and food for a winemakers dinner he’s holding in June. It’s a regular get together for us and one that I enjoy immensely as there are always surprises, discussion and disagreements about what goes with what.

Why bother pairing food and wine? If you have a plate of food that you like and a drink that you enjoy, do they have to match? Well, no, but it can add real zing to your dinner.

What you are looking for is balance. You should be able to taste the food and the wine, without one over-powering the other. Also, some things just don’t go well together, like hot spice and alcohol or fish oil and tannin. Here are a few basic rules to help you on your way.

The first consideration is matching the weight of the food and the weight of the wine. Salads are light and will go well with light wines and fillet steak is heavy and so……you’ve got it. Wines come in all shapes and sizes as does food, so a partnership can always be found.

The next step is the intensity of the food. How flavoursome is it? For example, some ingredients have naturally strong flavours like lamb or duck whereas some are more neutral like monkfish or chicken. It may be the cooking method that influences the flavour, with char-grilling or roasting adding its own character, and boiling or steaming not so much. Or it may be the sauce or dressing that influences the dish. I have had sea bass with white wine but also with Syrah when served with a red wine reduction sauce.

The final consideration is flavour matching. It comes last because unless you have the weight and intensity right, this won’t matter. Think of complimentary flavours instead of direct matches which can often be too much (pear with pear? Why bother). If you are looking to pair a wine with raspberries look for flavours that go well with raspberries rather than a wine that tastes of them. Mint, basil and vanilla are all flavours that can be found in wine.

One of the simplest ways to approach food and wine matching is to think of the wine as an extra ingredient to the dish. What else does the dish need? A plate of deep-fried calamari is crying out for a squeeze of lemon, so use a wine with a similar character to a lemon. Sauvignon Blanc or Dry Riesling fit the bill.

If you are faced with the wine and need to create the dish, taste the wine and simply ask, what would I really like to eat right now? It works for me.