Matching food and wine: The A-Z of wine pairings
Wine expert Kathryn McWhirter has been writing about food and wine matching for decades. She shares some of her A-Z of the perfect pairing for popular foods with us…
On toast or potato with lashings of butter they are magical with an inexpensive off-dry German riesling.
Strawberries, sugar and cream taste wondrous with sauternes and sweet semillons, also with very sweet riesling.
And the rest
Sweet riesling or muscat go best with raspberries, blackcurrants and blackberries.
Beef is brilliant with wines from the gamay grape, such as beaujolais (beef doesn’t need a massive, beefy wine) as well as malbec, the touriga nacional grape of Portugal, southern Italian primitivo or red zinfandel. Horseradish sauces all make wines taste flat.
We think of cheese as a red wine thing, but there are actually more excellent matches with white wines. Cheeses are so different. And wine is picky.
Socially distances itself from wines.
Will get up close and personal with riesling, red rioja, tempranillo, montepulciano d’abruzzo, red bordeaux, beaujolais
Try chardonnay, sauvignon or semillon or a blend from those, or touriga nacional or a douro blend from Portugal, or pinot noir.
Melted on pizza, mozzarella is yummy with dolcetto (red, Italian) and with sauvignon blanc.
Chicken is easy with lots of wines, but it’s super-fond of frascati, merlot and the sangiovese grape of Italy (the main variety in chianti).
Chilli doesn’t interfere too much with wine, but maybe this is not the time to open your finest bottle. Choosing an ideal wine may be difficult if you are dipping into a variety of dishes. And sweetness may interfere.
Chilli con carne
Chilli con carne, with or without cumin, is great with beaujolais and valpolicella, and Portuguese bairrada.
It’s hard to generalise about Chinese cooking, but red wines may taste tougher than they really are, dry whites may taste flat. Inexpensive off-dry German wines may cope best.
Chocolate likes sweet muscat and port of all kinds.
All sorts of sweet wines go well with the flavour of coffee, but muscat and sauternes (and other semillons) are dreamy.
Make a cottage pie with beef and the best wines could be gamay (perhaps from beaujolais), côtes-du-rhône or other southern French red.
Creamy or egg-based sauce
Both are best with white wines. They make red wines taste bitter.
Eggs are not easy with wine. Reds and rosés make a bitter clash. Among whites, there’s something about the flavour of un-oaky chardonnay that makes it a really good foil for the flavour of eggs. Try adding basil, another of chardonnay’s best mates.
On a hot summer’s lockdown day, try sancerre or other sauvignons with a green pepper gazpacho, or go all Spanish with a bottle of verdejo or rueda.
There could also be sweetness in that Indian/Bangladeshi take-away, and a wine-challenging array of simultaneous dishes. But the spices find good wine partners, as do ginger, onion and garlic.
Many Indian dishes over-emphasise the tannin (bitterness, astringency) of red wines. Rosés can work, but best may be aromatic whites. Try viognier or sauvignon blanc, or if you’d really like a red, a light one from the Loire Valley, especially from the cabernet franc grape.
If your wine choice trumps your craving for ketchup, best to avoid the ketchup altogether, along with other sweetish, vinegary sauces: brown, tartare, chutney, BBQ, sweet chilli dipping sauce…
Horseradish, wasabi and smooth, yellow English mustard likewise make wines taste flat and boring.
Loves red grapes – garnacha and tempranillo, perhaps from rioja, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc (red bordeaux blends of these grapes too)… But mint sauce makes the wine taste flat.
The milky sauce of lasagne makes it harder to partner perfectly, but it should be pretty good with barbera or shiraz.
In sweet dishes, it goes with sweet muscat and Hungarian tokaji. In dry dishes, lemon zest can really enhance the flavour of loads of white wines. It’s especially great with riesling, dry muscat, gewürztraminer, sauvignon and picpoul.
Pair sweet dishes with riesling. In savoury dishes, lime zest tastes wondrous with muscadet, riesling, chenin blanc and gavi.
Dijon and wholegrain mustards are friendlier to both red and white wines. Dijon mustard can magically make a tough red wine taste softer.
Enjoy desserts with sweet Muscat. Orange zest in savoury dishes links to pinot grigio or pinot gris, dry muscat, riesling, rueda, gewürztraminer…
With a fresh tomato sauce, perhaps on pasta, try sauvignon blanc, or add some chopped peppers and switch to gewürztraminer.
Sweet peppers partner certain wines to perfection, both red and white. You can add peppers, cooked or uncooked, to wow your household with your wine-matching skills.
Peppers of all colours are a stunning match with (in whites) gewürztraminer, dry muscat and alvarinho/albariño, and red peppers are yummy with shiraz or beaujolais.
Pesto loves Chardonnay or pinot grigio.
A promiscuous meat that goes with so many wines. Beaujolais is brilliant, and syrah, shiraz and pinot noir are great, or an alentejo red from Portugal, or chablis for a white. Apple sauce won’t help the wine, unless you switch to German riesling.
Salad dressing works with wine so long as the dressing is not too acidic – add extra oil, or choose a sharper wine such as vinho verde or muscadet.
Sausages like the same wines as their meat, but herbs and spices will make all the difference. If flavoured with sage, go for sauvignon blanc or syrah/shiraz.
Wondering what to drink with toad-in-the-hole? What flavour are your toads? Cumberland likes pinot noir. Pork and herb and pork and leek like carmenère. Toulouse goes for South African pinotage or Spanish rueda.
Make shepherd’s pie with lamb mince, and the answer could be merlot, or inexpensive bordeaux.
Soy makes little difference to the taste of wines, although like other salty foods it matches well with wines with higher acidity.
Spag bol is also an easy one with plenty of red wines – you might try primitivo or its American cousin zinfandel, shiraz/syrah, maybe barbera from Italy or Argentina.
Thai food may have high acid, some sweetness, super-charged chilli, fish sauce, ginger, and a delicious complexity of herbs and spices. Except for the sweetest dishes, sauvingon blancs cope with many Thai dishes, or off-dry Riesling or pinot gris/pinot grigio.
Sardine Saturdays have become a feature of our family lockdown: sardines in olive oil mashed with chopped parsley, lemon zest, capers and a bit of caper juice, spread on crispbread – so far starring with alvarinho/albariño or godello grapes from Northern Portugal and Spain.
Ah, those tins squirrelled away from near-empty March 2020 shelves. Even curious ones were selling out, such as smoked oysters, delicious as an evening nibble with chilled fino sherry.
Bright, salty tinned tuna is better with white wine – try sauvignon blanc or un-oaked white rioja, but in a risotto or bake, think about the other flavours too, herbs or spices.
Moscatel de Valencia
Tuna when fresh is a surprising red wine fish.
Veg (also salad)
Vegetables often have a touch of natural sweetness, especially root vegetables. They can go well with wines with a similar hint of sweetness – think inexpensive vinho verde or German riesling.
Whites tend to go better than reds, indeed some vegetables make red wines taste extra bitter… celery and spinach among others.
Try picpoul de pinet or chianti.
What are the top five tips for perfect wine pairing?
1. Match the biggest flavour(s) in a dish
That’s likely to be herbs, spices, tomatoes, garlic, ginger or vegetables rather than any fish or meat. At very least, herbs and spices could skew the ideal wine.
2. Be led by the grapes
If New Zealand sauvignon blanc tastes wonderful with dill or sage, so will other sauvignons, such as sancerre. You might also try similar-tasting grapes, like verdejo from Spain or bacchus from England
3. Match sweetness
Try this at home: think about the taste of your dry white or red and then try that wine with dessert. The wine will taste dull and fruitless. It’s best to match the sweetness of food and wine. Ideally, don’t drink your poshest wine with sweet and sour sauce.
4. Acidity matters
If your dish contains sharp elements such as lemon or lime juice, tomato or vinegar, then a zingy wine with good acidity will taste better alongside it, while rounder, softer wines may taste flabby. A wine with higher acidity can also cut through the fattiness of a dish, like vinegar through fish and chips. A wine may have higher acid because it comes from cooler places by the sea, or high in hills or mountains.
5. Don’t overpower
Big flavours overpower tiny flavours.