Matching wine and food: perfect partners
Want to know what to drink with prawns, pasta or peaches? Our guide to matching food and wine is a great way to learn.
These suggestions are, by necessity, quite general, as a wine’s taste also depends on its provenance, the country’s climate and the viticultural methods used. But it is true that a robust Merlot will usually go well with hearty roast beef, or that the acidity of Sauvignon Blanc makes it a good match for tomato-based pasta sauces, or lemony dressings.
A good rule of thumb is to match sweet wine with sweet food, acidic wine with acidic or salty food, spicy wine with spicy food, red wine with red meat and white wine with white, although this traditional rule can often be relaxed: a fruity Beaujolais, well chilled, is a great match for some chicken dishes, for example. And some people say that you should, in general, choose a wine from the same country as the food, which is why Muscadet and moules marinières are a match made in heaven!
A mature red from Bordeaux will go down a treat with roast beef. Try wines from lesser-known parts of the region, such as Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Castillon. Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends also work exceptionally well and Pinot Noir is a safe bet. Also try New World Malbecs, Barbera from Italy or Argentina and Italian Zinfandel.
White wine with white meat is the traditional rule, which is why an unoaked Chardonnay from Australia, Chablis, Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc are all good options, but you could ring the changes with a red Grenache, California Zinfandel or light, medium-bodied Beaujolais (incidentally, Beaujolais is delicious chilled!). If you choose Sauvignon Blanc, remember that this is a love-or-hate grape variety; if you have guests, it might be wise to have another option open to them!
A big, jammy Argentinian red, such as a Malbec/Syrah (also known as Shiraz) blend is good with lamb, as is a medium to full-bodied Pinot Noir. Other good matches include Rioja or Zinfandel from Chile, Italy and the USA, as well as ripe but not too grassy Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots from Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary, New Zealand, Soufh Africa and the USA.
The strong, gutsy flavours of most barbecue food need wines that will stand up to them, not wilt in the sun! Generally speaking, you can’t beat a big-flavoured Aussie Shiraz or a full-bodied California Zinfandel. Chilled rosé or fruity Beaujolais also slip down well, particularly with char-grilled salmon or tuna. Other barbecue all-rounders include Merlot (or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend), Spanish Rioja and Côtes du Rhone.
Can be tricky this one, as you don’t want the wine to overpower the delicate spiciness of the food. German or Australian Riesling and Chenin Blanc are both safe bets, as are roses and light, sparkling wines. Gewürztraminer has enough spice to work well, although it can be a little too strong for some dishes.
Spicy food (Indian, etc)
Again, this can be difficult, as you want a wine that is assertive enough to complement the strong flavours of the food. Gewürztraminer, Riesling, white Grenache, crisp aromatic Sauvignon Blanc or a Semillon-Chardonnay from New Zealand would all work well. If you prefer red, go for a Shiraz or soft, ripe Merlot – a better bet than Cabernet-Sauvignon, which is more tannic. And, as with Oriental food, rosé is often ideal, as it won’t overpower the food too much, but offers a refreshing counterpoint to it.
The rule of thumb with pasta is to match the wine to the sauce. So, a tomato-based sauce will go well with acidic Sauvignon Blanc, while the robust, meaty flavours of a lasagne or bolognese are best suited to a full-bodied Merlot. Cream- or butter-based sauces need something to offset the richness, so try either a Chardonnay or Semillon (or a blend of the two!).
Wines that perform well with mackerel, tuna and sardines tend to be citrussy, crisp and fresh. Go for an ultra-dry white if you can. Choices include Italian Chardonnay, gooseberry-flavoured Sauvignon Blanc form New Zealand or an inexpensive white Burgundy. The grassy, fresh flavours of Verdelho also make a good match.
Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre are popular choices here, but the rule of thumb is usually to match the wine to the sauce, if the fish has one. Creamy or butter-based sauces are complemented by Chardonnay or Semillon (or a blend of both!). It’s easy for wine to overpower the delicate flavour of white fish but if you are serving it plainly grilled, go for a grassy Verdelho, or gentle, medium-bodied white such as a dry, unoaked French Chardonnay.
Duck and game
Both duck and game tend to be quite rich and full of flavour, so they need wines that will be robust enough to cope. A full-bodied Chardonnay can work well, but in general reds are better: try Pinot Noir, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Seafood and shellfish
Muscadet is the classic choice with moules marinières, platters of fruits de mer and other French-inspired dishes. For oysters and many types of shellfish, plump for a Chablis, Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Sauvignon Blanc or an Italian Soave. Red wine might not seem the obvious option, but a red Grenache can work surprisingly well with sweet seafood. Crabmeat, being richer, needs a light wine such as Riesling.
Serving smoked salmon or trout? Go for a fine white French Burgundy, Riesling or California Chardonnay. You could also try a medium-bodied Australian Chardonnay or even some well-chilled manzanilla sherry! Rosé wines are also very good with smoked fish.
Vegetarian food and salads
Vegetables and salads are often quite acidic, especially if you make a vinegar-based dressing, so choose an acidic wine to complement them, such as Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling makes a good choice for many salads, as it is not so assertive that it will overpower the salad’s flavours.
Hard, strong cheeses
A strong cheese like a mature Cheddar is perfectly suited to something fruity like a New Zealand Pinot Noir or a juicy Syrah (Shiraz). Also try Australian Cabernet Sauvignon or Chilean Zinfandel. Another, surprisingly good choice with hard, white cheeses is a sweet wine, such as Sauternes or Beerenauslese.
Sauvignon Blanc has enough acidity to cope well with goat’s cheese, as does Sancerre. With other soft cheeses, you might also try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or, if you prefer French wine, a Pouilly Fumé. The low tannins of Pinot Noir also make it a good choice.
A German Riesling that’s medium-bodied, fruity and well-balance will work well with sweet puddings. Try a honeyed Sauternes with strawberries and cream, or indeed anything with a creamy base. With light, airy desserts, try a demi-sec Champagne. Fruit platters, on the other hand, will be quite acidic; with these, fresh, grassy Verdelho would be a good match.
You can’t beat a sticky Muscat or a sweet Valpolicella with chocolate desserts. Another good choice is Asti Spumante.
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