How to Best Match Food and Wine
The rules of food and wine matching
So I’m going to start with the first law of wine matching: for the most part, there are no rules. White wines with wine meat, reds with red meat? Yes, but no. It doesn't always work and there are no hard, fast rules about what’s "right".
My advice is drink what makes you happy (and in moderation). If you want shiraz with fish, go for it - it’s your table and cellar.
However, there are flavours and certain types of fish that will complement reds better than others. Curried salmon with a cabernet? Yes, you can. Grilled swordfish with a medium-bodied shiraz? Absolutely.
And since we’re talking about seafood, I should mention that we made our first ever Redman Riesling last year using grapes from the 400 riesling vines planted throughout the shiraz in John's Block. We ended up with just 90-dozen. Its crisp, citrussy flavours, with tropical fruit notes, make it great for seafood as well as spicy Thai or Vietnamese salads or even curries.
Riesling is such a really versatile wine because of its acidity, which can also help cut through fattier flavours. And those citrus notes mean it’s a natural ally for anything from the ocean.
Rosé is similarly useful across a wide range of dishes, including those previous suggestions to pair with Riesling. Rosé works well with Middle Eastern foods, soft and semi-hard cheeses - the ones more nutty than salty - and a barbecue from chicken to rare lamb and pork. You could even serve it with a fruit salad, especially ripe peaches or cherries.
How sommeliers match wines with food
Do you ever talk to the sommelier when you’re dining out? It’s their job to find great matches that enhance both the food and wine.
There are a couple of principles they apply. The first is complement or contrast. For example, a sweet wine with dessert, or perhaps with a salty dish for balance.
The other thing they consider is weight - like divisions in a wrestling match.
Big dish? Braised beef = big wine (shiraz/cabernet).
Lighter dish? Roast chook = lighter wine (chardonnay/pinot noir/grenache).
That’s how classic combinations, such as duck with pinot noir, and lamb with cabernet sauvignon, come about. They’re roughly the same “weight” when it comes to flavour. However, remember that not every winemaker or wine region makes a similar style of wines from the same grape variety.
But if you are cooking something rich and spicy, from a Moroccan tagine to chilli con carne, then a spicy shiraz can be a great complement. Merlot blends also work well - it’s a versatile grape that gets along with a wide variety of foods, from lighter to heavier.
Now I know I’m mentioning curries a lot because I’m thinking of them as winter approaches - beef massaman and cabernet-shiraz, yes! - but the one thing I should warn you about is to avoid young reds with lots of tannins if you’re having spicy dishes because they really clash badly. Try and find a fruitier, ready-to-drink style as a match.
The great thing about a cabernet-shiraz blend is you get a best-of-both-worlds when it comes to matches - it can have a lot of friends for all occasions, from midweek spag bolognaise and lasagne to burritos, braised lamb shanks, burgers, and bangers and mash.
How do you know what to choose?
Here’s one way to think about how to choose the right wine. If you know the wine, think about the flavours it brings to mind. When you’re getting ready to cook, think about whether those flavours will feature in the meal - and vice versa.
One of the great joys of food and wine matching is experimenting. The really fun part is when it produces an exquisite “third flavour” - a combination that creates a new taste in your mouth when you have the food and wine together. Those moments are a revelation.
I’m going to leave you with one final piece of advice if you’re sitting down to share a great bottle of wine. Keep it simple.
Let’s say you’re cracking open a bottle of The Redman, our flagship blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz - or maybe you’re very lucky and uncorking the William Wilson, our super-premium Shiraz-Cabernet.
The one thing you don’t want is for the food to be in competition for attention with the wine, so don’t get too tricky or too complex with ingredients. A roast lamb leg or crown roast of beef - buy the best meat you can - is the way to go.
I know chefs creating very complex food in top restaurants who are happiest when they eat a simple meal outside work, so don’t be tricked into thinking great wines need something fancy to accompany them.
And when you do sit down to share a bottle, raise a glass to great food, great wine and the people you love who surround you, because they’re the best match of all.
Want to know more about food and wine matching? Don’t forget to visit us at the Good Food and Wine Show in Australian capital cities to discover some new matches for yourself.