FISH AND CHIPS

You ask anyone from Spain to name British dishes and first of all they will snigger directly in your face. Then when they have composed themselves they will almost always say ‘fish and chips’. No dish has become so entwined into the nation’s culinary heart than this one – it is Britain’s answer to the paella.

It can be, and often is, delightfully greasy Friday night takeaway food, but when cooked elegantly is perfection. A lightly battered and crispy flank of cod, plaice or haddock usually, accompanied with some chips, mushy peas and daubed liberally with malt vinegar and salt and perhaps a side of ketchup or tartare sauce. Heaven.

So what to pair with this fishy, salty, tangy, carby plate? I have chosen a crisply acidic and fairly full-bodied Godello from the region of Valdeorras. The big citrus fruit kick from the wine should sit nicely alongside the fish, whilst the acidity should help tackle the salty vinegary nature of the dish.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

The pie that isn’t really a pie. Shepherd’s Pie is a minced lamb combination of meat, peas, carrots, onions, garlic (and other bits) covered with a generous layer of fluffy mashed potato (at its best with mustard and cheese in it) and baked in the oven. The dish is at once light but also very filling with strong flavours of ‘meat’ and ‘potato’. A dish for a chilly winter evening.

So to pair with this boldly flavoured dish I have chosen a red wine that is noted both for its elegance and minerality as well as, depending on the producer or site, its spicy and fruity intensity of flavour. A bottle of red from Bierzo made from the Mencía grape. The body and power of the wine, though more restrained than some wines of Spain, should go toe to toe with this classic dish. Also works with the pork mince variation of the dish: Cottage Pie.

STEAK AND KIDNEY PIE

Another classic pie, steak and kidney; a sexy saucy thick gravy blend of chunks of beef, diced kidney, onions and spices wrapped up in a shortcrust pastry and popped into the oven. At once this dish is rich and spiced but also gentle and smooth. An intriguing blend of depth of flavour and delicateness.

To go with this dish I have chosen a fruit forward wine that can match the flavour intensity but won’t overpower it. Try it with a good quality bottle of Garnacha from the region of Campo de Borja. Pleasing red and berry fruit flavours with not too heavy body but with good acidity and a hefty level of alcohol. Should go perfectly with this staple of British cuisine.

SUNDAY ROAST

The Sunday Roast is perhaps the only dish to rival fish and chips for gastronomic fame. Roast beef or roast lamb are the two quintessential roasting meats. Not only are you going to have a big meaty flavour to deal with, but then you have the roast potatoes, parsnips, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, steamed vegetables, gravy and the accompanying condiments of spicy horseradish for beef and tangy mint sauce for lamb. It’s a busy and complex plate.

This therefore requires a complex and intense wine, but without lacking elegance. We are heading to Cataluña for a bottle of red Montsant: often Garnacha blends. These wines can take on a lot of depth and fruity darkness that should go well with the big, but almost sweet, flavours of the Sunday Roast.

HAGGIS

What wine to pair with a cooked stomach filled with offal, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and stock? The eternal question facing the wine-loving Scot. Haggis is one of my most favourite dishes. It is an intensely spiced and meaty flavour that is often accompanied with mashed potatoes and turnips (‘neeps and tatties’) and perhaps a sensual whisky cream sauce. I love it with a cold beer or a dram of peaty whisky. But wine?

I have gone off piste for this one and chosen a heavy and alcoholic Oloroso sherry from Jerez. In Spain this fortified wine with its notes of spice, caramel, nuts and soft leather can go well with hearty stews and, more importantly, offal dishes like tripe, oxtail and pork cheeks. I think this wine with the Haggis will be the perfect Hispano-Scot pairing!

TOAD IN THE HOLE

Another stalwart classic of British cuisine with a ridiculous name, Toad in the Hole is a dish of pork sausages (of various flavours) cooked in the oven in a Yorkshire Pudding batter and served usually with onion gravy and vegetables. It is simple, hearty, but quite delicate and elegant in its flavours.

I didn’t want anything to big to overpower the soft and almost sweet flavours of the batter, the pork or the gravy, so I have opted for a dry Spanish rosé from Navarra. Spanish rosé wines are almost always dry, so forget that Californian White Zinfandel nonsense, big on booze and colour and are great food wines. Rosés have characteristics of both white and red wines, so they are some of the best food pairing wines. Try it!

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

I personally believe that what Britain does better than the world is desserts, or ‘puddings’. A combination of hearty and gleefully unrestrained unhealthiness matched with a certain delicateness and finesse. For the most luxuriantly sweet of British desserts, I have chosen possibly the most lusciously sweet wine in the world: Pedro Ximénez (PX), also from Jerez, but whose grapes are usually grown in neighbouring Montilla-Moriles.

PX is the grape and is grown, picked, and then dried out on straw mats under the sun until they essentially become like raisins. This concentrates their flavours and their sugars and produces mind-blowingly sweet syrupy wines. This should pair well with the moist sponge cake covered in the signature toffee sauce – and with bonus custard and vanilla ice cream on top for good measure. Pure decadence.

Let no man say that Britain doesn’t have good dishes and let no other man say that all you have to go with it is beer or cider. Now you have Spanish wines at your disposal!

Salud!


The act of pairing hopefully good food with hopefully good wine is one of the most important facets of the drink. In smarter restaurants sommeliers are there to aid the client in choosing the correct wine to go with whatever dish is ordered. At home you must rely on old adages and rules.

Red wine goes with red meats and heavier food.

White wine goes with white meats, fish and greenery.

Rosé wine is ignored.

Sparkling wine is for celebrations, right?

Sweet wines are for desserts.

Etc.

Now, these old tricks are based in logic, but of course, as with everything in life, nothing is that simple. Here at SWE, and indeed here in Spain, the most important thing is that you are drinking a wine you like and are having a good time. It’s no use drinking a bottle of red wine with your steak and chips if it cost you 1.50€ and is disgusting just because it’s red. Similarly the detail to which you could dive head first into the act of food/wine harmonies is as great as the range of food and wines themselves. Having a fairly spicy Indian curry? Have an off dry or semi-sweet chilled German Riesling. Having a sweet and spicy BBQ? Try a big Malbec.

Generally speaking there are tastebud sensations at work that will affect the perception of flavour of both the food and the wine when they hit your tongue.

ACIDIC FOOD: Best to pair with high acidity wines. E.g. Lemony grilled fish and shrimp with Albariño.

  • When food is acid, the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness goes UP; but the perception of acidity goes DOWN.

BITTER FOOD: Best to pair with low or non-tannic wines, perhaps with salinity or a touch of sweetness. E.g. Almonds and olives with sweet, red vermouth.

  • When food if bitter, the bitterness in the wine goes UP.

SPICY FOOD: Tricky, but cold off-sweet or sweet wines will work here. If in doubt, have a beer. E.g. Indian curry with German Riesling.

  • When food is spicy, the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn goes UP; and the perception of body, richness, sweetness and fruitiness goes DOWN.

SWEET FOOD: Best to pair with sweet wines as it’ll make dry wines taste bitter. E.g. Sauternes with dessert. Anomaly? Port and strong blue cheese.

  • When food is sweet, the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn goes UP; but the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness goes DOWN.

RICH FOOD: Fatty, heavy, salty and rich food are best paired with high-tannin or acidic wines. E.g. Steak and chips with Rioja.

  • When food is salty, the perception of body in the wine goes UP; but the perception of bitterness and acidity in the wine goes DOWN.

Generally speaking, the more complicated, aged, sweet, or structured the wine is, the more complicated it will be to pair. Younger, unoaked wines are always less stressful.

The other, less sciency way of looking at it is to think about generally what kinds of food generally pair well with wine types. Here is the SWE shortlist on what to pair your wine with. General consumers only. Don’t get angry at us sommeliers.

Reds

Red meat, cured meat, white meat, cheeses, spices

Though lighter, slightly chilled reds, like young Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Garnacha, could pair with heavier fish.

Rosé

Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables, spices

Rosé, though much lambasted incorrectly, is one of the great pairing wines when dry.

Whites

Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables

Sparkling

Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheeses, vegetables, spices, dessert

Another of the world’s great pairing wines. Young Champagnes and Cavas go with almost everything.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot of nuances and variations. But if there was one golden rule, just one, to help you navigate the world of food and wine pairing? Match like for like. Sweet with sweet; heavy with heavy; light with light; acidic with acidic etc.