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.
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.
Red meat, cured meat, white meat, cheeses, spices
Though lighter, slightly chilled reds, like young Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Garnacha, could pair with heavier fish.
Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables, spices
Rosé, though much lambasted incorrectly, is one of the great pairing wines when dry.
Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables
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.