Dinner with wine used to be simple. The rule was white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. The variety of choices available in food and wine is varied, exciting and adds a whole new dynamic to everything. There is a school of thought that the wine you love is the best wine for the food you enjoy, which is true.
However, there is also truth in the fact that when the marriage of food and wine works well, one certainly enhances the other. That’s why the following classic matches have survived and are still good basics principles of food and wine matching.
One of the most important elements to get right between wine and food is flavour. Without this balance between the acidity of a dish, a tomato based pasta for example, and the wine, the food or wine with lower acidity tastes dull, while the other, too sharp.
If you are looking for an acidic wine, you can choose one that is made in the same area as the food. It’s likely a safe bet to match regional cuisine and wine. Acidic wines generally work well with salty dishes. Think of the great match between cloudy bay clams and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Another great match is of course oysters. Oysters are both salty and briny with an oily mouth-coating texture that can overpower most wines. A sparkling wine refreshes and cleanses your palate when eating fish. Bubbles also work well with spicy foods as does our very own Pinot Gris.
While off-dry, acidic wines go well with many dishes, the two most difficult wines to pair with food are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. New Zealand Chardonnay can be oaky, buttery, flavourful wines that overwhelm many dishes. But if you match them with butter and cream sauces with similar textures and flavours, they can really complement each other beautifully.
In general red wines tend to go well with proteins, think steak and Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines often have bitter dark fruit flavours with mouth drying tannins (that sensation you get from drinking well-brewed tea). For this reason they tend to work well with juicy proteins. The protein softens the tannin making the wine taste smooth and fruity.
Red wines tend to go better with hard cheeses such as blue cheese. However, whites suit soft cheeses such as brie and camembert as the creamier textures require more acidity for balance.
One of the most challenging flavours to balance is sweetness. Dishes with a touch of sweetness such as glazed pork do well with off-dry wines. However, rich desserts such as chocolate demand a wine that is sweeter than the dessert, or the wine will taste thin, even bitter.
Your best source of food and wine matching is your own preferences for sure. Experiment with different combinations to discover not only what makes a perfect pairing for you, but also to broaden your range of possibilities. It’s all about discovering what you like and enjoying more of that. Bon Apetit!