Our top food’n’wine tips

(by peter & susie)

We’ve put together a few of our choicest food-and-wine matching tips to tie in with the launch of our new competition, What Food What Wine?

Of course, we know this is just scratching the surface. If you have any tips, personal experiences or words of wisdom to share with us, please do and we’d be happy to publish them, either here or on the What Food What Wine? website.

‘A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.’ Brillat-Savarin

Rule One: there are no rules

OK, not the most helpful start, but it stops us taking ourselves too seriously.

Taste is a personal thing – we all have our own likes and dislikes.

Putting wine and food together can be many things – fun, disastrous, delicious, messy, confusing, inspiring – but one thing it should never be is too serious. If you follow rules too slavishly, like ‘red wine with meat and white with fish’ then it can all become a bit predictable.

Taking the time to experiment and find out what works for you – and why – can help your eating and drinking become an altogether more rewarding experience. And the good news is that it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Rules Two & Three: F&W = Flavour & Weight

1 – F for Flavour.

Think: what are the dominant flavours in my dish?

Hint: it’s not usually ‘chicken’ or ‘pasta’, as most wine labels will have you believe. It may be the tikka massala sauce, the mushrooms, the fruit, even the herbs, the chilli, the side order – or the ketchup!

Action: find a wine that works with those dominant flavours. Eg with chicken tikka massala, you need a wine that works well with spice, tangy tomatoes and creamy richness – aromatic off-dry whites work well, among others.

2 – W for Weight.

Weight in this sense means how heavy the food or dish is.  This is different to how flavoursome it is.  For example, rice is heavy but doesn’t have much flavour, green peppers are full of flavour but not especially heavy.

Delicate dishes or ingredients (eg fresh shellfish) work well with lighter styles of wine (eg Muscadet, young Chablis).

Heavier dishes need fuller-bodied, more powerful wines.

Rule Four: if in doubt, stay local

It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but if a dish has a particularly regional feel to it, one of the first and best places to look for a wine match is in the same area.

Boeuf bourgignon and red Burgundy. Lamb and Rioja. Oysters and Muscadet. Truffles and Barolo.

It even works further afield – green-lipped mussels with Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc.

Rule Five: sweeter is better

When it comes to sweet food, don’t try to be clever.

Always choose a wine that is as sweet as, or just slightly sweeter than the dish. Otherwise it makes the wine taste sour.

But remember that many so-called savoury dishes can have a fair bit of sweetness to them – just as many so-called dry wines can have a bit of richness to them. Even in these cases, though, the rule still holds.

Rule Six: admit defeat gracefully

Some food just isn’t made to go with wine.

Rhubarb yoghurt. Artichokes. Vindaloo.

But the good news is that there are loads of other wonderful drinks out there to experiment with – teas, coffees, beers, vodkas, juices. Hell, even water can work wonders sometimes.

Just don’t waste good wine by batting your head against a brick wall. There is life beyond wine when it comes to washing food down in style.

Rule Seven: enjoy your favourites

Some of our favourite wine and food matches include:

  • Fishy nibbles with tangy Sauvignon Blanc
  • Mushroom risotto with mature vintage fizz
  • Charcuterie with Beaujolais
  • Chorizo and bean stew with Rioja or elegant Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Surf and turf with chilled rosé or a delicate red
  • Funky game dishes with aged Pinot Noir
  • Hard cheese with sherry or mature Chardonnay
  • Fruit puddings with sweet Riesling
  • A scoop of ice cream bathed in a sweet, sticky old wine

‘This wine should be eaten; it is too good to be drunk.’ Jonathan Swift.