Tips from the Expert: Ray Jordan on Food Pairing

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Written by Ray Jordan,

For many people, matching wine and food can be something of a black art - but it needn’t be. The first thing to remember about matching wine and food is to forget the rules. Yep, just about every one of them. Matching wine and food is not rocket science or brain surgery and the consequences of not getting it quite right aren’t so dire either.

But while there are no hard and fast rules, there are some guidelines to at least point you in the right direction and for you to consider when deciding what you’re going to have at your next dinner party, or simply sitting at home for the evening meal.

The thing is, matching wine and food is as much about common sense as anything else. For instance, it’s not ideal to have a massive hi-octane Barossa Shiraz with a delicate piece of sand whiting. Sure you can do it but it wouldn’t do justice to either the whiting or the wine. Unfortunately, a lot of seafood simply heightens the tannins in the wines so you just need to be careful. At the same time, Atlantic salmon is brilliant with pinot noir or even slightly more robust red wines.

So when you start to choose, think about the character of the food as much as that of the wine. Is it big and hearty for instance? If so then consider a big and bold red wine, like that Barossa Shiraz, but just as easily if you are not a red wine drinker, think about a bolder, full-bodied white wine like an older style Chardonnay, a Viognier or even an oak-fermented Semillon Sauvignon blanc.

Hearty food needs a more robust wine because anything less will make the wine taste insipid and hardly do it justice.

And then there are other characters such as acidity, saltiness, bitterness and sweetness. Each of these can be matched with a wine – for example, a briny fino sherry might be good with slightly salty seafood such as whitebait and a sweeter dessert wine is an obvious choice with a rich pudding. Mind you, a classic combination of dessert wines such as Chateau d’Yquem is pate foie gras and hard cheeses.

The other thing to consider is the sauces you have used with the main ingredients. You can pick up the flavours of these with the wines you are choosing – as a result, there is a myriad of combinations to consider.

Then there is the choice between contrasting and complementing. Rather than picking up the same characters, you might want to contrast. For instance, if you are having a warmish curry or chilli Thai food, a lighter-bodied, slightly sweet wine such as a late picked Riesling would be perfect.

And if you’re going to the trouble to think about the whole wine and food thing, then you really should go the extra yard and at least choose a good wine and good ingredients. For a few extra dollars, you have a much more enjoyable experience.

But even if you don’t get the combination quite right at least you’re eating and drinking well.

If you are unsure what to match with what then there are some pretty good tried and true ideas which will get you by. For instance:

  • Chardonnay goes well with chicken in a buttery sauce.
     
  • Riesling works with aromatic foods and goes beautifully with roast pork.
     
  • Sauvignon blanc goes with scallops and a salad or perhaps asparagus spears.
     
  • Pinot noir works really well with mushroom-based dishes or strawberry or raspberry flavours. Even truffle flavours. A duck confit served with mushrooms would work particularly well, or roast duck with mushrooms. Barbecue food also goes great with Pinot noir.
     
  • With stews and braised dishes, the richer flavours work with Bordeaux or Shiraz.
     
  • With dessert wines, it's not always great to mix a sweet wine with a sweet dessert, so why not try Champagne.
     
  • Dessert wines go oaky with desserts but are equally at home with cheeses and pates.