It is one of life’s great pleasures to enjoy that special meal with a special wine. Sometimes you just seem to hit on a great combination, but how does this come about? Why do some foods seem to go with certain wines that much better than others? Well actually there is a very easy answer to this question – it all boils down to a simple matching of weight and flavours.
Start with your food dish and then think what wine? If the food is heavy then complement with a heavy wine eg red meats and full-bodied red wines. If your food is sweet then find a sweet wine.
Aperitifs such as savoury canapes and dips have salty flavours and clear the palate, so a wine like Champagne that would otherwise taste quite dry, can be fully appreciated for its fruitiness and fizz. If champers is beyond the budget, why not try a sparkling wine. Freixenet 2007 Vintage Especial Cava costs about £7 and with smoked salmon on blinis is wonderful! Great alternatives are the Freixenet Cordon Rosado or the Codorniu Vintage Rosado, both from Sant Sadurni d’Anoia in Catalonia, Spain.
For fish and seafood dishes, a classic partner is Muscadet or (French) Sauvignon Blancs. Fish is light and needs a similarly light wine to keep in balance. Recipes are often salty or served with lemon sauces, so the high acidic white wines match well here also. As an alternative, a white Rioja like Gran Familia is still light but less acidic and more fruity. Try it with oven baked sole wrapped in Parma Ham – beautiful.
Gran Familia Rioja could also match roasted chicken, as could the excellent Faustino VII Rioja, which has a full-bodied velvety texture. The more adventurous might pair the poultry with a nice Beaujolais, slightly chilled. No risk really, they are great together.
Spicy chicken In contrast, a spicy dish like a West Indian Jerk Chicken can be cooled with a fruity wine like Gewurztraminer, Riesling or the wonderful Vina Esmeralda from Torres. This wine is a mix of 85% Moscatel and 15% Gewurztraminer.
Pork dishes can be partnered with a variety of wines. Pork spare ribs in sticky sauces go well with a nice Rioja like Campo Viejo Crianza, so smooth but characterful. Plain roasted pork matches rose wines like the Marques de Caceres Rioja Rosado, another classy wine which never disappoints.
Lamb can also be partnered with a good variety of wines. Lamb steaks melt in the mouth lubricated with a Cono Sur Pinot Noir from Chile. The cherry, plum and strawberry flavours are reminiscent of warm summer days in France (or Chile!). BBQ lamb is great with La Leyenda from Argentina, a spicy smooth Malbec Syrah. Easy to picture a typical Argentinian asado grilling outdoors with lamb, chorizo and other BBQ meats. Lamb joints might be better accompanied by a Rhone Syrah or Bordeaux Superior.
The traditional beef joint is the playground for red wine accompaniment. Any claret is guaranteed to be a great match with this dish. If you can afford it, spend a little more than usual and you will be amply rewarded. The cooked beef somehow lends itself to complementing the long complex flavours of a good claret. Don’t restrict yourself to French reds here, try Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge Shiraz. This fine Californian wine has lovely berry and plum flavours with oaky spice. Another great is the Chilean Casa Lapostolle Merlot produced with 85% Merlot and 15% Carmenere vines by Alexandra Lapostolle. The explosive flavours of cassis, black cherry and dark chocolate in finely integrated oak are stunning.
Stir fry beef with broccoli and oyster sauce goes immaculately with Pata Negra Valdepenas Reserva, a deep red from Bodegas Llanos. Open the bottle 2 to 3 hours before drinking removes any harshness, leaving a smooth silky taste.
Baked potatoes stuffed with bolognese mince go down a treat with the Rose from another classic from Chile – Luis Felipe Edwards Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon. This rose wine more than holds its own with the beef, and adds a bit of fun to the bolognese and potatoes.
The traditional advice on matching sweet desserts is to choose a sweet wine, and it’s not bad advice but can mean you are tempted to suffer a super-sweet wine which is not necessary. I think you can do a lot worse than try fairly normal dry wines with some desserts, as long as the wine is quite fruity. Take a typical New World Sauvignon Blanc for example which has a `fruity-in-your-face` type of a taste. This wine goes superbly with a sweet traditional Pumpkin Pie. Terra Andina Rose from Chile is so fruity and versatile, it will pair up with most sweet desserts. You can be adventurous without too much danger.
Increase the strength of the wine with the strength of the cheese! Mild cheeses match well with syrupy rosados like Casillero del Diablo Shiraz from Chile. Most hard cheeses are natural partners with clarets and Burgundies. Move to Riojas and Shiraz for even stronger cheeses. It’s not difficult to understand why Stilton has been so popular with Port, the strong sweetness moderates the powerful blue taste to give that beautifully controlled lingering taste.
I hope we have given a few good ideas to try. Taste is very much a personal thing, so if you feel a wine goes well with a food, that’s all that matters for you, so just try it. The great fun is that there is such a variety of good quality food and wines around, that it’s easy to experiment with different combinations. If you would like some more suggestions on good value widely available wines, visit our website shown below. Good luck!
Mike Stephenson is an amateur wine enthusiast, food lover, and student of the Spanish language and culture. His popular joint website with his daughter, Natalie, at http://www.fun-learning-spanish.com offers useful advice on wines and food dishes, together with a whole range of articles and content on language, culture, sport, art and travel in Spain and Spanish America. For monthly interesting articles and advice subscribe to our FREE Ezine by including your email address on the Subscribe box at: http://www.fun-learning-spanish.com