As one of the essential foundations of modern civilisation, wine plays an important role in the social life of people. Wine and food have since time immemorial been inextricably linked, and it is often said that wine “is drunk with a fork”. Wine complements a meal and raises the taste of food to a higher level, while food and wine together make a perfect rounded whole, perfect synergy, the harmony of flavour, and in their balance they create an entirely new “third taste” that they would not be able to develop individually. For most wine lovers, this matching of tastes represents the elevation of the gastronomic experience to a higher level, and the French have symbolically named it a “marriage”.
Pairing (combining) food and wine used to be very simple. There were just a few rules, and one of the basic ones was that red wine goes with meat and white with fish. This rule is outdated, incomplete, and over time has been almost entirely discarded. Many new styles of wine and enogastronomy, the science dealing with mutual relations between wine and food, are developing and changing with changes in lifestyle. Today we have even gone to the other extreme, with the pairing of food and wine shrouded in mystery, as though it has been completely forgotten that wine is a perfect but very simple product. The basic error is to regard wine as a “corrector of the taste of food” because wine should be a partner of food in the gastronomic experience. It should not be consumed through the food, but rather wine and food should complement each other. It is best to strike a balance so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the taste of the other.
Selecting wine to go with a meal is often a real challenge, especially when it relates to complex meals and an endless array of wine labels, and merely marrying food and wine can be very confusing.
Pairing food and wine is an area in which there are no strictly defined rules. Primarily, in the world there are so many varieties of grapes, wine labels, specific regions, specificities in winemaking styles and styles of world cuisines that it is impossible to have completely unified knowledge about pairing food and wine, and then there’s the fact that when combining food and wine the personal taste experience always has the final word. No one can take away your right to pair the food you love with a wine that you want to drink at that moment. If you enjoy it – you are not mistaken. “De gustibus non est disputandum”!
Most people who do not wield extensive wine knowledge are led by common sense when pairing food and wine. Just as you will instinctively order coffee with chocolate cake and lemonade with a light, refreshing salad, it’s great when you are led by intuition in the selection of wines.
The good news is that few pairings have a negative impact on the senses and a very small number of combinations will result in total failure, and that can easily be avoided by following several very simple rules.
There is another factor that plays an important role in the selection of wines, and that is the season. Instinctively, we adapt our choice of wine, just like food, to the season.
A long, hot summer is on our doorstep. Although wine choice depends primarily on personal preferences, during summer lighter, young and simple wines are preferred, with the least possible flavour of oak, a lower percentage of alcohol, particularly white wines and rosés, but also young red wines, which are served chilled and provide proper refreshment on hot summer days. Good choices include Prosecco, fresh, non-barriqued white wines, like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, refreshing light reds like French Beaujolais, as well as delicate French Rosé.
FISH AND WINE – FAVOURITE SUMMER FOOD
Fish and shellfish are generally favoured summer foods. Robust, tannic red wines should not cover the intense but delicate flavours of seafood but rather wines with the same intensity, for the subtle flavours of the food to form a nice balance with the wine, equally delicate and refreshing.
With the soft meat of white fish, such as plaice, just like with prawns and shrimp, you should go for light, refreshing white wines, without the taste of oak, such as Muscadet or Pinot Grigio, while bream is delicious with Soave or fresh Sancerre wine.
Sparkling wine is always a great choice and can combine nicely with caviar, as well as with almost all kinds of fish and shellfish. Oysters, just like mussels, form a classic pairing with champagne, but choices can also include Muscadet or Chablis. Scallops seek soft, delicate white wine, with the right choice being medium-dry Riesling. Lobster salad goes well with South African Chennin Blanc or Australian Riesling, while when served as a main course it seeks luxurious Chardonnay.
Salmon is among seafood what chicken is among meats – wonderfully combinable, exceptionally adaptable and unobtrusively dominant. It is easy to combine with many wines, but with rosé, you won’t go wrong. Smoked salmon blends nicely with a dry rosé or strong white wines, such as Gewürztraminer or oak-flavoured Chardonnay, while it is also nicely complemented by sparkling wines.
A great combination with bass and monkfish is Australian Semillon or Australian oak-flavoured Chardonnay. Tuna is excellent with a silky, sensual Pinot Noir, with a light body and low tannins, but Merlot is also a great choice, with its soft rounded tannins, and even Australian Shiraz, with its spicy flavour.
Although wine choice depends primarily on personal preferences, during summer lighter, young and simple wines are preferred, with the least possible flavour of oak, a lower percentage of alcohol, particularly white wines and rosés, but also young red wines
SALADS AND WINE – HEALTHY MEAL WITH SUMMERY WINE AROMAS
Apart from seafood, another ideal summer meal is salad and a glass of carefully selected wine. Salad as a main dish provides a healthy, well-balanced meal, filled with ingredients like cheeses, nuts, meat or fish, but this kind of meal also requires a glass of wine.
One of the general rules for good pairing of wines and salads is to reach for a dry rosé, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, or even some reds with a light texture, such as Pinot Noir, while sparkling wine is always an excellent choice, because – just like salad – this wine is light, refreshing and perfect for warm summer evenings.
Caesar salad creates forms a great combination with dry white wines like Chablis, Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay without the flavour of oak. Salads with goat cheese will pair well with Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. Feta cheese and olives dominate greek salads, so a right choice is a citrusy white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or a dry white like Bordeaux.
Dry rosé, ideally from Provence in the south of France, is excellent in combination with the spicy, salty flavours of a Nicoise salad. Pairing well with beef salads is fruity red Beaujolais or one of the Italian reds, such as Chianti, while a fresh, mineral Sancerre or Italian Pinot Grigio nicely complements a seafood salad meal.
PASTA AND WINE – PAIRING FOOD AND WINE FROM THE SAME REGION
A piece of advice that’s worth its weight gold when it comes to pairing food and wine is to give preference to wines that come from the same region as the food it is meant to complement. A typical example is the blending of traditional Italian dishes – pasta with Italian wine.
When choosing a wine to go with pasta, it should be noted that pasta has a neutral flavour and it is always the sauce that provides the dominant flavours, so the wine should be paired with the sauce.
Spaghetti Carbonara contains a creamy sauce and bacon. Thus it will form an excellent pairing with fresh white wines like Italian Pinot Grigio, Gavi di Gavi or Soave, while the selection may also include Merlot, but also Chablis due to the creamy structure of the sauce.
Italian dishes often contain lots of tomatoes, so pasta with tomato sauce, due to its acidity, combines nicely with wines like Pinot Grigio, Verdecchia or Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo.
Spaghetti with seafood is best combined with fresh, white Muscadet wine, or a dry rosé, while Spaghetti Bolognese adores wines like Sangiovese, Primitivo, Rosso di Montalcino or Barbera, while a good choice can also be Zinfandel. Spaghetti with mussels, a typical Italian dish, will have its most beautiful tastes brought to the fore with young non-barrique Italian white wine, Soave, Sicilian white, but dry rosé Côtes de Provence can also be an excellent choice.
Alongside classic lasagne with minced meat, it is wise to opt for a slightly fuller wine, with a good choice being Cabernet Sauvignon medium body, or dry Italian whites nicely complement Rioja Crianza, whilst vegetarian lasagne like Gavi or lavish whites like Viognier (depending on the sauce added).
RISOTTO AND WINE – SUMMER MEDITERRANEAN ATMOSPHERE
Risotto is a dish of Mediterranean origin that was created in Spain. A light and simple meal offer an endless variety of combinations.
Seafood risotto pairs wonderfully with wines like Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco, Chablis Premier Cru or fresh Sauvignon.
Mushroom risotto shines when combined with Barbera wine. Likewise, you won’t go wrong if you combine it a wine with Chardonnay from Burgundy or Pinot Noir, due to its earthy character, while Risotto Alla Milanese with saffron marries perfectly with Barbera red wine.
A piece of advice that’s worth its weight in gold when it comes to pairing food and wine is to give preference to wines that come from the same region as the food it is meant to complement. A typical example is the blending of traditional Italian dishes – pasta with Italian wine
CHEESE AND WINE – “JOIE DE VIVRE”
Whether served as an appetiser or as dessert, cheese is an unavoidable part of every real gastronomic delight. Just like wine, cheese is also a fermented product, so when combined, they form an exceptional pair. When the cheese board has an assortment of cheeses that should be paired with wine, there should never be more than five (ideally 3-4), for a glass of wine to match all cheeses.
Cheeses are almost always the dominant partner in pairing with wine, and it is unlikely that a wine will change our perception of a cheese.
Dry white wine is an excellent partner for cheeses, while if we choose red wine, we should give preference to a fruity variety, with less tannin and oak.
South African Chenin Blanc goes great with goat’s cheese, and Chardonnay from oak is excellent alongside Cheddar. Sweet wines are the perfect pair for blue cheeses, such as Bleu d’Auvergne, because the sugar of sweet wines forms a superb balance with the strength and intensity of the blue mould. Sauternes wine and Roquefort is an already famous pair. Port goes perfectly with Stilton cheese. Creamy Brie, with its rich flavour, combines wonderfully with champagne or another sparkling wine that will further highlight and develop its aroma, while Pecorino cheese goes excellent with Chianti.
DESSERT AND WINE – THE SWEETEST FOR LAST
It is suitable for every good meal to be rounded off with dessert. Desserts usually prefer sweet or sparkling wines. However, blending sweet with sweet is mostly an endeavour filled with traps. If the dessert is sweeter than the wine with which it is consumed, the wine will be made to seem empty and expressionless. Thus we must be particularly careful when pairing wines and desserts.
Prosecco is a good choice for cakes with soft creams and biscuits. Its fruity and floral aromas, as well as its sweetness, will nicely round off the end of a meal. Creamy desserts, such as Crème brûlée or Panna cotta, deserve “Noble Rot Wines”, like Sauternes or Tokaji.
Fruit desserts adore Moscato d’Asti, and this moderately sweet sparkling wine will emphasise the fruity note in such desserts instead of sweetness. A good combination would be late harvest dessert wines like lighter Australian or German Riesling.
THE RULE IS THAT THERE ARE NO RULES!
They say that all fashions pass, only wine remains – in a story that is as old as man himself; in a story that has no end.
In wine, just like in food, one needs to know how to enjoy oneself, and pairing food and wine is essentially a continuous search for that right combination – exploration, discovery, enjoyment, creating new flavours and new memories. As long as you drink the wine that you like the best, you will not go wrong, just as you won’t go wrong if you sometimes break the rules and experiment, ignoring all recommendations and guidelines, because all theories about ideal combinations are worthless if they are not to your taste.
The choice is yours alone, and will often depend on mood, opportunities and the company in which wine is being drunk.
Drink good wine, because life is too short to drink bad wines. Good wine is even better in good company and, as the Portuguese proverb goes, “Where everyone pays, wine is not expensive”.
À votre santé!