A guide to matching wine and food

Matching wine with food is often depicted as an art and science left to those with gifted nostrils and the keenest of taste buds. While matching specific wines to specific food dishes may indeed be a job better left to a sommelier, there are plenty of simple wine pairing rules that you can use to impress your date at a restaurant, your colleagues at a corporate lunch, or your family at Christmas!

wine and food matching guide

The basics of food and wine matching

Taylors Winery, from the Clare Valley, has a simple and easy rule to follow when it comes to matching wines to food. Consider the characteristics of the food and how you’d describe those characteristics, then choose a wine that shares those characteristics.

Using this rule, let’s look at the five basic flavours of food: spicy, salty, sweet, sour and umami (a brothy/meaty flavour). When you’re looking through a menu, take note of the flavours being used in the meal you’re considering.

If you were keen on a chicken dish marinated in lemon juice, garlic, and Italian herbs, then you’d be working with a strong citrus flavour with the sourness of lemons, the saltiness of garlic and herbs and the meat itself that’s light and mild in flavour. Combining this kind of dish with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc would work well as the citrus flavours and slightly sweet characteristics of the white wine would complement the food beautifully.

Another example would be heavier, meatier foods like stews, broths, and primarily red meat dishes. Using our flavours above, this food is often characterised by spices, saltiness, and umami.

Therefore, peppery and spicy varietals of red wine like Shiraz would work well. Furthermore, red wine has a thicker texture and richer mouth-feel, just like a piece of beautifully cooked steak.

Pairing wines by cuisine

To help you navigate wine pairings further, we’ve put together this little infographic that gives you some simple tips on some popular cuisines.

food and wine pairing by cuisine - quick guide

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Red wines

The fine people at Wine Folly created this excellent graph depicting red wine varietals on a scale from lighter to bolder. There are a much wider range of wines of this graph than you’re probably used to seeing at the local bottle shop, but there are all the names you’d see on a restaurant menu for you to reference here.

Lighter red wine, including Rosés are great with fresh, light and subtle flavours. Think sushi and sashimi, or a Vietnamese vermicelli noodle salad. They complement each other with delicate flavours that don’t dominate each other.

Bolder reds as we mentioned earlier are for bolder foods. They are best mixed with hearty cheese and a charcuterie board for appetisers, or a beautiful hearty casserole with melt-in-your-mouth morsels of tender beef.

White wines

Like red wine, you can make certain assumptions about the flavour of the wine from its colour. Deeper yellow wines tend to be bolder, however, the darkest as this table from Wine Folly shows, are the sweet wine varieties.

Many lighter, zesty and herbaceous white wine pair beautifully with a range of Asian cuisines as we’ve mentioned above in the infographic. Sweeter wines make for lovely dessert wines, especially when paired with fruits and milder cheeses.

Strong white wines match food that’s competing for attention. Very spicy, salty or sour foods pair well with a dry finish bold white wine. Sweet wines tend to conflict too strongly with those types of food.

Quick guide for wines you’re sure to find on every menu

A Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Gris, here is a quick guide for the most common wines you'll find on every menu and the best foods it goes with.

quick wine guide - food and wine matching

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Trying new things

A fun and arguably the best way to learn food and wine pairings is to simply try new wines you’ve never had before. Try to stray from your go-to’s every now and then. If you’re a Sauvignon Blanc fan, then try a Grüner Veltliner, or if you’re a Merlot fan, why not try a GSM blend! A Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Vedelho or Pinot Gris, try something new today!

Wine talk - sound like a pro

‘This wine has started to oxidise’. What does that mean? If you’re confused every time the conversation turns to wine, don’t fret. Here are some of the most common wine terms used, which will make you look like a pro.

Oenophile: A wine lover.

Try this in a sentence: ‘Sarah, you’re such a oenophile.’

Varietal: The type of grape the wine is made from.

Try this in a sentence: ‘This chardonnay is true to varietal form.’

Appellation: A specific wine growing region a wine came from.

There are strict rules about how much of the fruit has to come from that region to earn its appellation.

Try this in a sentence: ‘The appellation of this wine is from Burgundy.’

Oxidise: The reaction that happens to a wine when it sees too much oxygen.

This could happen because a bottle has been left open or due to an issue in the maturation process. Look for a browning colour and a loss of freshness.

Try this in a sentence: ‘This wine has begun to oxidise.’

Tannins: The effect of the grape (the seeds, skin and stalks) on a wine.

The more of that grippy, dry sensation on your gums and tongue, the more tannins in a wine.

Try this in a sentence: ‘This winemaker really pumped up the tannins in this wine.’

Blend: When more than one grape variety is used to make a better, more balanced bottle.

Oaked: When a wine has been matured in oak barrels.

Body: Wine can be described as being light, medium or full bodied. It refers to how heavy the wine feels in your mouth.

Put your new skills to the test!

Why not take the leap? Organize a delicious wine and cheese evening for your office to show off your newfound wine knowledge. Complete with a smorgasbord of delicious cheeses, fruits and cured meats, everyone will be looking to you for the best wine to match. Take a browse at our wine and delicious finger food catering solutions for the perfect set up. Alternatively, look no further for the most effective way to set up a grazing table. Not only will your office appreciate an in-house wine tour, you can confidently comment on the light-bodied pinot grigio with hints of citrus, without batting an eyelid.

Not quite there yet?

If you’re not sure about which wines are best with the event catering you’re going to order for your office, fear not! We happen to be a little gang of wine buffs as well as diehard foodies! Get in touch with a corporate catering expert today and let’s talk food and wine that's a match made in heaven!

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