Wine & Food Pairing - The Whole Dish

Many people are unsure about which wine to serve with which food. Of course, you may be enjoying your wine just on its own, but you might also be having a few nibbles on the side or serving it with a meal. When you have a wine that is so matched perfectly to a dish it can completely transform the whole experience; that’s why good sommeliers are so important in a restaurant environment. So, here is a simple guide covering the basics of pairing wine with food, and matching the wines in the Ascot Wine Club to some delicious dishes, the likes of which you would enjoy on a race day at Ascot.

The first thing to say is, the traditional rule of drinking white wine with fish and red wine with meat is so outdated. It is unfortunately too simplistic to say that this wine goes with chicken or that wine goes with beef - it really depends on how the meat has been cooked and what it is being accompanied with.

You should be drinking the wines you enjoy, with the food you enjoy. But there are a few things to bear in mind to maximise the whole meal experience.

As wine expert Jancis Robinson says on her website: “The single most important aspect of a wine for food matching is not colour, but body or weight – which corresponds closely with alcoholic strength.”

Chicken in a rich Madeira cream sauce will require something different from a Thai green curry or a grilled chicken salad. You need something that will cut through the creaminess of the sauce, maybe a smooth dry white like the Puligny-Montrachet, Domaine Rene Monnier. For a Thai green curry, something more aromatic with good levels of acidity like the Michele Chiarlo Gavi del Commune di Gavi. For a grilled chicken salad, something lighter like the Viña Echeverría Sauvignon Blanc Reserva or even a rosé – the Château de l’Aumerade 'Cuveé Marie Christine' Rosé from Provence perhaps?

The same logic applies to ingredients like salmon and pasta. Again, it is all about the whole dish – the sauce and accompanying sides, not just the fish or pasta itself.

Fish can be cooked in a way to add flavour - in a fish stew or on a grill for example. Meat dishes, like steak tartare, can be quite light. So it’s more a question of pairing light-bodied wines with raw or lightly cooked dishes (the Albariño ‘Coral do Mar’ by Pazo do Mar is a perfect accompaniment to tuna ceviche) and full-bodied wines – like the Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Shiraz from Australia – with more robust, intensely flavoured ones. Many red wines will do jobs which are conventionally regarded as white wine jobs, and vice versa. So you could have a red wine – such as the Château Puy Guilhem from Bordeaux paired with seared tuna steak, for example.

One authority on food and wine matching talks about a ‘terroir-based’ pairing. The old expression, ‘if it grows together it goes together’ applies just as much to wine as it does to food: like lamb and mint sauce, basil and tomatoes, it equally can apply to oysters and Muscadet, goat’s cheese and Sancerre. Try a grilled goat’s cheese salad with the Domaine de la Rossignole SancerreAnd incidentally, lamb and Pinot Noir are often a perfect match because the acidity and bright fruit notes in the Pinot Noir act as a nice foil for the earthy richness in lamb. Match the Ernst Gouws & Co Pinot Noir from South Africa next time you serve roast lamb. Delicious!

Sparkling wine is always a great way to start proceedings and an aperitif, like the Sacchetto Extra Dry ‘Fili’ Prosecco, is certain to is designed to build the appetite and desire for food. Sparkling wines can pair well with seafood, savoury cheeses and cured meats, or as a main course to complement Asian dishes such as Thai noodles or sushi.

And just a note on desserts: a wine needs to be sweeter than the dessert it accompanies – a great rule of thumb to always abide by. If a dessert is too sweet, it strips out the sweetness of the wine leaving it tasting sharp and sour. If you want to serve a dessert wine it is safer to pick a simple dessert like an apple or apricot tart or a creamy panna cotta. But sweet wines can go surprisingly well with savoury food - a Sauternes, such as the Chateau Suduiraut, Castelnau de Suduiraut, matched with blue cheese is often quoted as a perfect match.

Almost every food pairs well with a wine, but as with any rule, there are a few anomalies. Be wary of very hot spices; these tend to stun the taste buds, rendering it impossible to taste anything due to your mouth being on fire! Globe artichokes and, to a lesser extent, asparagus tend to make wine taste oddly metallic, and dense chocolate is so sweet and so mouth-coating that it too can be difficult (but not impossible) to match with wine.