Wine and food matching

Adam Lechmere takes a look at the classic rules of wine and food matching, and finds that all too often they can prove to be misleading

Imagine a rack of lamb sizzling with juice, and alongside it a glass of Rioja, loaded with sweet red fruit, it enhances and contrasts an element in the lamb: the red berry fruit complements the hot sweetness of the meat, the acid and tannins cut through the juicy fat.

Food and wine matching is about contrast and balance, not just of flavour and aroma but of weight, texture and temperature as well. Half of the success of the lamb and Rioja match is down to the tannins in the wine: the meat is chewy and juicy so you need dry, gripping tannins that offer resistance, and a contrast to the juice. A red with soft tannins would not work nearly so well. Similarly, with the acidity of a food like rhubarb, one of the famously difficult wine matches, you need a wine with high acid to complement the tartness, and sweetness to contrast it. Vouvray works.

We’ve all heard the ‘rules’ of wine matching – white with fish, red with cheese, and so on. But there are those that say it’s nonsense to set out rules for matching wines with food. Rowley Leigh, of London’s Café Anglais and noted expert, does it by ‘intuition’ and leaves the science to the boffins. But if you accept that certain wines just don’t work with certain foods, then here are my guidelines.

Rule one: beware of rules. Red wine and red meat? Not always. A good example is steak Béarnaise. The classic choice would be a robust red wine but that would be fatal with the creamy sauce – so try a full bodied chardonnay instead. Reds with cheese? Hardly ever: reds can spoil the creamy density of most cheeses, while the acidity and minerality of many whites enhance it.

Rule two: keep it local. Winemakers instinctively style their wines to go with the food around them. As Fiona Beckett of says, ‘If it’s a tried and tested match, it’s usually good.’ Think manzanilla with seafood; beef and malbec; grilled sardines and Txakoli. These wines and dishes have been produced from the same terroir for centuries.

But there’s rule three: don’t be hidebound. Looking to the terroir is good, but there are false friends. Don’t serve red Burgundy with Epoisses de Bourgogne, for example. The cheese’s pungency overwhelms the more delicate gaminess of the wine – try an aromatic white like gewürztraminer.

Rule four: match the sauce and the method of cooking, rather than the base ingredient. Think of the myriad different ways of cooking chicken – a Thai curry would require a refreshing pinot gris to balance its spiciness; for a coq au vin, try a syrah.

Rule five: beware the emperor’s new clothes. Château d’Yquem, one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, launches its new vintage each year alongside platefuls of oysters, which wine critics gollop down and report as a great match. Why, when Chablis, champagne, or half a dozen other whites work so much better? So, my last rule: drink what you like. If you like pinot gris with venison, why should a wine journalist tell you otherwise?

Match with seared tuna. Corriente del Bio Pinot Noir 2010, £7.99

This is a jolly, unpretentious pinot with elegant blackcurrant fruit and grippy tannins. Try it with some seared tuna; the sweetness in the fish complements the fruity lift of the wine.

Available at:Marks & Spencer

Match with seared tuna. Corriente del Bio Pinot Noir 2010, £7.99

Match with ASIAGO OR MANCHEGO. Les Princes Abbés Gewürztraminer 2009, £15.99

Floral flavours with hints of spice and rose petals, and dry acids. Pair with a mild ewe’s milk washed rind cheese; the delicate acids meld perfectly with the cheese’s rich creaminess

Available at:

Match with ASIAGO OR MANCHEGO. Les Princes Abbés Gewürztraminer 2009, £15.99

Match with CHOCOLATE TORTE. Château de Corneilla Rivesaltes 2000, £15.95

A superb nose with figs, raisins and sweet dark plums, chunky tannins and a wonderful savoury sweetness. It’s a powerful dense wine with enough body to match the richness of a chocolate torte.

Available at:Roberson Wine

Match with CHOCOLATE TORTE. Château de Corneilla
Rivesaltes 2000, £15.95

Match with STEAK BEARNAISE. Chanson Meursault 2008, £24.99

Steak and white wine? Yes, but it only works with a full-bodied, buttery chardonnay with vibrant acids to complement and cut through the cream, and hold its own with the meat.

Available at:Sainsbury’s

Match with STEAK BEARNAISE. Chanson Meursault 2008,

Match with SEAFOOD. Ameztoi Txakoli di Getaria 2010, £12.50

It’s near impossible to imagine drinking the young, zesty white wine of the Basque anywhere but in San Sebastián, with a plate of grilled sardines. In this case, it would be a sin to break the white with fish rule...

Available at:Highbury Vintners

Match with SEAFOOD. Ameztoi Txakoli di Getaria
2010, £12.50

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