By Nicolette Waterford
So much has been written about food and wine pairings. My philosophy has always been that if it tastes good, enjoy it together. Still, there are some guidelines that you can follow to ensure your wine brings out the best in your food, and vice versa. When planning a meal, or even ordering wine in a restaurant, we often plan the food first and then try to find wines that will do the trick. I like doing it the other way around by picking the wine first and then choosing food to complement the wine.
We can differentiate between five tastes, namely saltiness, bitterness, acidity, sweetness and what is described as the Japanese taste, “Umami”.
To best match your dishes with the perfect tipple, you need to understand how certain tastes affect wine.
Salty food brings out the sweetness in wine. Salt also hides tannins and increases bitterness. I find Champagne works with almost all salty foods, but then again, I will find any excuse to sip some fizz!
Acidity is a difficult match, as highly acidic food tend to take over the wine’s flavour, making it taste flat. When pairing vinaigrettes and salad dressings at home, I always mix a bit of the wine that will be served into the dressing as a base, to bridge this problem.
Bitter foods include olives, rocket and radicchio and these foods tend to cover up the acidity in wine. Young red wines work very well with these foods, as they hide the tannins quite often present in younger reds.
On to sweetness: Did you know that your ability to taste sweetness declines with age? The match between sweet wines and duck liver pate is a classic, so give it a try.
Umami: This is the taste that emanates from broth style or earthy food, such as soups, miso, stock, consommé, roast meats and mushrooms. Umami makes tannins less prominent, making it a good choice with more tannic wines.
One of the best wine paring tips I have ever received was to pair the wine with the region or origin of the dish you are enjoying. Drink Italian when you eat Italian, for instance. You will be surprised how natural the pairing is.
It is essential to rely on your own palate when you pair food and wine, but to make things easier, here are some guidelines:
• Beef and lamb: Choose full bodied reds like Shiraz or red blends. Other matches include: Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
• Asparagus: A grassy Sauvignon Blanc.
• Chicken: For grilled or roast chicken, try a Chardonnay. For chicken cooked in a rich sauce, try a Shiraz or a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Creamy sauce chicken recipes call for Chardonnay.
• Fish and seafood: Grilled firm-flesh fish matches well with Chardonnay or an aged Semillon, while a hearty fish stew is excellent accompanied by Pinot Noir. For flaky fish, choose a dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc.
• Spicy food: Choose Chenin Blanc, or Riesling. The sweetness of these wines can offsets the spiciness of the food beautifully. Chardonnay is usually a no-no for spicy food as it will taste bitter.
• Game: Choose a spicy red like Sangiovese or Shiraz.
• Tomato based meals: Serve Barbera, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel
• Duck and quail: Pinot Noir or Shiraz.
Cheese: For me cheese and wine is not an easy pairing. Cheese usually coats your taste buds, making it more difficult to taste wine. Full-bodied wines go well with hard cheese, such as a full-bodied Shiraz with cheddar cheese. Soft cheese partners well with dry Riesling, Marsanne, or Viogner. Sweet wine is a good match for blue cheese.
• Dessert: Sweet wines are a good choice, provided that the dessert is not as sweet as the wine.
Many wineries offer unique food and wine pairings. One of my favourites being the “Food and Wine Tasting” at La Motte, during which five La Motte wines are perfectly paired with five tastings of Pierneef à La Motte’s cuisine, created by creative genius, Chef Chris Erasmus. Cost is R120 per person. To book, call 021 876 8000. Learning about food and wine has never been this much fun.