I remember when I was first getting into wine, the whole food and wine pairing thing used to make me nervous. What if I got it wrong?
But after a few misspent years working as a wine maker and many pleasurable years as a wine lover, I’ve come to realize there’s nothing to be afraid of.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a food and wine pairing disaster. It’s one of those things that seems scary but is actually pretty easy to get right.
So here are 7 tips to give you the confidence to think of yourself as a food and wine pairing pro.
1. Remember there are no rules.
This may sound a little counter-intuitive but there are no rules that work for every situation and every person. So relax and don’t waste your time worrying about getting it wrong. At the end of the day, as long as you and your guests are enjoying yourselves then your food and wine matching has been a success, regardless of what the experts would have us believe.
2. The food and wine must both taste great on their own.
While duck and pinot noir have been known to make a little magic on the taste buds when the two are united, it’s not necessarily always the case. A watery, insipid, cheap pinot is still going to taste sad and bland even if it is teamed with the most succulent duck dish. And the same goes for the food. If it doesn’t taste good on its own, it’s not going to magically improve alongside even the most wonderful wine.
3. Weight is important.
Lighter, more delicately flavored food generally works best with lighter style wines. Heavy, tannic reds tend to be best hooked up with more robust meaty dishes. But of course, there will always be times when a light wine could team marvelously with a heavy rich dish.
4. Wine and food can contrast one another.
Contrast is something that I personally love to play with. For example, using a light, acidic wine like a dry Riesling to cut through the oiliness of fried fish and chips is always a winner.
5. Wine and food can compliment each other.
Sometimes finding flavor similarities can result in a harmonious food and wine pairing experience. For example, matching the earthiness of mushrooms in a mushroom risotto can work a treat with a funky, earthy Pinot Noir. Or a fresh, minty Cabernet Sauvignon to compliment your classic roast lamb with mint sauce can be a flavor explosion.
6. Trust your instincts.
Like most things in life, if it feels like it isn’t going to work, then you’re probably on the right track. Of course it isn’t the end of the world if the food and wine are more at the divorce end of the relationship spectrum. You’ll still be able to enjoy each on their own. A sip of palate cleansing water in between mouthfuls can make all the difference.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask the experts.
Most people who love their wine, are always happy to help out. So have a chat to the guy in your local wine shop or if you’re eating out, ask to talk to the wine waiter or somellier. It’s their job to help guide your wine decisions and if they’re good at their job they won’t be just trying to sell you the most expensive bottle on the list.