One of the ways a sommelier stays busy is by recommending wines to people who aren’t sure what will taste good with the dinners they’ve just ordered. But what do you do when you’re at home, or there’s no sommelier around, or the wine list is longer than War & Peace? Here’s another quick cheat sheet that will get you back to enjoying your company and not sweating it out over the perfect pairing.
1. Pinot Noir & Riesling are life savers. You can’t go wrong with these two options. Riesling’s high acidity and fresh, unoaked flavours mean it’s a natural choice for aromatic Thai, spicy Mexican or even your standard Sunday roast chicken. Pinot Noir, the ethereal red grape of Burgundy, has soft tannins and ranges from fruity to earthy. For anything from grilled salmon to duck confit to lamb chops, this wine not only holds its own, but enhances the food it’s paired with.
2. Compliment or contrast. There’s a reason why creamy sauces are naturals with chardonnay: their rich weight and creamy taste are similar. However, in situations where I’m dealing with richness, I like to contrast my wine: faced with a creamy, rich sauce – I’m more likely to go for a high acid, fat cutting pinot gris or palate cleansing champagne. But faced with a light vegetable salad, give me a Sauvignon Blanc which has green, herbaceous flavours similar to the leafiness of the salad, as well as high enough acid to stand up to the vinaigrette.
3. Pair the strongest flavor in the dish with wine – not necessarily the main ingredient. So if you’re eating spaghetti with tomato sauce, look for something to pair with the sauce (hint: Chianti). Or if you’re having steak au poivre, pair your wine with the peppercorn (I’d go for a spicy Shiraz).
4. If it grows together, it goes together. There’s a reason why osso buco and barolo are fabulous, or boeuf bourguignon and pinot noir exceptional.
It can get really overwhelming, but here’s a few classic pairings that may have you breathing a sigh of relief – and a tasty wine and food pairing at that!