March 5, 2009

Choosing The Right Wine

Natalie Maclean’s cheat sheet on matching food with wine

We don’t put ketchup on ice cream for the same reasons we don’t drink a delicate sauvignon blanc with a hearty boeuf bourguignon, or overwhelm halibut with a powerful shiraz: the flavours and textures just don’t match. So how do you know what to serve with what? Here are four simple rules; understand them, and you’ll also learn when and where to break them.

Rule 1: Balance strong food with strong wine
When food and wine marry well, each enhances the other, and the combination is more voluptuous than either one alone. This is why some classic matches, like Stilton and port, have been popular for centuries. Also, remember that the predominant food flavour may not be the food you’re cooking, but the sauce. In the case of lemon chicken, match the lemony tang with a bold New Zealand sauvignon blanc with citrus notes.

Rule 2: Look for opposites
Pairing a steak in green peppercorns with a peppery Syrah is a good bet, but working with contrasts can be just as successful, especially in cases of richness versus acidity. For example, pair a creamy risotto with a crisp bubbly.

Rule 3: Match wine weight and food texture
A lightweight fish like sole works best with a crisp white wine like pinot grigio, while a heavier fish like salmon calls for a richer, fuller-bodied white like chardonnay.

Rule 4: Think regionally
One of the easiest ways to match food and wine is to think regionally. If you’re having fettuccine with a tangy tomato sauce, pair it with an Italian Chianti. Because the fruit in the sauce and the vino spring from similar soils and climates, you’re likely to have a good match.

Natalie MacLean, author of the bestseller Red, White and Drunk All Over, offers a free wine newsletter at