Wine Talk: Which food with what wine?

White with fish and red with meat? Yes, but not always.

Wine for Pessah (photo credit: courtesy)
Wine for Pessah
(photo credit: courtesy)
No one should take the art of matching wine with food too seriously.
The best advice I can give is to drink what you like. Good wine usually goes with good food, so you should never lose sleep over which wine to serve.
There are no real rules to follow, but there are some basic guidelines. The most simple is to select a wine to match the sweetness, weight and flavor intensity of the food. A rich, full-bodied wine goes with a rich, full-bodied dish. A light delicate wine goes with a delicate dish.
❖ Take note of how a dish is cooked and what else is going to be served on the plate.
Remember cold chicken, chicken in a sauce, roast chicken and chicken curry will each require different wines, even though they are all based on chicken. You sometimes need to match the wine to either the sauce or the dominant herb or spice in the dish.
❖ Regarding a choice of wine, beware of very heavily oaked white wines or high-alcohol red wines. These are usually less food friendly. A wine that goes with food needs to have good acidity, be well balanced and refreshing.
❖ To generalize is always a dangerous thing to do, but if you are looking for some basic food and wine matches, I list suggest the following.
❖ For an aperitif or canapés, champagne or sparkling wine is best. If there is antipasti or mezze as a first course, there is no better match than a chilled, fresh, dry fino sherry or an unoaked dry white wine.
Champagne or chardonnay are perfect with smoked salmon.
❖ Grilled vegetables go well with a herbal sauvignon blanc. Artichokes and asparagus can provide wine pairing problems. With a vinegary salad or pickles, choose a wine with the best acidity you can find.
❖ For fish cooked under the grill with olive oil and herbs, choose a sauvignon blanc, or a light, unoaked chardonnay. However, for fish in a cream or butter sauce, chicken or turkey, I would suggest an oaky chardonnay or viognier. If the chicken and turkey were roasted, I would then revert to a fruity red wine, like a Merlot.
❖ Contrary to the usual “white wine with fish” rule, a meaty fish like salmon or cod will match up to a fruity, young red wine. A medium to light Pinot Noir or young red blend may be appropriate. However all oily fish or fish with a slight ‘fishy’ aroma should go only with white wines.
❖ For roast beef, lamb, steak or stews I would choose a red wine to match the style and heaviness of the dish. An elegant wine with good structure, like a bordeaux-style blend or a varietal cabernet sauvignon or cabernet sauvignon Merlot blend, may be perfect with roast beef or a steak. With a stew I would look for a red wine with a more powerful character like Shiraz.
❖ For Asian or spicy food, I would choose an off dry white wine with a touch of sweetness, like a Riesling or Gewurztraminer.Emerald Riesling is excellent with Chinese food.
However, if curry is on the menu, I will stick to beer or water! Sushi bars have become very popular and seem to be spreading everywhere. To accompany sushi I recommend a sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc.
❖ Quality, sweet dessert wines best accompany desserts, but the balance between the two is important. The wine should be only slightly sweeter than the dessert for the match to show at its best.
❖ It is a myth that red wines go well with all cheeses.
Hard, aged cheeses, like Parmesan and Cheddar, do go well with a full-bodied red wine. However, most other cheeses will go far better with dry white wines. Blue cheeses like Stilton, Roquefort or Gorgonzola are the perfect partner for a dessert wine made from Muscat, a late harvest Gewurztraminer or a fortified red wine made in the style of a port.
❖ According to Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, “pairing wine and food is like ballroom dancing. Someone has to lead.” Usually the wine is secondary to the food. However, if the food is being prepared to match a special bottle, then the food should be simple, without the exotic fusion of unusual flavors chefs enjoy preparing. Remember you can always adjust the flavor of the any dish but the wine comes as it is in the bottle.
Matching wine to the food is fun and it can enhance the food and wine experience, but it is not that important and many of the best food and wine combinations are thrown together spontaneously without making plans or delving into wine books. The important thing to remember is that wine is there to be enjoyed and there is nothing better than opening a bottle to enjoy with good friends and some good food.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery in Israel. He regularly writes about wine for Israeli and international publications.

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