Wine and Food Pairing Guide
The golden rule when pairing wine and food is that there are no rules. Everyone is different, and if you like a certain combination then no-one can tell you not to like it. But it can be worth understanding the nuances of pairing wine and food to help you get the most out of both.
There are two basic strategies you can use when making these decisions. The traditional style of pairing is to choose wines that complement the meal by matching levels of creaminess, earthiness, zest or any other characteristic the two share. Alternatively, you can look at choosing contrasting flavours, for example by pairing a zesty, acidic wine to cut through a rich cream sauce and draw out new refreshing flavours.
Experimentation is the golden word. Don’t be afraid to try new styles and explore new taste sensations. When selecting a wine, look to understand it’s unique characters and consider how they could work with various meals, and soon you’ll be on your way to discovering a whole host of nuanced and exceptional new flavours.
Bold Red Wine
A bold red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah are made with grapes of the highest intensity, which give off dark fruit flavours like blackcurrant and boysenberry.
When dealing with a wine of this intensity, you want to pair it with a food of equal vigour, so that the wine doesn’t overshadow the flavours of your meal. Smoky barbecue and spicy red meats should be your go-to here.
A brilliant example is Trinity Hill "The Trinity", one of New Zealand’s most lauded wines. Or for a great taste experience on a budget, Nottage Hill Cab Sav offers brilliant bang for your buck. Try pairing with beef ribs and Asian-inspired sauces to bring out the subtle spices and aromatics that make it so notorious.
Medium Red Wine
A balance between full-bodied and light reds such as found in Merlot makes Medium red wines some of the best for accentuating flavours in food. Many New Zealand wineries do a Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon blend, which is noted for the purity of its fruit character.
Hearty, savoury foods such as roast vegetables, pizza and winter casseroles are a fantastic choice to pair with these styles. Most simple comfort foods are a good match here, but generally stay away from anything too acidic or creamy.
Light Red Wine
Probably the most adaptable and variable category, a light red can usually work throughout the entire meal, and matches well with most entrees and mains. New Zealand Pinot Noir is famed for its fruit-forward, expressive characteristics, and can be paired to great effect with a wide range of savoury dishes.
Wither Hills, The Ned, and Marisco Kings all offer fantastic examples of this for under $30. Any sort of creamy sauce with garlic or tomato will accentuate the complex fruitiness and provide a contrast to the acidity of the wine. In terms of meats, game bird, pork and ham all have a good balance of flavours while not being overwhelmed by the wine.
Dry White Wine
The key word with dry white wine is zest. A good young Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc is bursting with fierce fruity flavours and a strong acidity. That acidity can be paired very effectively with fatty foods in much the same way that lemon cuts through the natural oils of a smoked fish.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc such as Wither Hills or The Ned goes great with all kinds of green salads, sushi, pesto and fried chicken. To mix it up a little, try experimenting with fruits such as rock melon and a fresh shellfish platter.
Sweet White Wine
Sweet white wines such as Riesling or Moscato exude a floral, fruity aroma and utilise residual sugars to balance out the naturally bitter or acidic flavours of the grapes. A general rule with wine is that the dish should never be sweeter than the drink, or else the wine will come off as tart and unappealing.
With a sweet wine, you can take the opportunity to experiment with sweeter dishes such as Indian curry, sweet & sour stirfry, right down to some cheesecakes and ice creams.
Sweet wines also have the added benefit of mellowing out the harsh affect alcohol has on spicy food, making it the perfect pairing for a huge selection of dishes.
Rich White Wine
A rich, full-bodied white wine will often share many characteristics with your favourite reds, and this all due to the methods used in production. Wines such as Oaked Chardonnay or Semillon are aged in the same oak casks used for reds, which creates a silky texture and often emboldens vanilla or coconutty flavours.
Look to pair the smooth creaminess in the drink with similarly creamy dishes: Mushroom pasta, soft cheeses, lobster and salmon all match the style wonderfully.
Rosé is the perennial summers day drink. Despite being made from red grapes, it usually acts more like a white wine. Typically, the easiest way to work out the flavour profile is simply by looking at the colour of the wine. If you see that a Rosé is very light, you can expect tartness and light, strawberry characteristics. If you see that it is darker it will likely be richer, with notes such as cherry and blackberry.
A typical New Zealand dry Rosé, like Wither Hills Rosé or The Ned Pinot Rosé is a nicely balanced drop, best served chilled, and has the versatility to be go well with just about anything.
If you want to really get the most out of your pairing try experimenting with a goat cheese salad or a prawn cocktail.
Behind the fizz and bang of the bubbly sensations, most sparkling wines are very dry, intentionally so in fact, to bring out the acidity which makes it so famously refreshing.
The bubbles act as a palate cleanser, meaning it’s an easy drink to have with just about any meal. However, the acidity can be off-putting to some. If this is the case for you, the best pairing is for something fatty or creamy.
It is a little-known fact that fried foods and champagne go together unbelievably well. Fried mushrooms, wontons, aged cheeses and of course the classic Kiwi fish and chips do a great job in balancing the flavour profile of sparkling wine.
Dessert wines come in two forms; fortified wines, which are under-fermented to retain their natural sweetness and then mixed with brandy, and late harvest wines, which use over-ripe grapes that have hung on the vine longer than usual and developed rich, honeyed flavours.
Marisco’s The King’s Sticky End is an exceptional example of the latter, with rich caramel aromas reminiscent of apple crumble.
As the name suggests, dessert wines normally pair with desserts. Christmas fruit puddings are a very good match with New Zealand late harvest varieties, as are most manners of cake and chocolate.
If a sugar indulgence isn’t so much your style, dessert wines are also the perfect pairing with pungent cheeses such as Blue Vein or Stilton.