We all have different tastes and sensitivities to flavours. Some of us love a hot curry yet others can only tolerate mild spice. While perfect pairings are a matter of taste, there are some good general rules to follow when picking a bottle off the shelf or wine list.
Foods with high acidity like tomato or lemon-based dishes make wine taste fruitier and less bitter/acidic. Try dishes like spaghetti with tomato sauce or lemony prawns with light, high acid wines from cool climates like Italian Pinot Grigio or French Muscadet. Next time you’re finding a wine too ‘tart’, reach for some salt and vinegar crisps – the combination of saltiness and acidity should make your wine feel softer which, for most people, is more enjoyable.
Turn down the heat
Beware of chilli when pairing wines! The heat in spicy meals can increase wine’s alcohol burn and makes it taste more acidic and bitter. The answer is to go for lighter reds with less tannin like Pinot Noir and Valpolicella. Or, try lower alcohol, off-dry white wines – the sugar content acts as a soothing syrup against the spice of the chilli. Look for Riesling from Germany or Vouvray from France.
Add a sprinkle of salt
Salt is a wine-friendly flavour that lets you go big and bold with your wine. Salty foods typically make your wine feel smoother, richer and less bitter and acidic. Salt is particularly good at softening the tannins in red wines. (Tannins are responsible for the mouth-drying sensation you get in reds.) Cured or smoked seafood, meats and hard cheeses can pair with even the most powerful wines, like oak-aged Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.
Serve sweet with sweet
Sweet food can make wine seem more bitter and acidic, and less sweet and fruity – a bit like when you taste orange juice when you’ve just brushed your teeth. Choose a wine with a higher level of sweetness than the food. Look for a bottle labelled ‘medium-dry’ or ‘sweet’ (or in French ‘demi-sec’ or ‘doux’). You don’t always need pudding to enjoy a sweet wine. If you’re a fan of salted caramel, try a salty cheese like stilton with dessert wine.
Trust the classics
Some things are just made for each other. Juicy steak with a punchy Argentinian Malbec or smoked salmon and oysters with a crisp Champagne are tried and tested pairings. These work together for good reasons – so trust your instinct. If in doubt, a simple, unoaked wine with a little residual sugar will go with just about anything!
If this exercise has given you a taste for learning more, visit wsetglobal.com to find out more about WSET courses and where you can take them.