There’s no doubt about it, there’s definitely an art to pairing the right bottle of wine to the given context. However, once you understand a few principles, it’s something that will boost your experience of wine drinking overall.
Now, I must start by saying that you do not need to be hosting a three course dinner party in order to ‘pair’ a wine to a ‘situation.’ All contexts matter. Food, is definitely a factor when choosing wine, but so are many other things including the weather, the company and your budget.
So, food… if you are cooking something that has elements of fruit e.g a Middle Eastern tagine with apricots, hoisin duck, or pork with apple, then it’s a match made in heaven to choose a fruity wine – perhaps a Dolcetto d’Alba from Northern Italy, which is packed full of cherries, or a Viognier that oozes stone fruit flavours.
Saltiness in food really sings alongside a wine with real acidity. Think fish and chips with a Sauvignon Blanc, or Asian cuisine involving a salty soy sauce with a bone dry Riesling. Alternatively, you can contrast the saltiness in a dish with sweetness; that’s why the age old combination of Stilton cheese and Port is a win win.
All things are wonderful in moderation and we all enjoy the odd ‘high fat’ rich dish. Indulgent meals cry out for big and bold wines to meet them head on. Rib-eye steak and a gnarly Argentinian Malbec is one of my favourite combinations, albeit a tad stereotypical. Or a spicy bowl of curry packed full of chilli and herbs works incredible well with a rustic Côtes du Rhone. Something else to have in the back of your mind, is whether or not the dish has cream, fat, or butter that would benefit from being ‘cut through’ with a high acidity wine to give an overall palate cleanse.
Final thoughts on food are relating to sweetness. Pudding wines are still underrated in my view and are one of life’s greatest pleasures. When dealing with the sweeter end of the spectrum there is one key principle, ensure that the wine is sweeter than the dessert. Otherwise it will all be a bit flabby. Pistachio ice cream with candied Sicilian nougat and a Passito di Pantelleria is a ‘go to’ for me – no wonder it was dubbed to have been used by the Roman and Greek gods to woo a potential lover!
Lastly, match the wine to the occasion; humble to humble, indulgent to indulgent. There’s no point in cracking open a bottle of Krug for pizza night, when a cheeky little Nero d’Avola at under £8 will do it more justice!