Samui Wining & Dining
Mix & Match

The only way of learning the best pairings of wine and food is to experiment.

p23Most wine lovers instinctively recognize those special wine-and-food matches that make their life worth living: Char-grilled lamb chops with a fine Bordeaux or bold Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicately poached white snapper with a Sancerre or other crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Garlic sautéed wild mushrooms with a Californian Pinot Noir. Roast fore rib of Angus beef with a peppery South Australian Shiraz. These are the classic pairings of which culinary dreams are made. But, when trying something new, how can you know whether a pairing will work? Well, like most things in life, personal experience is usually the best teacher by far. And there’s only one way to gain experience and that’s by enlightening your palate with experimentation of various food and wine combinations.

One suggestion I have, which can be both fun and educational, is to hold your own tasting with friends at home. Set up a ‘proof of the pudding’ wine-and-food-combination party. A sociable gathering in which participants taste and compare small amounts of contrasting foods with wines specifically chosen to go well together. I’ve always recommended group tasting as the best and quickest way to learn about wine. And, by gathering several wine enthusiasts together, you can open more bottles than you would normally try at any other time! It makes it possible to evaluate and compare with like-minded wine buffs.

A carefully planned wine-and-food tasting would add an extra dimension to that. Making it possible to check conventional wisdom by trying both obvious matches like red wine and beef, and not-so-obvious pairings, like light red wines and fish. Prepare many different style foods, which can be served in small tasting amounts. And vary the ingredients as much as possible (include some ethnic foods). Serve them with a broad a lineup of wines from across the spectrum. Try to include some sparkling wines, rosés and sweet wines. You could keep things focused by serving one pair at a time, but I like the idea of having all the wines and foods out at once, so participants can mix and match to see what happens. Encourage people to keep notes and have a final comparison amongst everyone. Maybe ask your guests to select their favourite match and invite everyone else to try it to see if they agree. And why not a ‘worst of all’ pairing too?

Whatever happens, it can’t fail to be an enjoyable evening. And you may be surprised by how much you’ll learn about food and wine pairing. I’ve been in the restaurant business for over 25 years and I never stop learning, or listening to other people’s opinions on wine. And diners’ take on wine with food is of particular interest to me.

However, there’s one theory on successful food and wine marriages I always subscribe to: Balance is the key. For example, if eating a tomato-based (tangy) pasta dish, an acidic wine such as Chianti will harmonize well. Or a delicate fish dish’s flavours will be greatly heightened by a fruity Sauvignon Blanc. And medium-bodied red wine, like a Cabernet Sauvignon, will transform mature and blue cheeses. Whilst French soft cheeses, like Brie, beg to be coupled with slightly oaked dry whites. Wines with rich tannins, such as Shiraz, are suited to grilled steak (especially if cooked rare).

On the other hand, the lighter red wines, like Pinot Noir and fruity Merlot, match well with game birds, such as duck and turkey. Vintage Barolo is the perfect companion for rich red meats with heavy sauces. And matched in flavours and appeal, Lobster & Chardonnay are the Lennon & McCartney of the gastronomic world. Recent wine trends have brought together some wonderfully imaginative pairings, such as: grilled salmon with Red Zinfandel and, my favourite, festive roast turkey with Australian Sparkling Shiraz. Once onto the sweet course, the balancing act can start to topple; the only real match here is to drink a wine sweeter than the dessert. Sauternes is the obvious choice but Australian Late Harvests are becoming very popular and, if you’re looking for something special, the Austrian Ice-wines are sensational.

Finally, just for fun (although in a way it’s equally relevant), here are some food and wine pairings that I would put in my ‘worst pairings’ category. And I really would not recommend serving together:


Sole and Shiraz – The delicate, light character of sole and other white fish calls for a crisp and subtle white wine to match. The inky, dark and monolithic character of a big Barossa Shiraz would wipe out the fish, overwhelming the food with all the subtlety of spots of beetroot borsch splattered on a white dress-shirt.

Venison and Vinho Verde – Representing the exact opposite equation, this pairing between a robust, strong-flavoured game meat and an exceptionally light and frothy wine is likely to fail because the meat is too powerful for the wine. Whereas it might not actively quarrel, it certainly wouldn’t harmonize.

Mackerel and Merlot – In contrast with the Shiraz that smashed the sole, this knockout battle pits strong, oily fish against a fruit-forward red. Resulting in a joust of fighting flavours that most people would find unappealing. If the Merlot boasts an astringently tannic backbone, the battle could be as disgusting as an over-60s mixed tag-team mud wrestling match!

Chocolate and Chardonnay – Generally speaking, sweet desserts and wine make an iffy match, because even wines that seem sweet on their own will show their tart and sour side when you compare them with something sweeter. Dark chocolate goes well with strong, sweet red wines or Tawny Port. But it’s hard to imagine anyone who knows anything about wine washing down ‘Death by Chocolate’ with a big, bold Chardonnay.

Penang Neua and Pinot Noir – Super rich and spicy, the beefy Thai curry would annihilate the highly refined but ultimately lightweight Pinot Noir. It would be like George Bush getting into a fist-fight with Mike Tyson in a bad mood!


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