Food & Wine Pairing Guide

Food and wine pairing should be fun, social and above all delicious. If you really enjoy wine, and would like to try your hand at food and wine pairing, here are a few basic guidelines:


Pair ‘great with great and humble with humble’
Chances are that your last few bottles of wine are special. You’ve been saving them for an occasion, event or celebration. Before you break down and crack open a bottle to enjoy over your mid-week spag bol, remember to pair ‘great with great and humble with humble’. Maybe light some candles and roast a fillet to enjoy with your Garden Route Merlot.


Match ‘delicate to delicate’ and ‘bold to bold’
A delicate flavour, for example crayfish, goes really well with a lightly-oaked chardonnay or chenin blanc); while big, bold flavours, like a lamb curry, require a bold, big-flavoured wine (think shiraz).


Try ‘fruity wines’ with ‘fruity dishes’
A good rule of thumb is to pair fruity with fruity. A dish with a fruit element, for example pork with caramelised apples, pairs really well with a fruity chenin blanc. A South African favourite, bobotie, should be enjoyed with a fruity syrah or off-dry chenin.


Avoid ‘sweet on sweet’
Lovers of dessert wine will know to avoid going ‘too sweet’ when planning pudding. Simply put, the best dessert and dessert wine combinations are usually based on a pairing of a not-too-sweet dessert (for example, a pecan nut tart) with a sweeter wine. You don’t want a sickly-sweet finish. Best bet? A sweet dessert wine paired with a killer cheese platter.


Focus on flavour
Have you heard of umami? Basically, umami (or savoury) is one of the five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter). Foods packed with umami flavour are sensational when paired with the right wine. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible recommends adding an umami component to your food: “We know steak and cabernet sauvignon to be a successful match. Topping the steak with grilled mushrooms gives the overall combination even more punch.”


Flavour first


As mentioned above, flavour trumps ingredients every single time. Rather than focussing on your basic ingredients (for example, meat, chicken or fish), pair flavours with flavours. Wine author, Fiona Beckett says that fish can be quite robustly cooked – in a fish stew or on a grill for example. Meat dishes, like steak tartare, can be quite light. So, it’s more a question of pairing light-bodied wines with raw or lightly cooked dishes and full-bodied wines with more intensely flavoured ones like roast or grilled food. You can certainly get away with pairing a seared tuna steak with a beautiful red wine.


Falling ‘fowl’


Most people would pair chicken with sauvignon blanc. It’s a safe – and delicious – bet. But it’s not always the right one. Yes, white meat such as chicken or turkey breast pairs well with sauvignon blanc, but dark meat like duck goes well with medium-bodied red wines such as pinot noir or zinfandel. Pidgeon (pinot noir), goose (chardonnay) and quail (pinotage) further muddy the waters. South African ostrich? Syrah or shiraz.


Tried and tested combinations


There is a wonderful saying that says, ‘if it grows together, it goes together’. Think basil and tomato – or pea and asparagus. Seasons and regions always work well together. Like a wonderful Sancerre paired with organic goat’s cheese, both from the Loire Valley in France, or an exquisite Garden Route Packwood sauvignon blanc with their delicious handcrafted farmhouse cheese.


But beyond pairing wine with regional produce, there are some tried and tested combinations where even beginners can’t go wrong:


Port and Stilton cheese
Champagne and canapes (salty, savoury morsels)
Merlot and dark chocolate
Full-bodied reds with a traditional bolognaise
Cabernet Sauvignon with steaks, roasts, casseroles, stews and venison
Chardonnay and seafood
Rosé with a Niçoise salad
Oysters? We’d recommend a sparkling wine, crisp sauvignon blanc or rich chardonnay.