Hospitality Wine and Food Pairing
Wine and Food Pairing


Wine and Food Pairing

I entered the culinary world very early on in my childhood, having experienced wonderful holidays with my parents, and I was learning to sip wine (as children in most European countries do) almost before my second set of teeth appeared.

Holidays abroad enlightened my senses which became very useful as I pursued my career as a chef. I started out as a saucier (one who makes sauces) so it was imperative that I learned the correct balance for whichever dish I was preparing. While working in Paris, I made many wine sauces, but I wanted to learn more about selecting wines for each dish. I enlisted the services of my very knowledgeable Chief Sommelier and then embarked on a two-year course to learn as much as I could about this flavoursome ‘grape juice’.

Much of what is stated on a wine bottle label will give you a good indication of which wine to choose, and a top-flight sommelier to give you advise will be worth their weight in gold. However, pairing need not be a difficult process, it’s just important to always take into consideration that your palate may differ from another’s – wine can still be very much an individual choice.

Wine and Food Pairing

Basic Principles

Learning about food and wine pairing won’t happen overnight, but there are some key points to follow at the onset.
  • Select wine/s that have the same designated origin as your food where possible
  • Take note of the basic flavour of the dish and choose accordingly – acidic, bitter or sweet. Bitter tannic wines for instance are perfect with steak.
  • Don’t believe everything that you hear – for instance, white wines do not haveto be paired with chicken – have a look at our table to find such information and trust your nose and your palate.

The following table gives you some ideas – it is by no means comprehensive, but it is great fun experimenting and an excellent social exercise to share with friends. However, do try to spend time in taking a course or two to cement your knowledge.





Beef Casserole

Full-bodied red

Burgundy, Shiraz


Strong reds, peppery, tannic

Rioja, Shiraz

Roast Beef

Deserves the best quality red

Cabernet Sauvignon, Mature Tuscan red


Complex red

Medoc, St Emilion


Can be paired with white or red

White – Pinot Gris

Red – Chianti, Medoc

Cold Cuts

Fruitier Reds

Bordeaux, Burgundy

Continental Meats

(think salami, chorizo etc), fruity red

Barbera, Zinfandel


Classic white

Pinot Gris, Dry Reisling

Chicken (red wine sauce)

Light Red



Mature, full-bodied red

St.Emilion, Rioja, Burgundy


Light White Fish

White and full flavoured

Burgundy, Chardonnay, dry Reisling

Heavy White Fish

Full flavoured white

Burgundy, Voignier


Rich white (New World)


Rich white (European)

Rioja, Mersault





Pinot Noir


Cote de Provence


Smoked Salmon

High Quality white or Champagne all the way!

Chablis (Premier Cru)


Delicate rosé (preferably sparkling)

Light Cava or similar

Spicy Foods

Another dilemma – spicy foods from India and the Far East can often contain a Pandora’s box of a multitude of spices, with hints of hot spices such as cumin, or fragrant spices such as lemongrass. We then have Mexico, which is a whole different ball game with extreme heat from fiery chillies. Suggested parings are:

Wine and Food Pairing

  • Indian Curries – A light and aromatic Reisling would go well – slightly sweet and acidic will cut through any heat and also buttery or oily nature that some curries apply.
  • Mexican – heaped with garlic and onions would require a light white, but if chillies or chipotle are in abundance something earthier is required, such as an Australian Shiraz. If copious amounts of cheese are in evidence however (enchiladas, burritos etc), a more acidic Reisling would be a better match.
  • Chinese – choices can be white or red – for Szechuan in particular a crisp Gewurtzraminer would be excellent. The Shanghai style of cooking would benefit more from a ripe red such as Merlot.
  • Thai and Malaysian – often strong in aromatics, such as lemongrass, a crisp Alsacienne Reisling will do the trick.


Desserts can be a complicated issue when pairing wine. Many rich desserts these days will contain an element of alcohol, whether it be a sabayon with wine, or a tiramisu with Tia Maria or coffee liqueur. Due to the fact that most desserts with have at least an element of sugar, and some can be heavier than others (think Death by Chocolate!), you need to be careful when pairing. Here are a few basic rules.

Wine and Food Pairing

  • Fruity desserts will have natural acidity – pair with wines such as Gewurtzraminer, Sauternes, or those that have apple or pear notes, and perhaps sweet spice notes such as cinnamon.
  • Chocolate, Caramel – with these buttery tastes, a red wine such as Pinot Noir or Shiraz will be good choices – others will say reach for the port!
  • Buttery pastry desserts – try a light and sweeter sparkling wine, or a light fruity Reisling, particularly if the dessert includes custard or vanilla.

On the continent, particularly Italy, the choice would more likely be strong coffee and a Grappa!


Complexity yet again on this subject. Many people are under the misconception that you must have port or red wine – not so. With so many different textures and strength of cheeses, let alone the choice of sheep, goat, buffalo or cow, veined or non-veined, it can be a difficult issue. Voluptuous reds pair well with ‘smelly’ cheeses such as Stinking Bishop, so try a South African Shiraz.

Wine and Food Pairing

For Cheddar however, a New World Chardonnay is pretty perfect, whereas with a cheese as strong and blue veined as Roquefort, a Sauternes is a really good choice.

Creamy, butter-yellow coloured cheeses with rind, such as Brie, are wonderful with a light but full-flavoured rose, or a superb Pinot Gris. Both counteract the creaminess, but add a fruity note to the whole taste sensation.

Hopefully, this insight into choosing wines will help you on the way to increasing your ‘thirst’ for food and wine pairing –but do take the opportunity to learn more.

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