Your wine pairing guide from local sommeliers

March 20, 2024
wine pairing

There are two basic rules when it comes to wine and food pairing: acidic wine with acidic food, and low acid wine with savoury food, Lorraine Kearney learns.

We all know the old rule: red with meat, white with fish. But time to throw out those constrictions. Pairing food and wine, in essence, is a balancing act, with sommeliers opening the portals to some truly exciting pairings.

Sommelier Duane Hendricks at the recently opened Luminary on 12th in Pretoria, for example, pairs a Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016 with beef: unexpected but delicious, the bold, rounded white mellowed with the seared beef.

And George Sakulias, a sommelier at The Grill Room in Durban, pairs a seafood chowder with a Delheim Gewürztraminer, and Asian steak with a Galpin Peak Pinot Noir.

‘The rule of white wine with fish and red wine with meat has evolved to an exciting dimension. Today, pairing is about making the dining experience complete – the food and the wine must complement each other,’ says George.

Erica Taylor, the general manager of the South African Sommeliers Association, says that if you’re after pairing wine with your meal at home, start with the basics.

‘Consider matching flavours,’ she explains. If you’ve cooked something like lemon chicken, it pairs nicely with a wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. ‘On the other hand, if you’re indulging in something spicy, a slightly sweet Riesling can be a fantastic choice.’ Remember this when next you whip up a curry or Mexican feast.

Sticking to tradition is a good starting point if you’re setting out on your wine pairing journey, Erica says. ‘Keep it light: lighter foods such as salads or delicate fish dishes go wonderfully with wines such as Pinot Grigio. But when you have dishes like steak, they pair beautifully with bold reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘Of course, rules are meant to be broken if you feel adventurous,’ she adds.

George says a lot is up to the individual. ‘When pairing, one can advise what works, but not insist on it. Each person is different. Their tastes, their likes … [which] determines what wine they drink.’ He’s our kinda guy: ‘But nothing stops you bringing out your best wine to drink on a casual pizza night.’

And sometimes, it’s all about the sauce. ‘Creamy or buttery sauces call for a buttery Chardonnay. For tomato-based sauces, opting for a red might be more suitable,’ explains Erica.

George says wine is normally paired with the protein on the plate, ‘but it is crucial to ensure that the wine doesn’t clash with the sauces or accompaniments’.

An African twist

Pinotage and braai: Erica says that when it comes to an African braai, there’s nothing quite like the bold flavours of Pinotage. Pinotage is an entirely South African grape, first made in 1924 by Professor Abraham Izak Perold, the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University, by merging Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsaut) grapes.
Check out Kanonkop or Beyerskloof.

Chenin Blanc and seafood: ‘Our stunning coastline offers an abundance of seafood. Pairing it with a vibrant Chenin Blanc is simply delightful,’ says Erica. Ken Forrester and DeMorgenzon produce some Chenin Blancs that pair beautifully with a braaied fish or spicy peri-peri prawns.

Cape Blend with game meats: Warwick Estate and Meerlust craft some Cape blends that wonderfully enhance the rich flavours of venison or ostrich.

Sauvignon Blanc and summer salads: ‘On warm days, nothing beats a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc alongside summer salads. These wines are refreshing and zesty, making them an ideal match for a breezy meal,’ says Erica. Try a Sauvignon Blanc from Spioenkop in Elgin.

‘These pairings aren’t just about the taste. They’re also about celebrating our wonderful wine heritage.’

Exploring combinations on your own

If you want to experiment with your combinations, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Start with what you love

There’s no point in pairing something simply because it’s considered a classic if iit won’t bring you pleasure. Have a fondness for a Shiraz or Chardonnay? Begin there.

Job Jovo, a sommelier and consultant at 9th Avenue Waterside in Durban, says: ‘I love Burgundy wines… If it
was up to me, I would only make a wine list with three wines: Chardonnay, Chardonnay and Chardonnay for dessert, too.’

Consider flavours and textures

Take into account the flavours of your meal. Is it robust and hearty or light and delicate? Match the wine to the intensity of your food. A bold dish like a stew goes well with a red wine while a refreshing white might be better suited for a light salad.

Balance is crucial

Seek out harmony between the wine and food. If your dish carries acidity (such as a vinaigrette- based salad) opt for a wine that has acidity. Rich and creamy dishes pair nicely with wines that have acidity to cut through their richness.

Ultimately, with each sip of wine, study its body and acidity. It will taste different with food than it does alone.

A handy checklist

Sip, taste, sip, taste, says Sommelier George Sakulias at The Grill Room in Durban.

  • Pair acidic dishes with an acidic wine because the acid in the food lowers the perception of acid in the wine – it helps to balance them out.
  •  Pair a savoury dish with a lower acid wine or an acidic wine that is balanced with residual sweetness.
  • Pair the weight (light, heavy) of the food with the body (light, heavy) of the wine.
  • Low alcohol wines pair better with spicy foods – a high alcohol wine makes it even spicier.
  • Wines with residual sugar or floral/spicy aromas pair well with spicy foods.
  • Pair a sweet dish with a wine that is slightly less sweet.
  • Rich, tannic red wines typically go well with red and fatty meats.
  • A sweet wine can counterbalance saltiness and bitter tastes.
  • And remember, oak in wine clashes with acidic food but enhances roasted or grilled foods.

ALSO SEE: The best wine trails to explore around the world

The best wine trails to explore around the world

Written by Lorraine Kearney for Woman&Home.

Feature image: Unsplash

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