WRONG! There are no rules in this game – it’s your money so you should drink the wine you enjoy with the food you love and if that means Cabernet and Kob, then so be it. Having said that, there are definitely food and wine combinations which just taste better than others and it is easy to make educated guesses and get it right with just a little extra thought. Here are some ideas to turn your Cab/Kob combo into gastronomic heaven.
1. Think about the ‘weight’ of your food and wine. I don’t mean 200g of steak, I mean food density, texture and richness and wine intensity and complexity. So a Springbok shank cooked in red wine and herbs would be considered a heavy dish and a Cabernet or Bordeaux Blend is most likely to be rich, smooth, multi-layered with a healthy amount of tannins in there so the weights are the same. If you were a white wine drinker, you might be just as happy with a rich, buttery, oaky Chardonnay or perhaps an oxidative-style Chenin Blanc. Equally so, a delicate fish dish – sushi perhaps or a simple grilled sole - won’t be able to handle a wine which is too OTT. You would be better looking at a limey unwooded Semillon or perhaps a less-robust red such as a light Merlot or a fruity Pinotage.
2. Think about the flavours you are cooking with. A lot of cooking ingredients are also flavours which people mention when they are talking about wine – lemons, limes, spices, herbs, chocolate, butter etc. So an excellent match for something like Cape Malay cooking which uses a lot of fruits such as apricots or sultanas might be a Viognier which already has those same flavours in it. A lemony-buttery sauce for fish could match an lightly-wooded Chardonnay, a peppered fillet of beef could go with a spicy Shiraz etc etc. Try and look for the same flavours in both the food and the wine.
3. Opposites can attract! So having said you should look for the same flavours, you can also successfully look for opposites as well! A classic match for spicy food with chillis or curry leaves is something sweeter than normal – try a Bukettraube, an off-dry Colombard or a Riesling. If your food is very rich, you might need something clean and fresh to cut through it – the Italians understand this particularly well so their red wines are often high in tannins and their whites contain a lot of acidity in order to counterbalance savoury Osso Bucco or creamy pasta sauces. A Sauvignon Blanc can match the rich creaminess of goats’ cheese extremely well and a sweet Noble Late Harvest wine with plenty of acidity is the perfect foil for exotic paté de Foie Gras.
4. Think outside the box. There is more to wine than just red and white. Rosés are fantastic food partners with lighter examples matching salads, chicken dishes and fish with denser, darker versions standing up to steak and game. Champagne is an oft-forgotten food match – I once went to a 7-course dinner at Bollinger where they served a different version of champagne with each dish including Foie Gras and fillet. It was divine! A chilled Fino Sherry can go wonderfully with lots of Mediterranean-type starters involving garlic, chickpeas, lemons, herbs etc etc. And don’t just save the port for the cheese – I find it’s a great partner for meaty bowls of soup as well.
5. Experiment! Everybody’s palate is different and everybody enjoys different things. I find a really good trick when holding a dinner party is to open every bottle of wine right at the beginning of the meal and then to try each wine with each course. There is bound to be one wine/food combination which you enjoy best and you must just hope that it is a different one from all your other guests or you’ll be fighting over the bottle!
And relax and enjoy whatever you end up eating and drinking – it’s not an ordeal, it’s an experience!!