Only white wine with fish
This is probably the most common food and wine matching myth we hear and to be fair, it is grounded on a solid principle. Tannic red wines and white fish react badly together and create an unpleasant metallic taste: very much the same principle as orange juice and brushing your teeth. This means that grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz are unlikely to ever be a great match with fish, however that still leaves a huge amount of varieties to choose from. The classic example here is Salmon and Pinot Noir however any red wine with good acidity and low tannin will be a pleasant match. Red wines are particularly well suited to fish if the cooking methods involves roasting or cooking with the skin on. Of course lets not forget rosé wine, which can often offer the best of both worlds.
Just match the flavours
It’s easy to understand why many people assume food and wine matching is simply about mimicking the flavours of the dish in the wine. Although this may sometimes result in a good wine match, the factor which decides that is the structural match: how do the salt, sweet, acid and umami in the food react with the acid, tannin, alcohol and sugar in the wine. For example, if you had a rich, smokey and flavoursome pork belly dish the import thing would be to find a wine with plenty of acidity to cut through the richness and fattiness of the pork belly. A smokey and flavoursome wine may work, but if it doesn’t have that acidity, the dish will seem too rich.
Dessert wines only with desserts
Dessert wines almost always seem to confuse people, if you’re one of those people I strongly recommend you read my blog on the different types of sweet wine. When people do pluck up the courage to try sweet wines, they normally stick to having it with desserts. However there any many great matches to be had with savoury dishes and sweet wine, the classic being Fois Gras and Sauternes. Many sweet wines have high acidity which can cut through fattiness and richness in many terrines or pates. The sweetness can also help to neutralise very spicy foods such as curries.
Older is better
This myth is often thought by the snobby and elitist wine crowds or by the super-rich looking to show off. As a wine gets older the fruit character in it tends to fade and is often replaced by more savoury flavours like leather, game or spices. One of my restaurant clients recently served a beautiful Shiraz from 1999 with a beef dish and they matched really well, however this was because the dish was fresh and fruity so it compensated for the lack of fruit in the wine. Alternatively if the dish had been more along the lines of a slow cooked stew, a younger, fresher style of shiraz would have been a better match.
There is a perfect match
The hardest thing with food and wine matching is that it’s a hugely subjective topic. Everyone enjoys varying degrees of sweetness, bitterness, spiciness and sourness and as such, my perfect match for a dish may not be enjoyed by someone else. I am currently designing a matched wine package for one of my restaurant clients and one of the dishes being served is (in my opinion) a perfect match for an off-dry Vouvray. I know that the match will be lovely and that many people will enjoy it. However, I also know that the general public can be a bit wary when it comes to off-dry wines so we may need to have a back up match for that dish. I often find there can be several good matches for a dish and the final decision will come down to how traditional or adventurous you are feeling, the company you are having the meal with and of course, the price you are willing to pay.