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Wine and food matching

Matching wine and food is not an exact science, and everyone’s taste is different. It is a value judgement. But there are some basic guidelines which help to avoid unpleasant clashes.


artichokes – a challenge to match with wine

The more acidic a wine, the easier it is to match with foods. Think of how a dash of lemon juice enhances some dishes.

  • Acidic wines deal very well with salty foods such as oysters, or oily fish like mackerel.
  • The wine should be more acidic than the food. In fact food can temper a wine which would otherwise be too acidic for most.

Alcohol in wine affects the texture in the mouth, and if it is too high causes a bitterness and burning at the back of the throat.

  • Match the weight of the wine with that of the dish. Most foods are fairly light-weight, so it is easier to match lower alcohol, more elegant wines.
  • Avoid drinking high alcohol wines with chilli or very salty dishes – it just reinforces the burning.

Tannins come mainly from the skin and pips in grapes, so are most often found in red wines. They react with the saliva in your mouth to cause a puckering sensation. Tannin levels decrease as a wine ages, so young wines are more tannic than older ones.

  • Tannic wines clash badly with many fish dishes, leaving a metallic taste in the mouth.
  • Tannic wines go very well with fat and protein – grilled steak for example.

Oaked wines
Both red and white wines can be oaked, but it is much more common in reds. Oak treatment is expensive, so it is done with better wines. The resulting wine has more body and tannin than lighter-styled wines.

  • Avoid delicate dishes, as the wine will overwhelm it.
  • Pick dishes with rich sauces, or where the food has been grilled rather than poached.

Sweet wines
Are those with residual sugar. Note that they should also have a balancing acidity, or else they are just cloying and will hardly match any food at all.

  • The sweet wine should be sweeter than the pudding you are eating.
  • Semi-sweet wines go well with spicy hot food.

There is no point drinking a wine which you don’t like, just because someone on TV has declared it a perfect match with the food you are eating. In the end, you should drink what you enjoy, but perhaps use the above guidelines to avoid the worst clashes. If a wine really does clash, you can always finish it off after you’ve finished the food.

What to drink with your fish and shellfish

Seafood and wine the perfect match

Enjoying wine with seafood

The first rule of wine and food pairing, is to drink something you enjoy. The perfect pairing is in the eye of the beholder.

Certain types of wine can be excluded because they clash with fish and shellfish, but a wide range of wines go very well. Heavier styles of wine match better with richer dishes.

Wines to avoid
Avoid tannic grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo. Tannins cause puckering and drying of the mouth, and they react with iodine in marine fish and shellfish to produce a metallic taste. This spoils the food and the wine.

Red wines which can work
Some red grape varieties have low tannin levels, and some wines are made in a way which extracts little tannin from the grapes. Good acidity also helps to match with shellfish, and to cut through rich sauces. Some red wines which do work:-

  • Beaujolais. Made from Gamay grapes, and most have low tannin levels.
  • Pinot Noir. Particularly lighter styles of Burgundy.
  • Rioja. Lighter styles made for early drinking work well.
  • Cabernet Franc. The main source is the Loire in France.

White wines
A whole swathe of dry white wines with good acidity go really well with shellfish. Here are some suggestions:-

  • Riesling. A great grape variety, but choosing Riesling needs care, as styles vary from the bone-dry to the lush, rich and sweet.
  • Chardonnay. A racy Chablis for the shellfish. An oaked wine for the rich sauces.
  • Sauvignon Blanc. Whichever style you enjoy.
  • Albariño. A grape variety grown near Spain’s Atlantic coast. It is just made to go with the local fish and shellfish.
  • Picpoul de Pinet. From the Mediterranean coast of France – just right for the local seafood.

Rosé wines
Rosé wines come in a wide variety of styles. Match them in the same way you would white wines.

Sparkling wines, and the dry styles of sherry go well too.

The choice is your’s, but do try unfamiliar wines, as there is always a better one around the corner.