Clive Hartley

Successfully matching food and wine requires plenty of knowledge of both topics. The consequences of a bad match can ruin the entire dining experience. I recall once attending a white Burgundy lunch with a visiting French winemaker. The experiences was a disaster as the chef had put an hefty dose of chilli in a seafood entrée and the delicate wines were overpowered by the hot spice. Fortunately for the organisers the winemaker’s flight was delayed and he missed the lunch.

Forensic level food knowledge is required. This includes the cooking methods, any dominating herbs or spices and sauces. These are equally as important as the main ingredients (fish, meat, game etc). Knowing the chef and how they interpret classic dishes could also be a factor.

Detailed knowledge of the wine is also required. Acid and tannin levels, weight, flavours and aromas are all important to know. Then there is the winemaking to consider. Take chardonnay, for example. Has the wine been oaked, lees stirred, or gone through malolactic fermentation? All these are going to influence the wine in the glass and its potential food match. What climate the grapes were grown in is as important as the winemaking.

Now I’ve sufficiently muddied the waters and made the tasks sound difficult, here are some general rules if you don’t want to overthink it. Try matching the general weight of a wine and dish. Light food goes with light wines. Robust foods go with full bodied wines. Some of the old rules such as white wines go with fish and white meats are fine, but also light reds can be a good match with more oily fish or chicken as well. With spicy cuisine such as stir-fired Thai dishes you need wine to act as a palate refresher and often a white wine with some residual sugar is the go. For heavier spice driven dishes (Indian, Sri-Lankan, Nepalese) some people recommend fruit driven shiraz, but I often stay away from wine completely. To seriously attempt a food and wine match in a restaurant the best answer is to drink by the glass choosing a wine for each dish.

Clive Hartley

Clive Hartley is an award-winning wine writer, educator and consultant. Check out his fortnightly radio show on Hepburn Community Radio called “put a cork in it”.  Want to learn more about wine? Try his book the Australian Wine Guide (7th ed) – available for purchase from Paradise Books in Daylesford or through  his website –