Vincent Gasnier discusses wine and foot matching…

When it comes to matching wine with food, there are no rights and wrongs, just opinions and suggestions. Many of the old ‘rules’ are being eroded by the spread of world cuisine and fusion cooking. And wine styles, too, are evolving: big, oaky New World Chardonnays, for example, go just as well with roast chicken as the traditional choice of a light red wine.

Of course, you can enjoy a delicious bottle of any wine that may not have anything in common with the food you are eating. But, believe me, it is one of life’s greatest pleasures where the wine is in perfect harmony with the food. I knew from my earliest years that the right wine could turn the simplest family meal into an occasion – and ever since, I’ve been on a quest matching good food with perfect wine to create unforgettable meals.

Dispelling the myths

There are no strict rules that say you cannot eat what you like with whichever style of wine you choose. The long-established myth that white wine should be drunk with fish and red wine with meat is just that – a myth! It may have held some truth some two hundred years ago when meat was roasted and fish was poached. And it is certainly true that tannin in red wine reacts poorly with fish. But these days we are blessed with a much wider range of meats and fish from all over the world, as well as a greater variety of wines. There are light, lively reds that make a fantastic match for meaty fish such as fresh tuna, and heavier, oak-aged whites that go superbly well with chicken.

Equal partners

The first first factor to consider when looking for a perfect wine and food match is the relationship between the density of the food and the body of the wine. If the food is heavy, such as a stew or casserole, then you need to match it with a ripe, full wine, probably a red such as a Merlot or a Shiraz. The strength of flavour of a dish, as a general rule, should be matched by the intensity of flavour in the wine that accompanies it. Chinese and Asian dishes, for example, which use a wide array of spices to create complex and intense flavours, need to be matched with wines that are also flavour-intensive; whites such as Gewurtztraminer or Riesling make a far better match than soft, oaky Chardonnays. The acidity in the food is another important factor to consider. Dishes that include lemon, apple or vinaigrette need to be matched with wines with high acidity. Fatty or oily dishes – smoked salmon, or fish served in a beurre blanc sauce, for example – also require wines with a higher level of acidity, to cut through the oiliness of the food and add an extra taste dimension.

Some foods are notoriously difficult to match with wine: chillies, asparagus, eggs and soup. The general rule would be to opt for a fairly neutral wine with not too much acidity. The problem with chillies is that often you can taste very little else, so don’t choose an expensive wine! The flavour of asparagus is quite intense and needs a fairly intense wine to match, such as an oaked Chardonnay. It is best to avoid trying to match red wine with egg, but there are so many different egg dishes that experimentation is a must. A good starting point, however, would be an unoaked Chardonnay or white Burgundy. With soups, obviously the best wine match will depend on the soup’s flavour. In general though, I usually recommend wines with high acidity to cut through creamy soups, or perhaps a fuller red wine with its strong tannins.

The cheese course can be a tricky one; not all cheese goes well with red wine. Generally the harder the cheese the better it is with reds; soft cheese such as Camembert and Brie match well with white wines and, of course, there is the famous marriage (made in heaven, in my view!) between goat’s cheese and Sauvignon Blanc.

Saving the best for last

One of my favourite wine syles is dessert wine and it is a shame that so many people choose a white wine with their starter, a red for the main course, and then go straight to coffee with dessert. They are really missing out, as some of the best wines in the world fall into the dessert category – Barsac, Sauternes, and Montbazillac to name but a few. Delicious! The basic rule to follow is that the wine should be as sweet or even sweeter than the dessert it is paired with; if not, it will taste pallid.

Vincent Gasnier was the youngest ever Master Sommelier and wine consultant to the Houses of Parliament. This extract is taken from How to Choose Wine (978-1405326544) and appears by kind permission of Dorling Kindersley.