I have written about food and wine-matching for over twenty-five years. Thirteen of my fourteen wine books have featured comprehensive food and wine-matching chapters and I have written over 1000 columns in the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine along this theme as well. For more than 26 years, I wrote the wine lists for a handful of award-winning restaurants, including Bibendum, Hyatt Hotels, Amaya, Chutney Mary and Veeraswamy, to name but a few. I gave up consulting to restaurants in 2016 to become 100% devoted to writing about wine and hosting my wine events. I hope that the following 21000 words help you towards getting your dinner parties ‘right’ and impressing your own palates along the way as well as those of your guests.
This is, however, not rocket science, but a matter of telling the truth about what works and what doesn’t in the flavour combination arena. You will find that you swiftly learn the basic rules of food and wine matching and how these combos impact on your palate. You probably have most of them cracked already. I say this is because you food match ingredients all of the time without even thinking. When making a sandwich it is generally accepted that ham goes well with mustard and beef with horseradish, but not necessarily the other way around.
I know the flavour of most of the wines out there on the shelves because I spend every moment of every day tasting, and importantly, you know what your palate likes, too. Put two and two together and food and wine-matching is about getting ham and mustard on the same page and avoiding the near-miss, which would be ham and horseradish!
I can help you do this and let you know the very best bottles in the UK, too, in my weekly and monthly columns which are all published on my website.
I realise that everything is a matter of taste – this is a subjective subject if ever there was one. So if you are new to my writing it is important you realise I do not tell you exactly what to drink with your dinner here (that would, by definition, only work for my palate), but I tell you what not to drink, as much as gently guide you to a flavour or collection of wines that might work well. It is up to you where to make your final decision, by plumping for a bottle that you know you like.
You can therefore relax and open a bottle. It needs no longer be a nightmare trying to match wine to food when you are entertaining at home, or out and about. Forget the pressure to ‘get it right’.
Your first step is to think of a menu, then find the dish in the A-Z and read through my recommendations. Then, have a look at my recent articles and choose a bottle that fits. You could always grab a few bottles of a multi-purpose, multi-talented style of wine. Some names pop up in this article more often than others – Sauvignon Blanc, the crowd-pleasing, refreshing, dry, white grape is always a winner and a safe place to go if you are worried. As are the juicy, smooth, black-fruit-driven, New World GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre) blends, Côtes-du-Rhônes (the same blend) or many Languedoc reds (again the same grapes are employed). It is also worth pointing out that Beaujolais, once one of the most ridiculed styles of wine in France, is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. It appears over twenty-five times in this piece and it is a style of wine you mustn’t overlook!
I met up with some old pals the other day at a neutral venue (i.e. not one of the restaurants whose wine lists I know well) for a lunch party. I bet you know what is coming! Everyone wanted to order different things and the wine list was opened in front of yours truly. I quickly conducted a straw poll of starters and main courses. I thought that by ordering one bottle of red and one bottle of white, I could at least have a chance to chat and give myself a breather before having to order another bottle. Following my own rules, I chose a fresh, zingy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a stunning bottle of Chiroubles (Beaujolais). Every base was covered, from oysters, spring rolls, pâté, calamari, Caesar salad for starters and steak sandwich, soss and mash, seared tuna, lasagne, roast lamb for the main course. In the end, we just ordered the same bottles again, because they were such a hit! The Sauvignon effortlessly sliced through the oysters, the fish dishes, the Caesar and the chilli sauce in the dip for the calamari. The Beaujolais wasn’t too heavy for the pâté but had enough character and fruit weight to cope with the meaty main courses. It is this reason why these wines are so incredibly popular in the first place. There isn’t a Parisian bar that doesn’t sell Beaujolais and Sauvignon Blanc by the gallon. Although I am sure that they would get their Sauvignon from the Loire Valley as opposed to New Zealand!
APÉRITIF WINE STYLES
Pre-dinner nibbles like dry roasted almonds, bruschetta, cashews, canapés, crostini, crudités, olives and gougères (those heavenly cheese puffs served by the plateful in Burgundy and Chablis) are designed to give your palate a jump-start and get your juices flowing before a feast. It is important at this stage of the proceedings not to overload your taste buds with big, weighty, powerful wines. Save these bottles for later and zero in on refreshing, taste-bud-awakening styles that set the scene, rather than hog the limelight: Champagne is, not surprisingly, the perfect wine if you’re feeling loaded but, if not, sparkling wines from the Loire (Saumur), the south of France (Limoux) or Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy) would do the job nicely. Italy offers up superb, dry, palate-enlivening fizz in the form of Prosecco, from Veneto, or some more serious sparklers from Franciacorta, Trentino or Alto Adige. I never really drink the Spanish fizz Cava unless I’m in Barcelona because there are only a few worthy versions to be found in the UK. The best, authentic Champagne-taste-alikes these days come from England – there are loads of estates with world-class wines and you will see lots of recommendations in my various columns, but mainly in my monthly Vineyard Magazine piece. You can read these free as a Friend of matthewjukes.com. New World sparklers are usually very good value, too (around half the price of Champs) – New Zealand, Australia (particularly Tasmania) and California are the places to go to find awesome quality. Fino and manzanilla style sherries are wonderful palate cleansers, particularly with salty dishes, despite being thought of as perpetually ‘out of fashion’. The least expensive option (and often safest, particularly if you are eating out) is a zesty, uplifting, palate-sprucing dry white. Even a moderately expensive number is often half the price of a bottle of Champs and there are thousands of these around, so go for it. There are also loads of first-class examples on this website. Stay with unoaked styles and keep the price under control, and then step up the pace with the next bottle, when the food hits the table. If the choice is poor (a short restaurant wine list or a poorly stocked off licence) then grab a neutral, dry, inexpensive white wine (Loire perhaps) and pep it up with a dash or two of Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). Spend upon the cassis, as it will go a long way, and make a Kir. Use the same liqueur to turn a dry, inexpensive, sparkling wine into a glitzy Kir Royale.
STARTERS & MAIN COURSES
Anchovies Strongly flavoured whether they are fresh or cured, these little hairy fish (whether you like ‘em or not) require dry, unoaked, tangy, acidic whites or juicy, bone-dry rosés for maximum impact. Head to Italy, Spain or France and keep the budget low – a tenner is more than enough cash spent in this direction. Dry sherry is also spot on, but consider what is involved in the rest of the dish, as it can have quite a strident flavour.
Antipasti The classic Italian mixed platter of artichokes, prosciutto, bruschetta, olives, marinated peppers and aubergines enjoys being romanced with chilled, light Italian reds like Valpolicella and Bardolino, or clean, vibrant, refreshing whites like Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Frascati, Falanghina, Vernaccia, Greco, Est! Est!! Est!!!, Orvieto, Verdicchio or Gavi.
Artichokes Dry, unoaked, refreshing whites are best here, especially if you are going to dip the artichokes in vinaigrette (see ‘Vinaigrette’). Alsatian Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, lighter Riesling, Loire Sauvignon Blanc or Aligoté from Burgundy are perfect partners from France, as are the Italian whites listed above for ‘Antipasti’. If you want to head to the New World, then keep it angular and edgy with Portuguese Vinho Verde, Spanish Albariño, South African Chenin Blanc, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Argentinean Torrontés.
Asparagus Because of its inbuilt asparagus-y characteristics Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect match here. Asparagus is a positive tasting note for Sauvignon Blanc and so New World styles of Sauvignon like Chilean (Casablanca), Australian (Adelaide Hills) or New Zealand (Marlborough) have tons of flavour and would be better suited to asparagus dishes that have hollandaise, balsamic vinegar or olive oil and Parmesan. Old World styles, like those from France’s Loire Valley (Sancerre, Menetou-Salon and Pouilly-Fumé) are great if the dish is plainer. Northern Italian whites like Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio, as well as South African Sauvignon Blanc (somewhere between New Zealand and the Loire geographically and in style), would also do the job brilliantly.
Aubergines If the aubergines are served grilled, with pesto or olive oil, garlic and basil, as always, you must identify the most dominant flavours in the dish. In both of these recipes they are the same – garlic and basil – so tackle them with dry Sauvignon Blanc or keen, white Italians like Verdicchio, Pinot Bianco, Inzolia, Fiano or Falanghina. Plain aubergine dishes are fairly thin on the ground as these glossy, sleek, black beauties are often used within vegetarian recipes (for example, ratatouille or caponata). If cheese or meat (moussaka) is involved, these more dominant flavours take over from the aubergines, so light, youthful reds are required. Southern Italian or Sicilian Primitivo, Nero d’Avola or Aglianico, southern French Grenache-based blends, Chilean Carmenère or Spanish Garnacha are all good matches (and great value, too). Just make sure they are not too ponderous or alcohol heavy. If the dish is ‘hotter’ or spicier, or the aubergines are stuffed, you will need a more feisty, characterful red, but don’t be tempted by anything too heady (avoid tannic red grapes like Cabernet, Pinotage, Nebbiolo, Zinfandel and Malbec). Imam bayildi, the classic aubergine, onion, olive oil and tomato dish, is a winner with juicy, slightly chilled Chilean Merlot, youthful, bright purple Valpolicella, spicy Sardinian Cannonau or black-fruit-imbued Italians – Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba, Carmignano, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Morellino di Scansano.
Australian The masters/inventors of Asian fusion Down Under manage to juggle the freshest of land and sea ingredients, and weave into them the best of Asia’s spices and presentation. This beguiling and thoroughly delicious style of cuisine is a real hit worldwide, as the cooking is virtually fat-free and it’s packed with zesty, palate-enlivening flavours. It is no surprise that in trendy Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne restaurants they reward their palates with finely tuned Clare and Eden Valley Rieslings, fresh, grapey Verdelhos, zippy, perky Adelaide Hills and Western Australian Sauvignon Blancs and assorted Pinot Gris, Semillon/Sauvignon blends and keen, fresh, oak-balanced Chardonnays. Not all Aussie reds are huge and sporty, with the vogue for more aromatic wines coming from McLaren Vale, Nagambie Lakes, Great Western, Canberra or Frankland (Shiraz), Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong or Yarra (Pinot Noir) and cooler Margaret River, Orange or Coonawarra (Cabernet and Merlot) hitting form. It is no wonder they are all so fit and healthy down there, with such glorious local produce, awesome wines and inspired chefs!
Avocado If the avocado is undressed, you need light, unoaked whites, in particular Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet or fresh, cheap, clean Italians. If dressed with vinaigrette or with Marie Rose sauce (in a prawn cocktail), richer Sauvignon Blanc (NZ and the Cape), Pinot Gris (smart Italians and New Zealand) or Australian Verdelho and Riesling are spot on, as are young, white Rhônes or Languedocs, like Picpoul de Pinet, and Alsatian Pinot Blanc. Guacamole, depending on its chilli heat, needs cool, citrusy, dry whites to douse the palate and cut through the gloopy green mush.
Bacon This usually pops up as an ingredient in a dish and not often as the main theme, unless you’ve had a heavy night on the sherbets and need the finest of all miracle cures – a bacon sarnie! If you feel like a glass of wine to accompany this classic bread and hog delight, or your full English breakfast (I know I do), then chilled red Côtes-du-Rhône, Languedoc Rouge or Cru Beaujolais would be a joy. If you are brave (or foolish, or both) try it with a sparkling Shiraz from Down Under. If you are using fried or grilled pancetta or lardons in a salad, remember that the salty flavour and/or smoked taste could prompt a move away from a salady, light white wine to a juicy, fresh red. Red Burgundy (a smart Bourgogne Rouge is as far as you need to go) or a Côtes-du-Rhône are both heavenly, if a little ostentatious, with bacon and eggs.
Barbecues The unplanned, off the cuff, ever-so-slightly flammable nature of the English barbecue, combined with unlimited platters groaning with pink, uncooked meat, spicy, lurid marinades and intense, mahogany-coloured, smoky sauces, ensures an informal (often comical) and always flavour-packed occasion. Aim for good value New World gluggers (white or red), as long as they are assertive, juicy and fruit-driven. Lightly oaked Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc or Semillon for whites, or inexpensive Zinfandel, Merlot, Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz for reds all work. Don’t be afraid of chilling both the whites and reds for maximum effect. Chile, Argentina, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are the most likely candidates for your guest list.
Beans With baked beans you need simply to find fruity, berry-driven reds because the tomato sauce flavour is so dominant and it takes over the palate. Any youthful reds with refreshing acidity, such as those from the Loire, Spain, South Africa, South America or Italy, will work well. Remember to keep the price down – it’s not worth spending over a tenner for a beans-on-toast wine unless you are a little loopy or feeling flash! Not surprisingly, anything goes with green beans, as they are the least flavoursome of veggies. You’d have to mince along with a light, dry white to let a green bean truly express itself! Tuscan bean salad needs slightly chilled, light-bodied reds or fresh, zingy whites to cut through the earthy flavours. If you throw some beans into a stew (‘more beans Mr Taggart?’), such as cassoulet or any of a wide variety of Spanish dishes, then Grenache/Carignan blends from the south of France (Fitou, Corbières, Faugères or Minervois), or Garnacha-based wines from Spain (Navarra, Terra Alta, Priorato, Campo de Borja, Calatayud or Tarragona) will easily deal with the beanie ballast. Black bean sauce requires a few moments of meditation and trepidation. The curious, oil slick texture and intensity of dark sweetness must be countered by huge, juicy, mouth-filling, velvety smooth reds – Zinfandel is the only red grape brave enough to cope. Refried beans, either in tacos or other Mexican dishes, have a fair degree of earthy sludginess that needs either rich whites like a bright New World Chardonnay (Chile, South Africa and Australia make the best value) or fresh, fruity reds. I would try Bonarda, Sangiovese or Tempranillo from Argentina as a starting point, then head over to Chile for some Carmenère or Merlot if you have no joy. My favourite bean is the noble cannellini, the base for all great bean-frenzy soups. What should you uncork? Sorry, but you’ll have to wait with spoon and glass at the ready for the ‘Soup’ entry below.
Beef There are so many different beef dishes, so, luckily, the rules are not too tricky. Reds, predictably, are the order of the day, but it is the size and shape of them (the wines, not the cows) that determine just how accurate the match will be. Roast beef (or en croûte/beef Wellington) served up for Sunday lunch deserves a modicum of respect. When you gather around the dining room table do, by all means, push the boat out. It is at times like these when old-fashioned gentleman’s red Bordeaux comes into its own. Don’t ask me why, but classy wines such as red Bordeaux, Bandol, erudite northern Rhônes – Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, St-Joseph or Côte-Rôtie – or even Italy’s answer to an Aston Martin DB5, the Super-Tuscans are simply magnificent with this king of beef dishes. As you’d expect, not one of these wines is remotely affordable (nor is the car, mind you). They are all special occasion wines, so if you are looking to shave a few pounds off your credit card bill, I would recommend heading to the top Cabernets from Australia’s Margaret River (Western Australia) or Coonawarra (South Australia), or Napa Valley in California. You’ve guessed it, these are again fairly dear, but at least these reds will give you the richness and complexity that you are craving. If you are on a strict budget, then don’t change regions, just buy cleverly – not all wines from Bordeaux are exorbitantly priced. Try the less famous sub-regions like Côtes de Castillon, Bourg, Blaye and Francs, and go for a good vintage (decent recent years are 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2018). These wines can hit the spot. Hearty Southern Rhône or Languedoc reds would also do very well. Most Aussie (try Clare Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in particular), South African (Stellenbosch), Chilean and Argentinean Cabernets or South Australian Cab/Shiraz blends around the ten-fifteen mark offer charm, complexity and competence, especially if you stick to my recommendations. It is at this price point that the New World leads the pack. But even if you drop down to around an eight or nine quid you can still have fun, just remember to stick to hotter climate wines, as red Bordeaux and red Rhônes at this price don’t exist anymore. One question you must ask yourself is – ‘how do you like your beef cooked?’ If you are a keen carnivore and a fan of rare beef, you can safely drink younger, more tannic red wines, as the harder tannins balance perfectly with juicy, rare meat, slicing through the flesh and making your mouth water. If, however, you like your beef well done, then choose an older wine with smoother, more harmonious tannins. Stews, casseroles and meat pies need richer, more structured reds, particularly if meaty, stock-rich gravy is involved. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz), Pinotage, Piemontese (northern Italian) reds, Zinfandel and Malbec are but a few of the superb, hunky, robust grapes to go for. Look for wines from South Africa, Australia, California and Argentina. Southern Rhônes like Gigondas, Lirac, Cairanne, Rasteau or Vacqueyras will also be superb, as will Provençal or Languedoc reds made from a similar blend of swarthy red grapes. Portuguese wines are worth considering with rich beef dishes – the red wines from the Alentejo, Dão and the Douro Valley are still woefully under-priced mightily impressive. Cahors in southwest France also deserves a mention, as it is a skilful beef partner. Bollito Misto, the Italian stew made from beef and just about everything else you could find in your larder, demands the presence of local wines – Teroldego and Marzemino, from Trentino in northern Italy, would be a quirky and yet inspirational place to kick-off, as would smart Valpolicella, Barbera d’Asti or Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba. Boeuf bourguignon, as the name suggests, usually pressgangs the help of red Burgundy. But please don’t cook with anything expensive – save your money for the ‘drinking’ wine and cook with a simple generic bottle (Beaujolais or Bourgogne Rouge). Steak and kidney pie loves manly, rustic reds with grippy, palate-crunching acidity and sturdy tannins. These wines slice through the gravy and often-chewy kidneys – Madiran and Cahors from France, Malbec from Argentina and New World war-horses, like South African Pinotage and Syrah, and Aussie Shiraz also enjoy this challenge. Cottage pie, with carrot, celery, onions and minced beef rarely requires anything more challenging than an inexpensive, fun lovin’ red. You could even try your hand with Eastern Europe (although don’t expect me to road-test this for you), or southern Italy or Sicily (a safer bet) and then go crazy and buy two bottles. A heroic Beef stroganoff also demands rusticity in its dancing partner, so gather together some southern Rhônes (Sablet, Valréas, Cairanne or Vacqueyras); even a straight Côtes-du-Rhône from the right Domaine can be a joy. Hungarian goulash would be wonderfully authentic if a Hungarian red wine joined it. Nuff said! But if you want to play a straighter bat, head to Rioja, Navarra, La Mancha or Toro (Spain) or Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Straight steak has a more direct and controlled meaty flavour than a rich stew, so finer wines can be dragged out of the cellar (or local wine merchant). Bathe in Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Ribera del Duero, Californian Merlot, Zin or Cab, top-end Cru Beaujolais (still only a fifteen quid max!), Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph (both Rhônes), and South African, Argentinean, cool-climate Australian and New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignons or Shirazes. Watch out that you don’t OD on Béarnaise sauce, which, though great with a mouthful of steak, can clog up the taste buds (and the waistband) a little. With steak au poivre, the pungent, pulverised peppercorns make their presence known in every mouthful, so look for meaty (and pepper-flavoured) wines like northern Rhône reds (Syrah) or their cousins from further afield – Shiraz from Australia, Chile or South Africa. Burgers, heaven in a bun (homemade of course, not mechanically reclaimed at the golden arches!), often served with ketchup, bacon, cheese or relish (or all of the above), crave fruity reds like Italian Dolcetto or Barbera, Spanish Garnacha, young Rioja Crianza, juicy Californian Zinfandel, South African Pinotage, Chilean or South African Merlot, Australian Petit Verdot (hard to find, but dead funky) or Cab/Shiraz blends. Once again, go for younger wines if you like your burger rare, and older, more mellow wines if you dwell at the well-done end of the spectrum. Chilli con carne is a difficult dish to match with wine. As with burgers, it is necessary to search for fruitier styles like Aussie Merlot, or Negroamaro or Nero d’Avola from southern Italy and Sicily – I quite like chilling them a touch, too. Steak tartare is a strange one, as I’m still not sure whether I like it (a side issue), but I must admit it works terrifically well with very light reds and rosés – Tavel (southern Rhône) and other Grenache-based rosés (try Spain) are perfect, as are snooty Pinot Noirs like Sancerre red or rosé. If you fancy splashing out, then rosé Champagne is the ultimate combo (although people are bound to think you’re a show-off). Whatever you do, make sure you go easy on the capers if they are served alongside – they are mini hand grenades on the palate, spoiling a seamless vinous performance. Cold, rare roast beef salad and other cold beef dishes enjoy the company of fresh, light reds with low tannins – Beaujolais, Valpolicella, red Loires (either Cabernet Franc or Gamay) or Argentinean Tempranillo or Bonarda would all work. Pinot Noir is also a treat with this style of dish – Burgundy, Martinborough, Marlborough or Central Otago (all NZ), Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula (all Oz). The only occasion when you are allowed to break the red-wine-with-beef rule (of course there has to be one) is with carpaccio (raw/rare) or bresaola (air-dried). These wafer-thin-sliced beef dishes can handle whites. Any dry, apéritif-style Italian white or light Montepulciano-style red would be fantastico.
Cajun see ‘Mexican’.
Capers Sauvignon Blanc, from almost anywhere, or very dry Italian whites like Soave (Veneto) or Greco, Fiano or Falanghina (Campania) are very good matches, as they can cut through the peculiar, green, otherworldly, vinegary tanginess you experience when you crunch and burst open the exoskeleton of an unsuspecting caper. (For more suggestions see ‘Apéritif’)
Caviar I know it is a sin, but I rather like decent caviar. Sevruga or Oscietra (not Beluga – ridiculously decadent and a little too ‘fishy’ for my taste) are my faves and Champagne is the call of the day. Avoid rosé styles, though (they always tend to taste metallic with caviar in my experience), and there is no need to pop the cork of a prestige cuvée (£75 plus) unless you’re desperately trying to impress (or are a tasteless lottery winner – congrats by the way). If you want to keep the budget down, and there is nothing wrong with that, then Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé (Loire) or tighter, leaner South African and New Zealand Sauvignons are all stunning combos as is the strangely alluring Txakoli from the Basque Country. These styles also work if caviar is used in a sauce, but do look to the main ingredient as well as the caviar for guidance.
Charcuterie A selection of charcuterie (assiette de charcuterie to be precise, including saucisson, salami, ham etc.) contains loads of diverse flavours along a similar textural theme. I love smart rosés (I am not afraid to admit it) and top quality, slightly chilled Beaujolais or Gamay from the Loire. Light to medium Italian reds, like Freisa (Piemonte), Valpolicella (Veneto), Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany), Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Marche) or Aglianico, from the south, would also be good matches (take a few degrees off these, too, in the fridge). If you favour whites, then stick to firm, rich white grape varieties like Riesling or Pinot Gris, which usually manage to harness at least as much flavour intensity as reds. Do watch out for pickles, gherkins, cornichons (wicked little French numbers) or caperberries, as excess vinegar will guarantee that you’ll not be able to taste the next mouthful of wine! My advice is to shake your gherkin first (ooh, err Missus), endeavouring to knock off as much vinegar as possible before squirrelling them away. (For chorizo and spicy salami, see ‘Pork’.)
Cheese (cooked) There is a groaning cheese-board section at the end of this hedonistic chapter, so flick on for non-cooked cheese joy. Cauliflower cheese (leek Mornays, cheesy pasta dishes etc.) and straight cheese sauces, depending on the strength of cheese used, need medium- to full-bodied whites such as New World Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. For reds, you must join the quest for fresh acidity coupled with pure berry fruit. This hunt should lead you to the delicious wines from the Loire (Saumur-Champigny, Chinon or Bourgueil) or Chilean Merlot, Italian Cabernet Franc, Lagrein, Dolcetto or Freisa, or youthful Rioja, Navarra, Cariñena, Somontano or Campo de Borja reds from Spain. Fondue needs bone-dry whites (or pints of bloody good lager!) to cut through the waxy, stringy, molten cheese. If you are a perfectionist then you’d be trekking off, crampons and silly hat ahoy, in search of the inoffensive and, frankly, frighteningly dull, skinny wines from Savoie – Chignin-Bergeron, Abymes, Crépy or Apremont. However, if you are keen on rewarding your palate with pleasant-tasting, accurate wines, then well-balanced, fully ripe (as opposed to upsettingly lean and enamel-challengingly acidic) styles like Alsatian Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sylvaner, and fresh Loire Sauvignon Blanc or dry Chenin Blanc would be ideal. You could even try racy Portuguese whites and various north-eastern Italian single varietals like Pinot Grigio, Friulano or Pinot Bianco. Raclette would love to be partnered with light red Burgundies or juicy Beaujolais-Villages. With cheese soufflé, one of the true gems in the cooked cheese repertoire, you can go out on a limb. Argentinean Torrontés, or any aromatic dry whites like Muscat (Alsace), Riesling (from Alsace or Clare Valley/Eden Valley/Frankland/Tasmania in Australia) or even lighter Gewürztraminer (Tasmania or Alto Adige in Italy are worth a punt) would all be delicious. If the soufflé has any other hidden ingredients inside remember to consider them before plumping for a bottle – with smoked haddock soufflé you’d be wise to follow the fish – punchy, lemony whites, like dry Semillon from the Hunter Valley (New South Wales, Australia) or Riesling (GGs from Germany or legions of epic wines from Australia). Mozzarella, with its unusual milky flavour and play-doh texture, is well suited to Italian Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, good Vernaccia, Arneis, Gavi and Verdicchio. Yes, these are all Italians! Grilled goats’ cheese is equally at home with Sancerre (remember the famous goats’ cheeses from Chavignol, Sancerre’s finest village), Pouilly-Fumé and all other Sauvignon Blancs from around the world (South Africa would be my first choice if your Loire fridge is empty). Lighter reds also work, particularly if you are tucking into a salad with some ham joining in the fun. Goats’ cheese is pretty forgiving when it comes down to it, but avoid oaked whites and tannic or heavy reds.
Chicken Chicken is very accommodating – it loves both whites and reds. But be careful because it is a touch fussy when it comes to the precise grape varieties you want to set it up with. Chardonnay is chicken’s favourite white grape, with Riesling coming in a close second. Pinot Noir is the bird’s favourite red (it’s every bird’s favourite red, be honest!), with Gamay, perhaps surprisingly, claiming the runner up spot. This means that a well-educated, classy chicken loves every village in my beloved Burgundy region, and who can blame it? Lighter dishes such as cold chicken or turkey are fairly versatile, so look to my al fresco-style wines in the ‘Picnics’ section. Cold chicken and ham pie work well with lighter, fragrant reds and deeper coloured, sturdy rosés from the southern Rhône, Beaujolais and Australia. If you are feeling adventurous then try chilling down a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages to white wine temperature – it’s a super if unusual match. Poached chicken can handle the same sort of wines but with a little more flesh – both Old and New World Pinot Noir work here. White wine companions include lighter New World Chardonnay or French Country Viognier and Marsanne/Roussanne blends. Possibly my favourite dish of all time, roast chicken, follows this theme once again but takes it a stage further. Finer (by that I mean more expensive) red and white Burgundy, elegant, cooler climate New Zealand, Australian or Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and top-flight Beaujolais (again) are all wonderful matches. Coq au vin also works well with red Burgundy, but you can scale the wine down to a Chalonnaise version, Hautes-Côtes or Bourgogne rouge (from one of the reputable producers, of course). Chicken casserole or pot pie ups the ante even further and it enjoys a broader wine brief. Medium-weight Rhône reds and New World Grenache-based wines, as well as mildly oaky Chardonnays, are all in with a shout. Chicken and mushroom pie, fricassee and other chicken dishes with creamy sauces call out to Chardonnay and beyond – dry Riesling from Germany, Alsace (France), or Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Frankland or Tasmania (Australia), Alsatian Pinot Gris and funky Rhône whites. New World Pinot Noir (from California, New Zealand and Tassie and Victoria in Oz) is the only red variety to feel truly at home here. OK, so far things have been fairly straightforward, but I am now going to throw a few obstacles in front of our feathered friend, as chicken Kiev changes the rules completely. Full, rich and even part-oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc or Sauvignon/Semillon blends are needed to take on the buttery/garlic onslaught – white Graves (Bordeaux) and California does this well with their Fumé Blancs, as does Margaret River in Western Australia, but watch this space as this style is starting to be made all over the world. Not content with this hurdle, coronation chicken, depending on who is making it (I like a lot of spicy naughtiness in my sauce), can also have a bit of a kick, so dry Riesling from New Zealand or Clare Valley/Eden Valley in South Australia would be worth unscrewing. Lastly, barbecued chicken wings can be nuclear-hot (my brother Si Jukesy is a veritable Tardis when it comes to slotting these) and, in my experience, beer is usually the best bet. If, for some reason, you would like to try this dish with a bottle of wine (are you mad?), then a clean, inexpensive New World Chardonnay with a hint of oak won’t let itself down.
Chilli Enchiladas, chimichangas (nuclear waste in a wrap), fajitas, chilli con carne, dragon’s breath pizzas (just ask Shrek) and any other fart-lightingly hot Mexican dishes all ‘embrace the dark side’ with a hefty dose of chillies. Thirst-quenching, chillable Italian red grape varieties like Primitivo, Nero d’Avola, Frappato or Negroamaro, or juicy New World Bonarda, Durif, Cab Sauv and Merlot are needed to cool you down and rebuild your taste buds. If you need a bottle of white then New World Chardonnay or Semillon, thoroughly chilled, will have enough texture and body to handle the heat. I love Clare Valley Riesling with chilli-laden seafood or chicken dishes but keep the price sub-tenner. Good Luck and May the Force be with You!
Chinese The perennial problem when matching wine to Chinese food is that the second you and your pals see the menu, everyone wants something different and, of course, everyone is an expert! So, in the end, you settle on sharing your dishes with your mates and end up tasting every dish on the table, thus mixing flavours wildly. Sweet-and-sour dishes slam into spicy ones, stir-fried dishes envelop into crispy chilli ones, while poor old plain-boiled food struggles for a break in the non-stop, kick-boxing, palate action. John Woo would be proud of the mayhem, but your taste buds are crying for a break, so this means Chinese-friendly wines must be multi-skilled, pure, fruit-driven offerings with lashings of all-important, crisp acidity – the saviour, and eventual hero of our piece. Tannic, youthful reds and oaky, full-bodied whites are completely out of bounds – thugs. White grape varieties to consider (in unoaked form) are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Greco (southern Italy), Verdelho (totally underrated from Australia) and bone dry Gewürztraminer. Reds are a little more difficult, as there are only a few truly juicy varieties, but New World Merlot, Argentinean Bonarda and cheaper Californian Zinfandels are all good bets. It is no surprise that Antipodean wines work well with this style of cooking as Asia is on their doorstep. One style of wine which I talk about a lot on my trips to China is rosé. It is amazing how versatile rosé wines are with a vast array of Chinese cuisine. I cannot see older Chinese drinking anything other than red wine, but the millennials are with me and I would bet that rosé becomes a serious contender in top-end Chinese restaurants before too long. Refreshing, deeply fruited, dry and priced from entry-level to elite, this is the only style of wine that ticks all of the boxes. Hao chi, Ganbei.
Chutney see ‘Pâté’ and ‘Pork’.
Duck Roast or pan-fried duck is often served with fruit or fruity sauces, so you need to be prepared to balance this with a fruity wine. Reds are de rigueur here – New World Pinot Noir (loads to choose from), good quality Beaujolais, Italian Barbera or Negroamaro, Australian Chambourcin (OK, this is impossible to find, but what a challenge!), lighter Californian Zinfandel and any other super-juicy, berry-drenched wines would do the business. À l’orange swings the colour firmly to white, but full-flavoured, juicy wines are still the vogue. Alsace or top Aussie Riesling, Alsatian Pinot Gris, or Southern French and Rhône Viognier all have enough richness and texture to crack this dish, as do top-end northern Italian white blends. With cherries, ‘village-level’ red Burgundy (utilising the beautifully cherry-scented red grape Pinot Noir), top-notch Barbera from Piemonte, smart, new wave Reserva-level Rioja and medium-weight but classy Zins from California are all excellent. The more robust dish of confit de canard demands meatier reds with backbone, grippy acidity and tannin to cut through the sauce and fat that makes this dish sing, like those from Bandol in Provence, the Languedoc-Roussillon or the southwest of France – Madiran or Cahors for example. For an unlikely but first-class combo, give crispy aromatic duck a whirl with Lacrima di Morro d’Alba from the Marche in Italy or juicy, fruit-driven Californian Zinfandel because these two grapes are dead-certs.
Eggs For quiches, soufflés or light, savoury tarts consider the main flavours (ham, cheese, herbs etc.) and their impact on the dish. Also, think about what you are eating with it – these dishes are always served with something else. Once you have nailed these flavours, unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay is a fair starting point – Chablis is the classic combo, but north-eastern Italian Chardonnays would also be spot on. New World unoaked or low-oaked (just say no to over-oaked Chardies) Chardonnays are now commonplace. Omelettes, frittata and savoury pancakes follow the same rules. However, for oeufs en meurette (the legendary Burgundian dish of poached eggs in red wine with lardons – à genoux) a red wine is called for – mid-priced Beaujolais or a fresh, young red Burgundy would be accurate. For fried and poached eggs, look at the other ingredients involved. If combined with a salad, utilising stronger-flavoured ingredients, try Beaujolais, but if you’d rather go white, then Alsatian Riesling or a top Pinot Blanc would be just fine. For quails’ eggs, see the Apéritif wine styles. Finally, eggs Benedict has an awful lot going on, from the muffin base, via the bacon or ham and ending with the ridiculously wicked hollandaise sauce. Youthful Côtes-du-Rhône from a good estate is the classic combination – and you’ll need a magnum.
Figs The only entry to feature in both this section and the pud category, figs are often served up, in season, when you are abroad on holiday. If you are anything like me then these are the most irresistible of fruit. Served with serious ham (Italian) or in a salad, they manage to hold their carnal flavours despite coming up against ingredients as combative as Gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar. These are the dominant flavours, not the figs, but if you want to know what a fig wants to be drunk with there is only one answer (and the same variety appears later on in the second entry) – lusty Riesling, made with passion, knowing and all-encompassing sensitivity. Figs are, after all, the most erotic of ingredients and they must be rewarded with the most exotic and sensual of grape varieties.
Fish The flavour intensity of fish depends not only on the sort of fish you are cooking but also, crucially, on how it is cooked. The general rule is the milder the flavour, the lighter the white wine, and the richer the flavour, the heavier the white wine – I know this is obvious, but it is worth stating. Fish cooked in red wine is one of the few exceptions to this white-dominated section, as a light, fresh red would simply meld better with the sauce. From Bianco de Custoza and Soave (Italy), Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Menetou-Salon and Sauvignon de Touraine (Loire), white Burgundy (Mâcon, Rully, Pouilly-Fuissé, Meursault and so on), finer, controlled Californian Chardonnay, zesty Jurançon Sec, heady, elite Australian or New Zealand Pinot Gris, plump Marsanne or whip-cracking Hunter Valley Semillon, to any aromatic Riesling or Viognier – the opportunities are endless. Just remember that poaching and steaming are gentler, non-taste-altering ways of cooking fish, while grilling, searing, frying and roasting all impart distinctive charred or caramelised nuances to the flesh. Also, consider what you are cooking the fish with; check through your recipe for strongly flavoured ingredients, such as lemon, capers, balsamic vinegar, flavoured olive oil and pungent herbs. Often, the finer the piece of fish, the more money you should chuck at the wine. Dover sole, lemon sole, turbot and sea bass, at the top of my Premier-fish-league, are all pretty pricey, but if you are that committed to a dish you should endeavour to complete the picture by splashing out on a worthy bottle of white Burgundy. Failing that, for under a tenner you could pick up a top South African Chardonnay, Australian Semillon, Eden Valley or Clare Valley Riesling, Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, Riesling from Alsace, posh Lugana or Gavi from Italy, dry white Graves (Bordeaux), white Rhône wines or trendy Spanish Albariño to go with these fish. Halibut, John Dory, sea bream, skate and brill all enjoy these styles of wine, too, while swordfish, monkfish and hake can take on slightly weightier whites (or even a fresh, light red, such as Beaujolais). Salmon (poached or grilled) also likes Chardonnay, whether it is from the Old or New World, but give oaky styles a wide berth. Trout loves Riesling and the all-time classic Chablis. But, for an especially wicked combo, try to track down the unusually scented, dry French wine, Jurançon Sec. Fish cakes, especially proper ones with a high salmon content, go wonderfully with dry Riesling, richer Sauvignon Blancs or fresh, mildly oaked Semillons, particularly if you are keen on a generous spoonful of tartare sauce (these grapes can handle it). Red mullet has more than enough character to cope with rosé wines, making a beautiful pink partnership between plate and glass. Kedgeree is trickier (it’s breakfast, slow down!), as the combo of smoked haddock, cayenne, parsley and egg might make you lean towards red. But don’t, as rapier-like acidity is needed to slice through this dish and I’m sure you know which white grape does this best – Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon is also the grape to enjoy with fish ’n’ chips (cod, haddock or plaice) because it can handle the batter (sometimes made with beer) and, to a certain degree, the vinegar (but go easy), and it shines with fish pie – poshest partnership being the Loire all-stars Pouilly-Fumé or Sancerre. If you fancy a trip to the New World, then Marlborough in New Zealand has to be the starting point for fans of this zesty grape, with South Africa being next and Australia’s Margaret River giving the best Sem/Sauv blends outside of Bordeaux. Fish soups and stews need more weight in the glass, and one of the finest matches is white Rhône, made from Marsanne and Roussanne, or Viognier. Aussie Marsanne or Pinot Gris would also be a great option. Sardines require masses of perky acidity to cut through their oily flesh, and once again Sauvignon Blanc and also Portuguese Vinho Verde are winners. Having said this, don’t forget poor old Muscadet or Italian Pinot Grigio, Arneis, Verdicchio or Gavi. Spanish Albariño, French Aligoté and even light reds, like Gamay, would also be smashing. Canned tuna just needs unoaked, dry white wine – boring. However, albacore, the finer, paler version, is more delicately flavoured so take care not to swamp it. The Italian trio, Lugana, Bianco di Custoza, Arneis, Favorita and Soave Classico, would do this job well and with the required style. Fresh tuna, seared and served rare, desperately crave juicy, fresh, baby-light reds and chilled rosés (you could sneak a Sauvignon in if you wish). Brandade de morue (salt cod or bacalao/bacalhau), with its garlic and oil components, can stand up to whites with a little more soul. Albariño, from Galicia in Spain, is a perfect choice. However, funky Penedès whites and even light rosés are all within its grasp. Herrings, kippers and rollmops all have a more robust texture and aroma thanks to the curing process. Once again, dry whites and rosés work well, but steer clear of oaked whites, as the pungent barrel nuances will overshadow the subtleties of the dish. Smoked eel is often served with crème fraîche, and cream is always a little problematic for wine, but look to Austrian Riesling or Grüner Veltliner, top-end Italian Pinot Grigio or bone-dry, world-class dry Riesling, and almost any dry white wine from Alsace. These will all relish the challenge. Smoked salmon is perfect with Gewürztraminer, whether it is from Alsace, Germany, Italy, Oz or Chile. Just make sure you buy a ‘dry’, not ‘off-dry’ version. The scent and tropical nature of Gewürz work amazingly well, but so do Viognier and even Canadian Pinot Blanc. Don’t forget Champagne, top-end Tasmanian or Californian sparkling wine, particularly if serving blinis topped with smoked salmon and caviar. Smoked trout or smoked mackerel pâté is a challenge – fishy, smoky and creamy flavours all in one dish. South Australian Riesling, Hunter Valley Semillon, Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris (all Aussies), southern French Viognier, lighter Alsatian Riesling and Pinot Blanc are all perfect matches. Lastly, curries or Asian fish dishes often sport spices, such as turmeric, ginger and chilli, so turn to two of our favourite saviour white grapes for a solution – New World Sauvignon Blanc’s supreme confidence and Australia’s world-class, mind-blowing array of dry Rieslings – these are all stunning value – yum.
Frogs’ legs Leap for smooth, mildly oaked Chardonnay from Burgundy (Chablis, Saint-Romain, Saint-Aubin, Mâcon), Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. Consider what you’ve cooked these cheeky little blighters in and then tweak your wine choice accordingly – if garlic butter is involved, stick to Sauvignon Blanc. Good luck and keep the lid tightly on the pan.
Game All flighted game, including pheasant, quail, guinea fowl, woodcock, teal, grouse, snipe, wild duck and partridge adore the majestic red grape Pinot Noir. This means red Burgundy is my first choice, with New Zealand, Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, California and Oregon somewhere in the pack behind the leader. The longer the bird is hung, the more mature the wine required (this can mean ten- or even twenty-year-old bottles). I have enjoyed red Bordeaux, Super-Tuscan, northern Rhône, Spanish wines from Ribera del Duero or Priorato and many other top reds with this heady style of cuisine. But it is important to aim for complex reds with layers of fruit and a bit of age, and this inevitably means spending up. Jugged hare, often uses port and/or redcurrant jelly in the recipe, so a pretty feisty red wine is needed. New-style Piemontese reds made from Nebbiolo/Cabernet or Nebbiolo/Barbera blends would have the stuffing, as would more structured Australian Shiraz (Clare, McLaren Vale, Heathcote or Barossa Valley), Aussie Cab/Shiraz blends, Zinfandel from California or South African Shiraz and Pinotage. One slightly cheaper and worthy source of full-bodied red is the Douro Valley in Portugal – not only would you have a meaty wine, but it would also be in perfect synergy if you’ve used port in the recipe. Rabbit, as well as being a less athletic version of hare, is also less pungent and has lighter-coloured flesh so, although big reds are essential, they don’t need to be quite as powerful as those suggested for hare. The classic combo of rabbit with mustard and bacon packs a pungent flavour punch, so aim for swarthy bottles of red with feisty tannins and a youthful, purple hue – Chianti, Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (all from Tuscany), Bandol (from Provence), Lirac, Rasteau, Vacqueyras, Cairanne and Gigondas (from the southern Rhône), Argentinean Malbec, South African Cabernet and Shiraz, and smarter Chilean Cabernet blends would be spot on. Wild boar favours rich, brooding red wines and, depending on the dish, you could choose any of the aforementioned reds but, this time, add a few more of the finest of all Italian wines – Brunello di Montalcino, Barbaresco and Barolo. The only problem is you might need a lottery win to buy a bottle. Venison loves reds, and any bottle in this section would do, including top Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and some of the better New Zealand Hawke’s Bay reds. Finally, game pie served cold, behaves like cold chicken and ham pie (see ‘Chicken’). If served hot, open any wine suggested for steak and kidney pie (see ‘Beef’).
Garlic Roast garlic tends to emasculate fine wines so, if you are partial to lobbing a few bulbs in the oven, keep the wine spend down and follow the main dish’s theme. Garlic prawns, mushrooms and snails all need aromatic, bone-dry, rapier-sharp Sauvignon Blanc. If you fancy being ahead of the pack and ever so patriotic then try dry, herbal English white wines. Watch out for Aïoli (garlic mayonnaise) because you’ll get a shock if your wine isn’t up to it. English Bacchus can provide you with a shoulder to cry on, but you will have to find a bottle with a lot of character and vivacity and Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand is probably the answer if you want to save some cash. (For chicken Kiev see ‘Chicken’.)
Goose The best wines for roast goose lie somewhere between those suited to game and those for chicken. In short, this means lighter red Burgundies and smooth, cherry-scented New World Pinot Noir in the red camp, and big, rich, sultry Chardonnays, Viogniers and Marsannes and also top-flight Rieslings in the white. If you can afford it step up to Alsatian Grand Cru Riesling then this would be heaven.
Greek see ‘Mezze’.
Haggis Traditionally accompanied by a wee dram of whisky but, if it could speak for itself (and some do apparently) a haggis would love to tango with a rich, textured, aromatic white wine. Depending on your palate, you could choose a broad, luscious New World Chardonnay, or a scented, white Côtes-du-Rhône at the lighter end. If you want to go over the top, try any Grand Cru Pinot Gris from Alsace, or a Condrieu from the northern Rhône. If you want to save a few quid then look to the Eden Valley in South Australia for a funky, juicy Viognier.
Ham Smart Cru Beaujolais, Chilean Merlot or Carmenère, youthful Spanish Tempranillo, Italian Nero d’Avola, Montepulciano or Negroamaro and youthful, inexpensive South African Merlot all have the essential juiciness to complement a glorious ham. The golden rule is to avoid any tannic or heavily acidic reds – stick to more mellow styles. There is a splinter group for whom heady whites also work – busty Viognier and lusty Chardonnay would do the task well. Parma ham and melon, prosciutto, jamón Serrano and pata negra all like dry German Riesling (Mosel, Rheingau or Pfalz), many of the aromatic whites from Trentino, Alto Adige and Friuli (northern Italy), and Verdejo or lightly oaked Viura from Rueda (Spain). Honey-roast ham needs mouth-filling, textural, bone-dry whites like ‘dry’ Muscat, Viognier, Verdelho and Riesling. Search for these in Alsace, Australia, the Rhône Valley and from the vast array of terrific French Country wines (and grab some ripe figs to eat alongside – so exotic and erotic!). Ham hock with lentils or boiled Jersey potatoes and beetroot (or garden peas) is a treat with posh, dry rosé, and there are a fair few out there, so head to the southern Rhône and Provence or richer examples of Sancerre rosé or Garnacha Rosados from Spain. Smoked ham has a fairly strong aroma and lingering flavour, so Pinot Gris and young Vendange Tardive level Rieslings from Alsace would be exact, as would older Aussie Rieslings. If you favour red wine then choose a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc (from Australia or the Loire) or a Beaujolais, and chill it a degree or two to perk up its acidity. Gammon steak (sling the grim addition of pineapple or peaches) makes a neat partnership with oily, unoaked whites. All Alsatian wines and most dry German Rieslings would be delicious, as would the world-class Rieslings from Australia’s Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Tasmania and Frankland River. New Zealand Pinot Gris would also be interesting. Semillon rarely gets the call up for a specific dish, but Aussie versions from the Hunter Valley and dry white Bordeaux are simply stunning with ham, too.
Indian My Indian food and wine-matching expertise is finely tuned, even though I say it myself. It is nothing short of a fully-fledged passion, as I designed and wrote the wine list for a group of top London Indian restaurants for over a decade. It was clear to me that unoaked or mildly oaked whites were to be the driving force in my selection. Smooth, juicy rosés were also essential, as were overtly fruit-driven reds, avoiding any that were noticeably tannic. Italy, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand claimed the lion’s share of these wine lists. There were a few wines from other countries but virtually no classics like red Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhône. Shock horror! This just proves that, depending on the style of cuisine, a wine list can be balanced, eclectic and hopefully thoroughly exciting, without relying on France. The grape varieties or styles of wine that go particularly well with Indian food are whites – Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Vinho Verde, Fiano, Torrontés, Riesling, Viognier, Verdelho, light Gewürztraminers and Albariño; reds – Valpolicella, Beaujolais (Gamay), Grenache (and Spanish Garnacha), Negroamaro, Pinot Noir, Nero d’Avola, Zinfandel, Barbera, Lagrein and Merlot. Other styles that work well include rich rosé, Prosecco, Asti (with puddings), rosé Champagne, Aussie sparklers and good-quality ruby port.
Japanese Sushi is a strange, but utterly delicious dish to match to wine. Surely green tea or sake would be more appropriate? Well, I beg to differ – sparkling wines and Champagne are a treat with the best sushi, especially bone dry cuvées – ‘Ultra Brut’, Zero Dosage or ‘non-dosage’. Not surprisingly, the ever-ready Sauvignon Blanc grape is there, waiting in the wings to save you and your bill, too. You could always look to zesty, unoaked Italian whites for joy – Vernaccia, Arneis and Gavi are all ideal. Perky Pinot Gris and Riesling from Australia and New Zealand are also a great idea. Teriyaki dishes are a nightmare to match wine to though, as the sweetness and fruitiness in the glossy soy and saké glaze is incredibly flavour dominant on the palate. Zinfandel or rich Pinot Noir from California, Cru Beaujolais, Dolcetto, lighter, modern Shiraz from South Australia, and Nero d’Avola or Negroamaro from Sicily would just about manage this scary challenge – chill for effect. You will always be offered a blob of nuclear green matter with your sushi called wasabi. I’m afraid wasabi is a stealthy, committed, highly trained and rather silent wine assassin – thank God it’s green so at least you can see it coming.
Junk food What on earth should you drink with a hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, bargain bucket of fried off-cuts, blanched brontosaurus or any of the other palate-knackering, mass-produced, fast-food delicacies? A high-sugar, monstrously carbonated, brain-banging soft drink, of course, for that all-encompassing explosive gut/nauseous cold-sweat feeling that you look forward to enjoying ten minutes after racing this demonic cuisine down your cakehole. If you are seriously considering opening a bottle of wine (HELLO?), you’ll have to wrestle this toxic waste back into its Day-Glo polystyrene container and haul it back to your cave. Now you’ve got to warm it up again – do you bother? Course not, you’re either starving or distinctly worse for wear, or both. But what should you uncork? Chilean Carmenère, entry-level Aussie Shiraz/Cab, South African Chenin/Chardonnay (just keep the price down, you don’t want to regret opening it in the morning). If you are well organised you’ll always keep an ‘emergency’ white in the fridge and red in the cupboard for times like these. That way you can’t muck up and open a serious bottle by mistake. Either way, while you are guzzling, Dante is hastily reworking his epic, inventing yet another circle of hell for your internal organs to slumber in overnight. When you wake up, you’ll join a gym, lapse the membership in a few months, and I’ll see you in the chippy on Saturday night.
Kidneys Lambs’ kidneys tend to absorb a fair amount of the flavour from the ingredients in which they are cooked so follow these themes. Mustard is often used, so keep the reds firm, chunky and with a lick of crunchy, palate-refreshing acidity – Chianti, Morellino, Lagrein, Barbera (all Italian), Rioja, Toro, Calatayud, Navarra (all Spanish), anything from the Languedoc and the Rhône Valley (both French) would all be worth a punt. (For steak and kidney pie see ‘Beef’.)
Lamb Red Bordeaux is, strictly speaking, the classic combination with roast lamb or lamb chops. However, reds from nearby Bergerac or Madiran and, further afield, Burgundy, South Africa’s smarter Pinotage and Shiraz, California’s Merlot, Australia’s Shiraz, Cab/Shiraz (The Great Australian Red blend – see my annual Report for joy on this website) and Cabernet blends, Spain’s Rioja, and Argentina and Chile’s Cabernets and Merlots are all in with a very solid shout. Keep the wine firmly in the middleweight division and you will do well. You could, of course, go bonkers on the price or stick within a tight budget, as lamb is less particular than beef or game. The way it is cooked, though, should influence your final choice. If cooked pink, the range of suitable wines is enormous (any of the above). If well done, then a fruitier style of red should be served, so head to the New World’s treasure chest, as lamb tends to dry out and it needs resuscitation. Watch out for gravy and mint sauce, as an abundance of either could test the wine if it is not forewarned. Lamb pot roast and casserole tend to be a little richer in flavour than a chop or roast lamb because of the gravy/sauce/jus. Again, don’t spend too much on the wine, as authentic Languedoc or southern Rhône reds or Aussie GSMs will do fine. Shepherd’s pie is incredibly easy to match to red wine. Just open whatever you feel like – if it’s red and wet, it will be spot on – a no brainer. Plain lamb shank is another relatively easy dish to match to red wine, with inexpensive European examples from Portugal, Spain, Italy and France all offering enough acidity and structure to cut through the juicy, mouth-watering meat. Moussaka, with cheese, onion, oregano and aubergines, is altogether different. Lighter, fruit-driven reds such as New World Pinot Noir or German and Romanian versions, inexpensive workhorses from Toro, Alto Duero or Campo de Borja in Spain, or cheaper South American reds will work well. Stews like navarin (with vegetables), Irish stew, cassoulet or hot pot all have broader shoulders when it comes to reds. Beefier southern French examples from Fitou, Corbières, St.-Chinian, Madiran, Faugères, Minervois or Collioure would be perfect. From further afield, Malbec from Argentina or Carmenère from Chile, as well as medium-weight, scented Aussie Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Grampians or Yarra Valley), would also suit these dishes. Cold roast lamb follows the same rules as cold slices of beef and, to a certain extent, ham in that fruity, light reds and juicy medium- to full-bodied whites work pretty well. Beaujolais, served cool but not cold, is a great partner, while Chardonnay in any of the following guises would augment the dish – try medium-priced white Burgundy, Chardonnay from Margaret River, Adelaide Hills or Yarra Valley (Australia) or Nelson, Waipara, Central Otago or Marlborough (New Zealand), or lighter South African and Chilean styles. Also, don’t forget proper manly Bandol and Provence rosés – they are such an underrated drink, especially with cold cuts. Lastly, kebabs, one of lamb’s most exciting and gastronomically enlightening incarnations whether you’ve lovingly marinated and skewered the meat yourself or just adoringly watched it being shaved off that elephantine mass of meat in a kebab shop. I suspect you’d struggle to balance a kebab and a goblet of wine while stumbling down the street after a late-night gig. But on the off chance that you make it home before tucking into the nuclear-hot dish, then a glass of big brand, sub-tenner New World Chardonnay or Semillon/Chardonnay would be a welcome break between mouthfuls, and not something you’d be too upset about having opened in the cold, stark light of a new day.
Liver Calves’ liver with sage (an old-fashioned but ever-so-tasty retro dish) needs medium-weight reds with prominent acidity. The texture of medium-rare liver is relatively delicate, but the iron flavour is rich and pure, and the wine’s acidity cuts through this intensity with style. Loire reds made from Cabernet Franc are your first port of call; Saumur-Champigny, Chinon, St Nicolas de Bourgueil and Bourgueil are all relatively inexpensive (sub-fifteen quid) and a perfect match. I wouldn’t look any further, but if you need a larger choice then head to Northern Italy to some well known and less so names – Valpolicella, Teroldego from Trentino, Lagrein, Marzemino and Cabernet (Franc or Sauvignon – sometimes Italians don’t specify which you’re getting. Chianti is usually a great match, too, assuming you pick a decent estate – and stick to the entry-level wine as the Riserva will be wearing too much oak! These all have the required fruit richness with the balancing acidity, freshness and grip needed for this task. Liver and bacon need a touch more spice in red wine, but not much more weight, so move to a warmer part of France or Italy (i.e. head further south or look for a hot vintage). Red Bordeaux and Brunello di Montalcino would be terrific, but this is likely to push the price up a good few pounds.
Meat Balls (see ‘Pasta’), pies (see ‘Beef’) and loaf (see ‘Terrines’).
Mexican Fajitas, enchiladas, tortillas, quesadillas, tacos, burritos (my tummy is rumbling, nicely, honest, as I write this) – loaded with chilli and salsa – lead to the consumption of copious quantities of lime-stuffed (leave it out) beer, which has excellent thirst-quenching properties but bugger all flavour. If you are partial to a glass of wine, you must go in search of ripe, fruity, chillable red grapes like Nero d’Avola, Negroamaro and Primitivo (from southern Italy), Carmenère and Merlot from Chile, inexpensive Zinfandel from California and Cabernet or Merlot cheapies from Oz to cool you down and smooth out your battle-scarred palate. As for whites – they are likely to get bashed up no matter what you choose, so find inexpensive, New World, mildly oaked Chardonnay or Semillon (or a blend of the two), chilled down to sub-zero. Watch out for refried bean reflux – good luck. Interestingly, Cajun cooking follows a similar pattern to Mexican food when it comes to wine styles, as cayenne, paprika, oregano, garlic and thyme all cook up a storm and need to be tempered with similarly juicy whites and reds.
Mezze (or Meze) This is the chance for dry Greek whites to shine, and there are enough out there of sufficiently high quality really to hit the mark. If you are unable to track them down, then try dry Muscat, Pinot Blanc or Sylvaner from Alsace, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Argentinean Torrontés. You could always try to find dry Muscat from Spain or Portugal, too. Albariño from north-western Spain and good old Vinho Verde from Portugal also work well. Aussie dry Riesling always comes up trumps and rarely costs a bomb. Greek reds still lag behind the whites in terms of overall quality – some cheapies are fine, if a little coarse, but I would avoid spending more than fifteen pounds.
Mixed grill A vital part of every real man’s cooking repertoire, the mixed grill is the dish of choice for superheroes the world over. You need a rich, robust red and there is nothing more macho than a feisty southern or its New World counterpart, a ‘GSM’ blend (Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre in any combo – I am still waiting to see the first winery brave enough to market a wine called MSG!).
Moroccan/North African The most important factor to remember when matching this intriguing style of food with wine, is the level of spice involved in the dish. Once you have gauged this, you can do one of two things – either choose fresh, clean, neutral whites which sit in the background and let the food do most of the talking, or go head to head with the flavours and drink a stunning aromatic white. Spain, Italy and France are the most obvious, and geographically closest ports of call and, within these three great wine nations, my favourite aromatic white styles would be Albariño (from Galicia in north-western Spain), Viognier (south of France) and Ribolla Gialla, Traminer, Erbaluce di Caluso, Friulano, Lugana and richer Pinot Grigios (northeast and northwest Italy). Other Italian whites that would be a little more intriguing and competitive with the food are Inzolia and Grillo from Sicily, Falanghina, Fiano and Greco from Southern Italy. Reds that work well are Rioja or similar-style Tempranillo/Garnacha blends (Spain), chilled and ripe Côtes-du-Rhône (France), and Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, Frappato, Negroamaro or Primitivo (southern Italy and Sicily). If you want to go down the neutral route, choose Beaujolais as a red, or Alsace Pinot Blanc or Loire Sauvignon Blanc as a white. If you feel the need to stray further from the Med, aim for more Sauvignon Blanc, this time from Chile or South Africa, for its herbal, lime-juice characters, and Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale Grenache (South Australia) for its pure red-berry fruit and herbal, smoky nose.
Mushrooms Although mushrooms traditionally form an integral part of a vegetarian diet, I am delighted to forgo my rampant carnivorous tendencies if mushrooms form the backbone of an evening’s cooking. The inbuilt ‘meatiness’ in field mushrooms or the intensity, flavour and texture of wild mushrooms works for me. The mushroom family is a diverse one and you can cook them in every way imaginable, so this is a pretty long entry. When matching wine to mushrooms, ignore the fact that they are fungi and look at the task they are employed to do in the dish. Baked or grilled mushrooms usually retain their essence, moisture and flavour, and cellar temperature reds (i.e. chilled a touch) should allow them to express themselves. Make sure that you choose relaxed, fruit-driven reds with low tannins – simple Grenache blends, Gamay or Pinot Noir, for example. Creamy sauces are always difficult; if you overdo the cream, a robust, oaked Chardonnay or Semillon is needed, but if the cream features only in a supporting, ‘whisked in’ role, then refreshing red grapes such as Merlot, Bonarda and Barbera would be superb. Mushroom omelettes and mushroom tarts are both classic examples of how a mushroom can hold its own in the competitive egg world – here, again, light, fruit-driven reds must be mobilised. Wild mushrooms can be intensely scented, gamey and foresty, so look to my ‘Game’ entry and trade down in terms of muscle (and expenditure). Mushrooms on toast are ever so fashionable again (hoorah) – good news, as there is nothing better for setting up your palate for a Viking-sized main course. This is one of the easiest dishes to make at home and, even if you splash out on fancy bread (Poilâne or better still Hedone) and top shrooms, it is still a dead cheap dish. Wine-wise, look to the main course you are preparing and downsize the wine a touch for your starters. If you are having a double serving as a stand-alone main dish, then try Barbera or Dolcetto from Piemonte in northern Italy, for their truffley, black cherry aromas and flavours. Stuffed mushrooms depend on what they are stuffed with. I know that sounds obvious but cheesy or veggie ones work well with lighter reds. If you lose the cheese, rich whites are in with a shout – medium-sized Chardonnays and Rieslings are ideal. For mushroom risotto see ‘Risotto’.
Mustard Make sure you turn up the volume on any red or white wine if you are contemplating a mustard sauce/dressing or an accompanying dish with a strong mustardy theme. You do not need to go too far in terms of size or style, but a notch up in quality and flavour is needed to accommodate the flavour intensity – this will probably mean you’ll have to spend a pound or two more on your bottle.
Olives See ‘Apéritif Wine Styles’ if you are restricting your intake to pre-dinner olives. But, if you’re cooking with olives, say in a lamb recipe, take care not to pour in the liquor (water, brine or oil) from the jar or can, as it is very pungent (and often not of the highest quality) and can cast too strong an influence over the final taste of the dish. This, of course, would affect your wine’s and your chances of happiness. As usual, the trick is to look to the main ingredient in the recipe and make sure that your chosen wine can be enjoyed alongside a sliver of olive (munch on one and taste the wine – a road test). Tapenade is a funny old thing – totally unfriendly when it comes to wine (unless you find refuge in dry sherry – Manzanilla or Fino), so it is best to go for very dry whites from cooler-climate regions, for example, Frascati, Gavi, Soave, Lugana, Greco, Falanghina, Grillo and Vernaccia (all Italian), or Sauvignon de Touraine, Cheverny, Muscadet, Bergerac Sec, Jurançon Sec or Pacherenc de Vic Bihl (all French).
Onion As a stand-alone dish, onion is at its best in a classic Cipolle ripiene (Piemonte stuffed onions – dine at Trattoria della Posta for a life-changing version) and drink Roero Arneis or chilled Dolcetto d’Alba or French onion tart, and Alsatian Riesling is the only true wine to drink with this noble offering. If you must stray from this advice (you will get a black mark from the wine police) but who cares because Clare Valley Rieslings from South Australia would work beautifully. Occasionally you see caramelised onions offered as a side dish – watch out. They are often delicious, intensely sweet (of the same order as a treacle tart) and, although you can moderate this by combining mouthfuls with the other elements of your meal, they are a real danger to a glass of dry wine so don’t eat them with anything remotely serious in the wine department. My advice is to eat enthusiastically and sip cautiously. For French onion soup see ‘Soup’.
Oysters see ‘Seafood’.
Paella Not worthy of its listing really, except for the fact that it is such a desperately cacophonous mix of ingredients. The answer is that chilled, ripe Cabernet Franc (red Loire), Albariño or Godello (Spanish white grapes) or French Grenache-/Spanish Garnacha-based light reds and rosés all do well in a crowd-pleasing way. You’ll be eating off a paper plate and drinking from a plastic cup anyway!
Pasta Naked pasta tastes pretty neutral, which is why it is never served on its own. The trick with pasta and wine matching is to consider what you are serving over, under, around or in it. Stuffed styles such as cannelloni, agnolotti, cappelletti, tortellini or ravioli can contain veg, cheese, meat and all sorts, so think inside out and select accordingly. Spinach and ricotta tortellini soak up juicy Italian reds like Freisa, Dolcetto and Barbera from Piemonte, and young, simple Chianti, Franciacorta, Bardolino and Valpolicella. Seafood pasta dishes, including the all-time favourite spaghetti vongole (clams), love serious, crisp Sauvignon Blanc (from anywhere), decent Frascati (over £10 if you can find it!), Soave (again, break over the tenner barrier please), Lugana, Fiano di Avellino, Verdicchio, Greco di Tufo, Inzolia from Sicily and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Meatballs, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, tajarin al ragu and meaty sauces all respond well to juicy reds. Keep the budget down and head for expressive, fruit-driven examples that work in harmony with the dish, as opposed to trying to dominate it. Consider all of Italy, many New World regions, but steer clear of overly alcoholic wines (read the label and stay under 14%) and, although heretical, anything bright and juicy made from Tempranillo or Garnacha from Spain would also be delicious. Roasted vegetables often pop up in pasta dishes allowing you to choose between richer whites and lighter reds. Pesto may be a classic pasta combo but it is remarkably argumentative on the wine front. Oil, pine nuts, Parmesan and basil seem innocent enough, but combine them and you are forced into lean, dry whites for safety. Go to the famous Italian regions of Friuli, Alto Adige or Veneto as your guide. Sauvignon Blanc is made here, so at least you can rely on that stalwart grape but, otherwise, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Picolit, Friulano, posh Soave and Pinot Bianco are all good bets. Red pesto is a funny old fish (not literally). This time go for light red wines and keep their temperature down (15 minutes in the fridge) to focus the fruity flavours. Cheesy and creamy sauces tend to be more dominant than the ingredients bound therein, so Bardolino and Valpolicella (both from Veneto), Dolcetto, Freisa and Barbera (all from Piemonte), Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and medium-weight Chianti are all accurate. If for some reason, you want to stray from Italy’s idyllic shores (I wouldn’t – there is so much choice and the wines are great value and widely available) then there is plenty more to be found; medium-weight reds and dry whites are everywhere. Just remember not to overshadow the dish, particularly with higher-alcohol wines. For tomato sauce, see ‘Tomato’. For mushroom sauce, see ‘Mushrooms’.
Pâté Regardless of its main ingredients, pâté is, perhaps surprisingly, keen on white wines. The only reds that work are featherweights such as Beaujolais and Bardolino. In the white world, you need to hunt down fruity, aromatic wines from any decent estate. The crucial character you are searching for in these wines, in terms of taste, is a degree of fruitiness (not much, just a hint). All styles from technically dry (but still ripe and fruity – Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Chenin Blanc and so on) up to genuine rich/sweet wines can be considered. Pâté is usually served as a starter, so pouring a sweet wine at the beginning of the meal might seem arse about face, but if you are serving pudding or cheese later on in proceedings (make sure you plan this carefully beforehand), you can happily open a bottle of sweet wine, serve a few small glasses for starters and finish it off later. Many sweet wines are sold in half (37.5cl) or 50cl bottles, so if it’s a small gathering, anything up to six, you’ll not waste a drop. Chicken liver pâté favours dry to medium-dry German Riesling, Alsace Riesling, Pinot Blanc or mildly sweet white Bordeaux styles (Loupiac or Cadillac) and older Aussie Rieslings (Eden and Clare Valleys). Country pâté, a clumsy catch-all term that often hints at a coarser texture pâté of indeterminate origin, again likes light white wines with a degree of sweetness (or a pint or two of real ale). If you are pushed into choosing from a short wine list or are confronted with an undernourished offie, then play safe, buy a dry white and hope for the best. But if you have the luxury of choice, then Alsace is a great region to start hunting. Riesling and Pinot Gris are the plum picks here. Head to the New World and you’ll find Riesling in abundance in Australia, while Chilean Gewürztraminer is an unusual but rewarding style. With duck pâté and foie gras (goose liver), we are firmly in sweet wine territory – Sauternes, Loire and Alsace sweeties, Aussie botrytised Riesling and Semillon, or, on a tighter budget, Monbazillac, Ste-Croix du Mont, Loupiac, Cadillac and Saussignac, Sauternes’ taste-alike neighbours. If you have never tasted this heady food and wine combo, you are in for a very pleasant surprise indeed. Parfait, the smoother, creamier, Mr Whippy version of pâté, tends to reveal its covert brandy ingredient more than a coarse pâté, so make sure your wine is rich enough to cope with this. If you don’t want to sip a sweet wine, then nearly-sweet whites from Alsace also work. Vendange Tardive (late-picked) wines offer richness without cloying, sugary sweetness and will appease non-sweet wine fans. Grapes to consider are Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Smoked salmon pâté and other fish pâté incarnations are well served by dry aromatic whites (see ‘Fish’). One thing to remember with pâté dishes is that occasionally chutney (or onion confit/marmalade) is served on the side, giving an intense, sweet fruit or veg explosion of flavour, which may confuse the wine. Alsatian Vendange Tardive wines, mentioned above, have tons of spice and richness of fruit and they will simply cruise through these added flavours – dry wines will choke. I have already talked about gherkins and capers in the ‘Charcuterie’ section, so keep them well patrolled.
Peppers Fresh, crunchy, raw peppers crackle with zingy, juicy, healthy flavours. It should come as no surprise, then, that Sauvignon Blanc (from almost anywhere in the solar system) is the best grape for them – ‘capsicum’ is a recognised tasting note for this variety. It is a marriage made in heaven, but if you want to try something different, then dry Chenin Blanc from South Africa or Italian Pinot Grigio would also be splendid. Piemontese peppers are a favourite Saturday lunch dish of mine, and with the olive oil, garlic, black pepper and tomato ingredients, dry whites are required, especially if the traditional anchovy fillets are crisscrossed on top of the shimmering tomato hemispheres. Assertive Sauvignon Blanc is the best option, although Verdicchio, Orvieto, Greco, Fiano and Gavi (or a less expensive, Cortese-based Piemonte white) would be appropriate. A stuffed pepper depends more on its stuffing than the pepper itself, so look to the filling for your inspiration. Generally speaking, meat or cheese stuffing goes well with light Italian reds. Peppers marinated in olive oil love any dry white wines – for consummate accuracy, Italian is best, so find some Soave, Frascati or Friuli single varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Traminer or Sauvignon Blanc. For gazpacho see ‘Soup’.
Picnics You simply must find screwcap-sealed bottles for picnics. And there are so many out there these days, thank goodness. The benefits are numerous – there is no need for a corkscrew, you can reseal the bottle with ease and you also don’t have to worry about anyone knocking it over. Your first port of call for all-round picnic-matching skills has to be rosé. It is multitalented when it comes to all manner of cold food dishes, and if you chill the bottles down ice-cold before departure, it will drink like a fresh white early on, and as the day hots up (cross fingers), it will behave more like a red. This should cunningly coincide with your move through the courses, from crudités and dips, via smoked salmon, to rare roast beef and finally some good cheese. Other varieties that enjoy al fresco food are Sauvignon Blanc for whites and Beaujolais for reds. Once again, chill all of your wines right down before departure and, to enjoy them at their best, drink them in order from white, via rosé to red, and bring some ice if you can.
Pigeon see ‘Game’ but spend less!
Pizza I adore pizza and, if prepared well, there is nothing to touch it for taste bud satisfaction and that warm, pudgy tummy thing afterwards (or is that just me?). Heroic pizzas rarely allow white wines enough space to be heard. However, I suppose a simple vegetable or seafood pizza might need a weedy, dry white wine – wimp. Assuming you have a tomato (or red pepper – much tangier) base and some mozzarella cheese on top, the real point of a pizza is the unlimited number of toppings that you sling on – mushroom, onion, anchovy, caper, olive, beef, ham, egg, pepperoni and, crucially, chillies. A real man’s pizza has these and more, so you will have to find a feisty red and cool it down. My all-Italian pizza wine line-up includes whites – Arneis, Soave, Bianco di Custoza, Verdicchio, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Orvieto; chillable reds – Sardinian Cannonau, Freisa, Barbera and Dolcetto from Piemonte, Marzemino and Teroldego from Trentino, Bardolino and Valpolicella from Veneto and Chianti, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Morellino di Scansano, Sangiovese di Romagna, Primitivo di Puglia, Nero d’Avola di Sicilia, Negroamaro and Aglianico all from further south. If you insist on drinking non-Italian wines with pizza, you might just find you are the victim of far more than your normal share of corked wines in the coming twelve months (you have been warned).
Pork The noble hog has so many different gastronomic guises that I have given the gallant sausage its section. And, no doubt, pâté and terrine lovers are delighted that these two dishes warrant their sections, too. I have also dealt with charcuterie, cassoulet, bacon, full English breakfast and ham in other sections – it just gets better! Here I endeavour to cover the porcine dishes not otherwise mentioned. First in this section, is the princely pork pie and its less exciting, ever-so-slightly oddly coloured, Day-Glo, asteroid cousin, the Scotch egg. A good pork pie is a real treat and, while I’m sure that a pint of Shepherd Neame ale is the ideal partner, a glass of Cru Beaujolais is also a perfect fit. The Scotch egg somehow crops up in pub and picnic cuisine more than at the dinner table (not surprising, would you want one breeding in your fridge?) and bitter is the only sensible choice – but you wouldn’t be putting a foot wrong by ordering a juicy Merlot either. If you like a dollop of Branston or Piccalilli on the plate, then expect the wine to be sent into a tailspin. Chorizo and salami fall into the aforementioned ‘Charcuterie’ section, but remember that the spicier the salami, the greater the need for cool red wine. A plate of chorizo is excellent with dry sherry – manzanilla and fino are the two best styles. Next on the menu, spare ribs – whether drenched in barbecue sauce or not, these are prehistoric fare, so Neolithic reds are needed to slake your thirst. Juice and texture are the essential ingredients, so head to the New World in search of Argentinean Sangiovese, Malbec, Bonarda or Tempranillo, Chilean Carmenère or Australian Cabernet/Shiraz blends. Californian Zinfandel would also work well, although it might be disproportionately expensive for the dish. Rillettes, which can also be made from duck or rabbit, expose one of pork’s lighter sides. This mild, oddly fondanty, savoury dish is often served as part of a plate of cold meats. White wine is called for, with Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and Riesling from Alsace all working well. As usual, Aussie Riesling will find this a doddle, too. I have left the big daddy to last – roast pork. There are several ways to serve this so, when it comes to matching it to wine, the brief is fairly open. One thing is certain – if you are going to serve a red, make it light (Pinot Noir is best). Pork is far more excited by white wine, particularly if there is apple sauce sidling up to your plate. Classy, gently oaked Chardonnay from Chablis or Burgundy would be exact, although New World Chardonnays can hack it as long as they are not too overtly oaky. Riesling (dry and luxurious), Condrieu (the super-dear northern Rhône Viognier), Vouvray (make sure it says ‘sec’ – dry – on the label) and southern Rhône whites (thin on the ground but a lot of bang for your buck) are all worth a substantial sniff.
Quiche (and posh tarts – err) see ‘Eggs’.
Rabbit Rabbit rillettes loves a little more musk and exoticism in their wines than plain pork rillettes, so Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier from anywhere in the world (the Rhône is your starting point, maybe California or Eden Valley or Victoria in Australia next) or Pinot Blanc and Riesling (the richer styles from Alsace) would be mouth-wateringly spot on. All other bunnies should hop along to ‘Game’.
Risotto Generally, the richness and texture of risotto needs to be ‘cut’ with the acidity of a clean, dry, white wine, but what else have you folded into your risotto? It is these magic ingredients that matter the most when finding the perfect wine to counter the creamy, cheesy rice, particularly if you’ve whacked a spot of grated Parmesan and butter in with the stock! Light reds can work with wild mushroom risotto but, even with this, I prefer scented, cool, classy whites. À la Milanese, with saffron, can force a light, dry white into submission unless it has enough fruit and ‘oomph’ – Arneis or Gavi from Piemonte are worth a go, as is Riesling from a good Australian or Alsatian producer. Chicken and mushroom risotto like Chardonnay and light Pinot Noirs, just as a non-risotto-style dish might. Primavera favours fresh, zingy, green whites – Sauvignon Blanc anyone? For seafood risotto see ‘Seafood’.
Salads A huge subject that just needs a moment’s common sense. Basic green or mixed salad without dressing is virtually tasteless, as far as wine is concerned, but be careful if it’s dressed – particularly if vinegar is involved because this changes all the rules. Seafood salad enjoys the white wines that go well with seafood (obvious, I know, see ‘Seafood’); Niçoise likes tangy Sauvignon Blanc, Sauv/Sem blends and neon green Margaret River or Hunter Valley Semillons (Australia); chicken salad works well with Rhône whites and middle-weight Chardonnays; feta salad, not surprisingly, is perfect with dry Greek whites; French bean and shallot salad like lighter, inexpensive Alsace Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc; tomato and basil salad is best matched with rosé or anything fresh, dry, keenly acidic, white and Italian; Caesar salad, if made properly, is great with Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner (Austria) or Gavi; Waldorf salad needs softer, calmer white grapes like Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner (Alsace), or South African Chenin Blanc; pasta salad can get a little stodgy, so uplifting, acidity-rich, dry whites are essential. Every country in the wine world makes salad-friendly wines, even the UK, where the better dry white grapes like Bacchus, Ortega and Seyval Blanc, in the right hands, can be a joy (you know where to look!).
Sausages (Meaty ones, please, not fish or veggie!) Any sausage dish, including toad-in-the-hole and bangers and mash, needs manly, robust, no messin’ reds. Cahors, Garnacha blends from Tarragona, Cabernet from Western Australia, Shiraz from the Grampians, Heathcote, Barossa or McLaren Vale, Malbec from Argentina, any Languedoc or southern Rhône reds, Barbera from northern Italy, Primitivo from southern Italy, and Chinon or other red Loires are all suitable. Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet from California would also be awesome, as would a bottle of plain old red Bordeaux. Hurrah for sausages and their global compatibility with red wine! They’re not fussy and nor should you be.
Seafood Muscadet, Cheverny, Menetou-Salon, Sauvignon de Touraine, Reuilly, Quincy, Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre (all white Loire wines), Chenin Blanc (South Africa), Albariño (Spain), Lugana, Verdicchio, Soave and Pinot Grigio (Italy) and any buttock-clenchingly dry, unoaked New World whites are all perfect with seafood. Squid and octopus both need very dry whites with aromatic fruit, like Sauvignon Blanc, northern Italian or Penedès (Spain) whites, and resinous Greek whites if the dish is served in its ink. The curious, bouncy texture of both squid and octopus does not embrace wine in the same way fish does, so concentrate on the method of cooking and the other ingredients to help you make your final choice. Aussie Riesling is a must if you have a spicy/chilli-hot/soy-style dipping sauce. Crevettes grises, or the little grey/brown shrimps, eaten whole as a pre-dinner nibble, are stunning with Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, Australia or New Zealand. Crayfish and prawns are a step up in terms of flavour and dry English whites, simple, dry Riesling, and Sauvignon or Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends are all lovely. If you are a prawn cocktail fiend (a stunning dish if ever there was one), then decent Sauvignon Blanc (no need to spend over £10) is dry and sharp enough to wade through the livid pink Marie Rose sauce. Lobster, the noblest of all crustaceans, served cold or in a salad, should tempt you to delve into the deepest, darkest corners of your cellar and uncork the finest whites. Burgundy (no upper limit), Australian (ditto) and Californian Chardonnay (only the best – not too oaky) and Viognier (from its spiritual birthplace in Condrieu, in the northern Rhône) will all set you back a fortune but, hey, you’ve already bought a lobster, so go the extra nine yards and finish the job properly. Lobster thermidor is not my favourite dish, as I feel that lobster loses its magical texture and elegant flavour when served hot, but you can easily uncork richer (but less expensive) whites like Aussie Semillons or South American Chardonnays. If you feel like a slice of lobster class, but for a slightly reduced price, then langoustines (or bugs/yabbies if you’re mad for crustacea and on hols in Australia) are the answer. Lobster wines are perfect here but just adjust the price downwards by a few quid. Dressed crab is a fabulous dish and, once again, Loire whites like Muscadet (under a tenner for a good bottle) are spot on. Dry whites such as Ugni Blanc from Gascony, Jurançon Sec and ‘village’ Chablis are also excellent, but Sauvignon Blanc is again probably the pick of the grapes (it always is). Don’t just look at the Loire, though, as the white wines from Bordeaux and Bergerac often have a fair slug of Sauvignon in them and, of course, Sauvignon is grown all over the world. Mussels probably do best in gratin or marinière form when dry Riesling, Barossa or Hunter Valley Semillon, New Zealand Pinot Gris and New World Sauvignon Blanc are all worthy contenders. Scallops require a little more weight in white wine (mildly oaked Sauvignon Blanc, for example – Fumé Blanc from California). They can even handle a spot of light red or rosé (chilled). Scallops sauté Provençal (with tomatoes and garlic) and scallops wrapped in bacon are wicked with smarter rosé. Scallops Bercy (with shallots, butter, thyme, white wine, parsley and lemon juice) is superb with top Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé – spend up, it will be worth it. Oysters are traditionally matched with Champagne – but not by me. I prefer a simple dry white like Muscadet, with its salty tang, or a ‘village’ Chablis or Sauvignon de St-Bris. A plateau de fruits de mer involves all of the above, plus whelks (double-yuk) and winkles (mini-yuk), and only needs a first-class bottle of Sauvignon de Touraine or Muscadet. You’ll thank me because, after you receive the bill for this mountainous platter of seafood, you’ll be delighted to spend a fraction of that on a bottle of chuggable wine. Finally, seafood risotto – here dry Italian wines including decent Frascati, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Arneis, Verdicchio Classico, Greco and Fiano, along with South African Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc make a rather delicious combination. Remember that Chilean Sauvignon is often cheaper than both South African and New Zealand versions, so if you are having a big risotto party then look here for a decent volume purchase. For clams, see ‘Pasta’.
Side dishes see ‘Vegetables’.
Snails In the back of the net! See ‘Garlic’.
Soups Dry sherry is often quoted as soup’s ideal soul mate. But it seems a little ludicrous to crack open a bottle of fino every time I fancy a bowl of broth. And, what’s more, it isn’t always the best wine for the job, as the soup dynasty is a diverse collection of individuals – no one wine can expect to cover all of the flavours. Minestrone, with its wonderful cannellini bean base, and ribollita (the stunning, next-day minestrone incarnation, re-boiled with cabbage and bread thrown in for extra body) like to keep things Italian, with chilled Teroldego or Marzemino from Trentino and Valpolicella and inexpensive Tuscan reds all being superb candidates. If you want to hop over the mountains to France, then simpler southern Rhônes (a well-made C-de-R would do) make a refreshing and accurate alternative. Spinach and chickpea soup goes well with bone-dry whites like those from Orvieto, Frascati, Greco, Verdicchio (Italy), Penedès or Rueda (Spain), or Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, South Africa or Chile. Vichyssoise (chilled leek and potato soup) needs creamy, floral whites, such as straightforward Alsatian Riesling, South American or French Viognier, or light, white Rhônes. Lobster or crayfish bisque has a creamy texture coupled with a deceptive richness, so dry sherry could conceivably make an appearance here. If you don’t fancy that, then youthful white Burgundy is best. Bouillabaisse with rouille, the serious fish, garlic, tomatoes, onion and herb broth with floating toasty crostinis topped with garlic, chilli and mayo, is a mighty dish and yet it only needs very simple whites like our old favourites Muscadet and Sauvignon de Touraine. Consommé is a definite Fino sherry dish (at last). Gazpacho (chilled tomato, cucumber, onion, pepper and garlic soup) likes nothing more than Spanish new-wave (unoaked) Viura or cheeky Verdejo from Rueda. Mushroom soup is another dry sherry candidate (you might use some in the recipe), while French onion soup goes well with dry Riesling from Alsace or South Australia. Oxtail demands hearty reds – rustic, earthy inexpensive southern French bruisers like St.-Chinian or Minervois. Lentil and chestnut and lentil and bacon soups both crave dry sherry (this time trade up from fino to an amontillado, for complexity and intensity), while clam chowder is a fishy soup with cream (and sometimes potato), so Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and all seafood-friendly whites are perfect. Vegetable soup can be dull but it can also be excellent; either way, rustic reds at the bottom of the price ladder are needed. Tomato soup is a strange one. Always avoid oak. I favour light reds or dry whites – Gamay (Beaujolais or Loire) or Sauvignon Blanc (Pays d’Oc, Loire, South Africa or Chile) all do the job admirably.
Sweetbreads With butter and sorrel, sauce ravigote (mustard, red wine vinegar, capers and tarragon) or sauce gribiche (like ravigote but with chopped hard-boiled eggs and parsley as well), sweetbreads demand aromatic, decadently textured, luxurious, self-confident whites. Alsatian or South Australian Riesling (Clare or Eden Valley) with a bit of age would be my first choice. If you can’t find any, then try creamy, oily, nutmeg- and peach-scented Rhône whites. All of these are dear, but there’s no way around this quandary, as this is a demanding sector of the food repertoire. Ris de veau aux morilles (veal sweetbreads with a very rich, creamy wild mushroom sauce) needs the most intense Rhône whites or Alsatian Rieslings.
Tapas Dry sherry and dry white wines, preferably Spanish and avoiding oak, are perfect partners for these addictive Spanish snacks.
Terrines A terrine is a more robust, often hearty, pâté, generally served in slices. So what’s good enough for a pâté is often perfect with terrine. One of the classics is ham and chicken, which loves white Burgundy or elegant, non-French, mildly oaked Chardonnays. Another white Burgundy lover is jambon persillé, the sublime parsley, jelly and ham dish. This is not surprising, as it is a Burgundian recipe in the first place. I would dive in with a youthful, inexpensive Bourgogne Blanc from a reputable Domaine, or head south to Rully, Mercurey, Montagny, Pouilly-Fuissé or a crisp Mâconnais wine for a match. Beaujolais, Alsatian Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris love rabbit, hare and game terrines, particularly if prunes are lurking within. Fish terrines follow the lead of fish pâtés and mousses with Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, clean, fresh Chardonnays like Chablis, Fiano di Avellino from Campania in Southern Italy and finally the enigmatic Spanish stunner, Albariño.
Thai Along the same lines as Vietnamese, Malaysian and other ‘Asian but not overtly so’ styles of cuisine, it is best to look to the main ingredient and then concentrate on the appropriate southern hemisphere, fruit-driven wines. Likely candidates are Australian or New Zealand Riesling, Viognier, Semillon, Verdelho, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. New World sparkling wines in general work well, as do dry Muscats and Vinho Verde from Portugal and Torrontés from Argentina.
Tomatoes Strangely, tomatoes are pretty fussy when it comes to wine matching (see ‘Soup’). Pinot Noir works well but, generally, New World versions perform better than their Old World counterparts, as they often have more fruit expression and lower acidity. Other reds, like Sicilian Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, Primitivo (all southern Italy) and any juicy, warm-climate Merlot or Zinfandel are accommodating. When raw, as in a salad, rosé or Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice. A tomato sauce demands dry, light whites and Italy is the best place to look for these, as they are often ripe and cheap. Ketchup, while delicious, is so sweet and vinegary that it gives the wine a hard time, so use sparingly on your burger if you like drinking fine wine. Drench it if you’re gunning down a cheap glugging red.
Truffles Foresty, feral and musky – hoorah! Choose similarly scented wines to match this unusual life form – Burgundian Pinot Noir, Piemonte’s magnificent Nebbiolo and Barbera, and Syrah (French and serious, please). If you want to cook chicken or fish with truffles, then vintage Champagne (or go crazy and find some vintage rosé Champs), top English sparkling or top Alsatian or Australian Riesling would be spectacular.
Turkey The thing to watch out for with roast turkey is the cranberry sauce factor. Often a fresh, young Crianza Rioja or juicy New World Pinot Noir complements this outlandish red-fruit flavour. At Christmas, Aussie Grenache or Rioja is again a winner as mountains of cocktail sausages, bacon, sprouts and the rest take the flavour spotlight away from the turkey. If you are feeling very brave, totally ahead of your time, or just a little barking, sparkling Shiraz from Australia (you can get a superb example for as little as £7) would be fantastic, celebratory and original. Otherwise, see ‘Chicken’ and this means you can involve whites, too!
Turkish I have already covered lamb kebabs (with lashings of chilli sauce) in the ‘Lamb’ section but, essentially, Turkish food is best with Greek wines (endeavouring to be non-political) as the cuisine styles are linked and the resinous, aromatic whites and purple, earth-and violet-scented reds are spot on.
Veal There are some mightily good dishes in this section, but sadly there is no hard and fast rule as to what to follow on the wine front, so read carefully. In general, veal prefers to keep the company of grown-up white wines and classy, lighter reds. Saltimbocca, the terrific veal, sage and prosciutto dish, needs a wine to ‘jump in the mouth’. Pinot Nero (Italian Pinot Noir) would be fine but is hard to find and often a little dear. If your search is unsuccessful, try another unusual wine – Trincadeira or Alfrocheiro from Portugal would be an inexpensive and inspirational substitute. Vitello tonnato, a phenomenal dish of contrasting flavours, using thinly sliced, braised veal and served cold, drizzled in a sauce made from marinated tuna, lemon juice, olive oil and capers, is one of the world’s most sumptuous starters. Taking the tuna and anchovy (used in the braising stage) as your lead – fresh, sunny, seaside whites like Roero Arneis, Favorita, Nascetta, Verdicchio, Greco and Vernaccia work especially well. If you are snookered for decent Italian whites, then just go for a Kiwi Sauvignon for safety. Wiener schnitzel, fried veal in egg and breadcrumbs, can often taste a little on the dry side, so what else is on the plate? If there is nothing of enormous character to deflect your mission, give it the kiss of life with a juicy, mildly oaked Chardonnay. Blanquette de veau, the French classic with a creamy sauce, is a white wine dish. Again Chardonnay will do, but for perfection go for Viognier, Roussanne or Marsanne blends from the Rhône or Victoria in South Australia. Osso bucco, veal shin with wine, tomatoes, parsley, garlic and zesty gremolata, is a lighter, yet more heady stew than most, and Tasmanian, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills (Aussie), New Zealand or Oregon Pinot Noir would be great, as would huge, full-on Chardonnays.
Vegetables Vegetables (served on their own, or as an accompaniment) taste, on the whole, relatively neutral. But, depending on how they are cooked, they can require a moment or two’s thought on the wine front. Any gratin (baked with cheese) or dauphinoise (thinly sliced potato baked with cream and garlic) dish needs light reds or firm, self-confident whites. Beetroot is a tad tricky, but Alsatian whites generally have the texture and flavour to make it through. Cabbage, leeks, spinach, parsnips, cauliflower, sprouts, courgettes, carrots, peas and potatoes are usually innocent so don’t worry about them, but gnocchi (plain or flavoured with spinach) needs juicy, fruit-driven wines with perky acidity to cut through their weird texture and lubricate the palate. Marinated vegetables and polenta both love Italian whites – Pinot Grigio, Soave, Verdicchio etc. Lentils often dry the palate out and rustic, earthy reds are essential. Look to French Country wines for an endless supply of candidates or Chile and Argentina for Malbec or Syrah/Shiraz. Corn on the cob is a dead ringer for New World Sauvignon Blanc. Open a bottle and, with some wines, you may detect a canned sweetcorn aroma! Celeriac is a stunning accompaniment to a dish and it has a pretty strong aroma and flavour, so make sure your wine is up to it.
Vegetarian If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, look at the label (usually the back) on the wine bottle, as most organic and vegan associations have stickers or a logo to let you know the contents and production techniques of the wine. If you are still unsure, ask your wine merchant.
Vinaigrette A passion killer for wine, vinegar is strongly flavoured and makes any wine taste flat for a few seconds. This can give your palate an annoying stop-start sensation, which is a little like someone switching the light on and off every so often. Dressing made with lemon juice and oil is more wine-friendly and healthier.
Vinegar See above! Balsamic vinegar seems to be more accommodating than most, perhaps as you tend to use less, and it is more winey in-depth and flavour.
Welsh rarebit Make sure you always finish on a good note! Whether you make these toasties for late-night nibbling or as a traditional savoury for after pudding, you deserve a meaty, rustic red swimming alongside. Anything from the south of France, southern Italy or Spain would be a delicious match. Make sure it is not too dear, and if you are stuffed pop over to Australia for a chunky, inexpensive Shiraz.
Port drinking has taken something of a hit of late in the after-dinner drinking stakes. Fashion is a cruel thing. Many of my friends now prefer to end a feast on sweet wine, as it enlivens the palate and wakes you and your taste buds up. For my part, there is nothing better than finishing off dinner with a glass of sweet wine, particularly if it accompanies a tasty pudding. Read on for a comprehensive list of my favourite puddings and their dream dates. Thankfully there is only one rule to remember when matching wine to sweet dishes – you must make sure the wine is at least as sweet as the pudding, otherwise, it will taste dry. Most wine shops have a few sweet wines lurking on the racks, but sadly not as many as one would like.
Almond tart Despite its heavenly flavour and fantastic texture, this dish needs careful handling on the wine front, as an overbearing sweet wine would crush the delicate almondy nuances. Lighter, youthful sweeties like Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Moelleux (sweet) Loire whites and Jurançon Moelleux would all be spot on. Stick to these styles if your almond tart has fresh fruit on top. Bakewell tart, while perhaps not as elegant as a fresh fruit tart, likes these sweeties, too, but you’d be well advised to go for a little more age on a sweet Loire wine or head to Australia for a similar styled Botrytised Semillon.
Apple Strudels, pies, fritters and crumbles all enjoy varying degrees of nutty, cinnamony, buttery pastry and burnt, brown sugar flavours. These overlay the intrinsic fruitiness of the filling and, therefore, demand a richer, heavier style of pudding wine than you might expect. Having said that, we are still in the foothills of sweetness! German Riesling (of at least Auslese status), late-picked Muscat or Riesling from Australia, classic French Sauternes (don’t blow too much dosh) or New World botrytised Semillon and lighter, youthful Hungarian Tokaji (a lower number of Puttonyos, say 4) are all runners. Baked apples (assuming they are served warm/hot) ought to have ice-cold, light, fresh German or Austrian Riesling (Spätlese or Auslese level) and clean, light Muscats. This will give your palate a marvellous and invigorating sauna then plunge pool sensation every time you take a sip. If they are served cold, don’t bother with wine. See below for tarte tatin.
Apricot A sensationally accurate apricot match is Vendange Tardive (late-picked) Condrieu (from the northern Rhône) for apricot crumble. Unfortunately, this wine is extremely rare and exceedingly expensive (best to buy it on hols in the Rhône), so where else should you look? Australia makes some copies of this wine and they look great. Another answer is sweet Jurançon (Moelleux), bursting with tropical quince and peach flavours, or Monbazillac or Saussignac – a friendlier-priced Sauternes-style offering from southwest France.
Bananas Raw – you are joking! Banoffee pie, the hideous love sprog of sticky toffee pudding and banana ‘pennies’, can only be tamed by the most outrageous of sweet wines – Hungarian Tokaji (although I wouldn’t waste it), Australian liqueur Muscat (this will slow you down, hee hee) and Malmsey Madeira (I might even turn up if this was served). With banana splits, the candied sprinkles, shaky shaky things and ice cream flavours are more dominant than the neutered banana, so watch out on the wine front. I wouldn’t serve wine at a kiddie’s birthday party unless the adults are desperate – in which case I’d head straight for the Aussie liqueur Muscat.
Berries Black, goose, blue, rasp, berri-berri (bad joke), logan, huckle, straw, Halle (good joke), mul, cran, bil and his amoureuse damson bounce around in many different recipes. Whether they are served au naturel (naked!), in a juicy compote, or cooked in a summer pudding, they all love the talented sweet wine superhero Semillon and his trusty sidekick Muscat. Track down these grapes from France – Sauternes, Saussignac, Monbazillac, Loupiac and Cadillac all fall neatly into the Semillon camp; while Muscat de Rivesaltes, de Beaumes-de-Venise, de Frontignan and de Lunel all advertise Muscat on the label, so are easier to spot on the shelves. Aussie late-picked Muscats are all great and inexpensive, but watch out for liqueur Muscats, as they are wildly different and will destroy a delicate fruit purée. Having said that, you won’t care, as you’ll be a giggling wreck in the corner.
Biscuits/Biscotti (and proper shortbread) Vin Santo is the top choice for the extended biscuit family. Sweeter Madeira styles and good old cream sherry also work very well, counter-pointing the crumbly texture, butter and fruit or nut ingredients well. None of these wines needs to be served in large quantities (unless you are feeling particularly gung-ho!), as they are all sipping styles. Sauternes (heady, sweet white Bordeaux) or New World botrytised Semillon (the same style but better value) come in a worthy second. Other lighter biscuits enjoy the company of simple sweet wines – I would still stick to Semillon – or Chenin Blanc-based French versions.
Brandy snaps God, I love brandy snaps (I thank my lucky stars for Ma Jukesy, as I haven’t a chance of making them myself, without visiting A&E). Once again, try Australian liqueur Muscat, you’ll love it – just try to stop when you’ve got through the first batch and bottle, otherwise you’ll be drunk, fat and lock-jawed in one easy move.
Bread and butter pudding You need wines with a bit of power and acidity for a traditional B & B pudding (so I am told, as this dish is not my scene). Weightier Muscat-based wines are just the job – Moscatel de Setúbal from Portugal and Moscato or Passito di Pantelleria from the volcanic island off the south of Sicily would be there or thereabouts. Take it steady, though, as these are addictive, gloriously moreish and hugely alcoholic. Buckle up for a late night.
Cakes What’s wrong with a cup of Rosy Lea? Well, quite a lot when you could be enjoying an elegant glass of cream sherry (with your vicar) or a schooner of Aussie liqueur Muscat with coffee cake (and the WI), Bual or Malmsey Madeira with Dundee or Battenberg (and your grannie), Maury or Banyuls with brownies (and the Brownies) or a traditional fruitcake, or demi-sec Champagne with Victoria (Beckham) or lemon sponge. For the perfect sugar, hit try doughnuts (no lip-licking) and ice-cold Asti with a very good friend.
Cheesecake Whether it is cherry or any other style, the ‘cheesiness’, not the fruit, controls the choice of wine. Botrytised Semillon and Riesling from the New World, Coteaux du Layon and other sweet Loire wines, Austrian Beerenauslese, and Alsatian Vendange Tardive Riesling and Pinot Gris all work. The trick is to keep the sweetness intense and fruit-driven, without resorting to heavyweight styles of high alcohol/fortified wines.
Cherries In pie form, cherries behave like berries and prefer the company of mid-weight sweet wines. Cherries served with chocolate in a marquise or Black Forest gâteau, though, can handle a much richer wine. Try Recioto Della Valpolicella (Amarone’s sweet grannie), from Veneto in Italy, Maury or Banyuls from Roussillon (France) or juicy Californian Zinfandel for a bizarre match. Your guests might think you’re a course late with the red, but it works, honest.
Chocolate A deluxe choccy cake can, if it’s not too intense, retreat into lighter Muscats and botrytised Rieslings. Chocolate mousse (knock off the antlers), petits pots au chocolat and chocolate soufflé all head towards Orange Muscat, with its wonderful pervading aroma and flavour of orange blossom. This is one of the finest food and wine combinations of all, as orange and chocolate are natural partners (just ask Dawn French). Australia and California make two examples that I know of, so well done Brown Bros and Andrew Quady respectively, your places in the choccy hall of fame are guaranteed. If these wines are too hard to find, then you could even twist my arm to open a bottle of Asti Spumante! Chocolate pithiviers, the single most decadent dish in the pudding repertoire, needs unctuous fortified wines with a touch of burnt nuttiness – Banyuls or Maury (Roussillon, France), liqueur Muscat and liqueur Tokay/Topaque (Australia). Match any of these ridiculously insane dishes with the following list of galactically serious wines – Passito di Pantelleria (for its mind-boggling orange zest aroma), Tokaji, black Muscat (space-age – careful, get ready for re-entry), liqueur Muscat, PX (short for Pedro Ximénez, the boozy, black, teeth-rottingly sweet turbo-sherry), botrytised Semillon from the New World, Maury and Banyuls (the mega, port-like sweet Grenache wines from the south of France) and, finally, young, punchy, underrated, tawny port.
Christmas pudding During the festive period, it is useful to have a wine that lasts well once opened – you’ve got to make it from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, after all. Top-quality tawny port and liqueur Muscat or Tokay/Topaque from Australia, as well as heady Malmsey Madeira, all fit the bill. You can squeeze twelve glasses out of a bottle without short-changing anyone. Not bad, hey, and these are not expensive wines by any stretch of the imagination.
Cinnamon rolls A heavenly creation – but ever so wicked. You need considerable levels of sweetness and toffeed aromas in the wine to cope with the intensity of sugar. Vin Santo, Hungarian Tokaji, Liqueur Muscat and old Oloroso sherry would be stunning. Old-fashioned lardy cakes are, sadly, hard to find these days, but if you do know a dealer, then stick to Malmsey Madeira – it fits with the image as well as being a great flavour combination.
Crème brûlée As I only like the crunchy, caramelised bit on top, as opposed to the silky, creamy bit, I have asked some pals which wine is the best match. The consensus is that you need to aim somewhere between my almond tart and cheesecake wines. As Loire sweeties, made from Chenin Blanc, appear in both sections, they must be spot on – Coteaux du Layon (and that extended family), Vouvray Moelleux, Bonnezeaux (pronounced ‘Bonzo’) and Quarts de Chaume are your choices. You could always look for some South African Chenin Blanc sweet wines, as the grape is widely planted down there and they are stunning value for money.
Crème caramel Sadly this is another pud that you won’t get me near (I’ve got genuine texture issues with this dish – too slippery), but I have it on good authority that light, delicate sweeties are required. German Auslese Rieslings from the Mosel and youthful, fairy-light Muscats are spot on.
Crêpes Suzette Clairette de Die, the little-known sparkling wine from the Rhône, or Asti (Italy’s frothy Moscato) would be cheap but worthy options, with demi-sec Champagne being the grown-up, expensive choice.
Custard As soon as you start waving custard around on, say, a spotted dick, you are giving your palate much more to think about. Intense creaminess craves acidity in a wine. With custard being the ultimate in eggy creaminess, the big guns like Malmsey Madeira, Liqueur Muscat and Tokaji must be let out of the cellar.
Doughnuts see ‘Cakes’.
Figs Just feeling too frisky to concentrate on this one – sorry!
Fruit Raw fruit of any kind has a much lighter flavour than you would expect when pitted against a sweet wine. So stay with dainty Asti, German or Austrian Spätlese Rieslings, demi-sec Champagne, fresh, clean Muscats, Italy’s Recioto di Soave, Spain’s Moscatel de Valencia or very light, young Sauternes. Oh, if you fancy a lychee, then find a sweet Gewürztraminer, as it has remarkable lychee characteristics on the nose and palate. Poached fruit, like peaches or apricots, picks up sweetness from the added sugar and can be pretty intense, so tread carefully. You may need a rich Coteaux du Layon from the Loire to see you through.
Fruitcake see ‘Cakes’.
Gingerbread A wonderful creation that, along with ginger cake and ginger biscuits, is made even better when accompanied by a glass of good-quality cream sherry, Bual or Malmsey Madeira.
Gooseberry fool A heavy, oleaginous sweet wine would trample all over this refreshing, palate-primping pudding. What you need is young, botrytised Semillon, like Sauternes, Saussignac, Monbazillac or Loupiac, or Asti or demi-sec Champagne. Try to keep the price down, as more expensive wines will usually taste finer and more intense. Or grab a bottle of fresh, young, Riesling Auslese (Mosel, Germany) for a fruit-cocktail-style, grapey flavour – it will also be much cheaper.
Ice cream If you want to play safe then vanilla, chocolate, rum and raisin, coffee, chubby-hubby, toffee and cookie-dough ice creams all love Pedro Ximénez (PX), the intensely coffee-and-raisin-drenched sweet sherry. You could always try sweet liqueur Muscats from Australia as well. If you have a fruity ice cream or sorbet, just leave it alone – you need a few minutes without a goblet in your hand occasionally. If you want to ignore me – go crazy and experiment, but you’re on your own. PX makes good body paint – apparently.
Jam tart You have to find a very sweet wine. This is the only rule, as you can’t get sweeter than jam. Icewine (made from pressing grapes that have frozen on the vine) from Canada might be a relatively inexpensive way of tackling this dish. Other than that, you are looking at a monstrous price tag (with Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany) and, you have to ask, is any tart worth it?
Jelly Light, sweet German Riesling should not interfere too much with jelly. Hang on a sec. Are you seriously thumbing through this list looking for the ‘wine with jelly’ entry!
Lemon meringue pie German or Alsatian Riesling would work well here, but make sure it’s sweet but not too cloying. Recioto di Soave (Italian) or youthful sweet Loire Chenin Blanc (Coteaux du Layon) would also handle this citrus theme very well. The good thing is that these styles of wine are relatively inexpensive and pretty easy to come by. Tarte au citron, my preferred choice in the lemon/pastry arena, is also stunning with Coteaux du Layon.
Meringue Flying solo, meringues are virtually tasteless and often a bit dusty, so if served with fruit (pavlova), it’s the fruit that you need to worry about – see ‘Fruit’.
Mince pies I generally follow the Christmas pud/Christmas cake lead of rich, sweet Madeira, youthful tawny port and blindingly brilliant Australian liqueur Muscats. It will save you another trip to the shops and all of these brews are big enough to wrestle with four-star brandy butter.
Pastries Belonging in the same school as tarts and cakes, I am not convinced you need a wine recommendation for this family of buns and so on. Are you going to crack open a bottle of wine for a pain au chocolat? If you are in the mood though, then don’t let me stop you – Demi-Sec Champagne, Coteaux du Layon, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Saussignac and Monbazillac are France’s best efforts. Botrytised Riesling from Australia and New Zealand or sweet Muscat from California might also work well. Otherwise, try a German Spätlese Riesling but remember to keep the price down – and wait for midday!
Peach melba Botrytised Riesling does the peachy thing well, as you should be able to detect peach notes in the wine – head Down Under or to Germany. Alternatively, a late-picked Viognier from the Rhône would be stunning, but they are hard to come by and mightily dear. If all else fails, grab a bottle of Sauternes, as it is the most multi-talented of all sweet wines.
Pecan pie A great dish, which craves the company of Australian wines. Not sure why but this is exactly the right fit and you should search for a liqueur Muscat or Tokay/Topaque. If this sounds like a little too much globe-trotting, stick with a posh-tasting, but inexpensive Malmsey Madeira.
Pineapple upside-down pudding This deserves a mention as one of the classic and most irresistible menu items of all time. The caramel and pineapple team up to form a supremely exotic partnership and smart Sauternes would give a real result here. If you are keeping an eye on expenses, then Australian botrytised Semillon would also work wonders.
Plum crumble Of the crumble family, plum is up there with blackberry and apple (90% of the Jukesy framework) as one of the mightiest. A degree of concentrated sweetness is needed here, so head off to Canada for decadent Riesling Icewines, Hungary for sexy Tokaji, or Italy for heroic Vin Santo.
Rhubarb crumble A relative lightweight next to the plum crum, rhubarb crumble takes it easy on the wine front. Exotically sweet Riesling from just about anywhere has rhubarby notes on the nose and palate, so this is the one and only grape to follow with rhubarb–based puddings (including fool, compote and ice cream).
Rice pudding I haven’t eaten rice pudding since school, and don’t intend to.
Rum baba By the very nature of the beast, a rum baba has a bit of a kick to it. Underneath the mild, genial exterior, a sweet-wine-thumping freak is itching to get out. Rum baba is the Hannibal Lecter of the pudding world and you have to go for a fortified wine to stand a chance of survival. Our SWAT team are tawny port, Bual or Malmsey Madeira and liqueur Muscat – night sights on… go get ’em boys.
Sorbet see ‘Ice cream’.
Steamed puddings I am a devout fan of steamed puddings. The greatest syrupy, toffeed, old-fashioned ones (spotted dick, treacle sponge and suet pudding included) deserve the most regal sweet wines. I don’t care that suet is a beastly ingredient and that these recipes don’t involve any tricky cooking techniques. To me, they are culinary utopia. All of these wines have been mentioned before but, they all do the business so here we go – top-flight botrytised Semillon (from anywhere), decadent Madeira, Tokaji (spend up by as many puttonyos as you can afford), Vin Santo and Liqueur Muscat (from any one of the top Victorian or South Australian specialists in Australia).
Strawberries Top quality strawberries love Asti and Moscato d’Asti (Italy), demi-sec Champagne and Clairette de Die (Rhône, France). These are all fizzy or frothy, with the faintest touch of grapey sweetness.
Tarte au citron see ‘Lemon meringue pie’.
Tarte tatin This is another of the greatest dishes of all time. I haven’t put it into the apple section, and not because these days tatin is made with pear and all manner of other fruit (and savoury ingredients – I saw a beetroot one the other day! Why?), but because the tatin method of cooking is the influencing factor. The rich, toffee/caramel gooeyness is what preoccupies the palate and, for that reason, honeyed Loire sweeties like Coteaux du Layon are right on the money. New World botrytised Semillons would be great, as well, and Sauternes would be a real treat.
Tiramisù A strangely unappetising dish, in my opinion, as coffee, mascarpone, chocolate and brandy are frighteningly odd teammates. If you must eat this sickly dish, stay accurate with Vin Santo (to knock out the flavour) or Marsala (to knock you out).
Treacle tart Treacle tart, particularly if you have included lemon zest in the recipe, is not as stodgy as you might expect. You could try Sauternes but, if in any doubt, Hungarian Tokaji, Vin Santo or youthful liqueur Muscat would probably be safest.
Trifle The grand old English creation, adorning vicarage sideboards up and down the country, must be delighted to have so many options on the wine front. German Riesling Beerenauslese is my top choice but any sweet Riesling would be lovely. Likewise, Sauternes and the family of worldwide sweet Semillons all love this dish. If you are going to pour in a bit of booze (sherry is traditionally used), a good quality cream sherry is probably best. Whatever you choose, I’ll have a large glass of pud wine please and politely refuse the trifle.
Zabaglione Passito di Pantelleria, from an island off Sicily, is the only wine to accompany this creamy concoction – unless the Marsala you use in the recipe is of sufficient drinking quality. If it is, then you can cover two bases with one wine – and that must be the epitome of food and wine matching.
The old ‘red-wine-with-cheese’ adage is downright wrong. When pondering which wine to drink with your chosen cheese, keep an open mind as, surprisingly, almost anything goes – white, red, sweet, dry and fortified. Try to keep your cheeseboard simple to limit the number of flavours and, therefore, wines needed – and watch out for chutney as its pungent flavour tends to trip wines up. I have listed the main categories of cheese and mentioned, within each, some of my favourite examples.
Fresh cheese (Cream cheese, feta, ricotta and mozzarella) These usually pop up in salads or simple cooking, and their flavours are not dominant, so drink what you fancy. Whites would be best and make sure they have some cleansing acidity on board.
Natural rind cheese (Goats’ cheese – Ticklemore, Sinodun Hill, Golden Cross, Brightwell Ash, Crottin de Chavignol, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Saint-Marcellin and Selles-sur-Cher) Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France is the benchmark with goats’ cheese, and the stunning wines from Sancerre are the pick of the crop (Chavignol is one of the finest wine villages in Sancerre and the home of the famous Crottin de Chavignol cheeses). If you’re caught short, though, any dry, fresh, unoaked white would be fine. If you feel like drinking red, then Loire Cabernet Franc or Gamay or Beaujolais work perfectly well.
Soft white cheese (Tunworth, Sharpham, Camembert, Brie de Meaux, Pavé d’Affinois, Chaource, Bonchester, Pencarreg, Explorateur, Boursault, Gratte-Paille and Brillat-Savarin) Once again, Sauvignon Blanc works terrifically well here. Although, if you want more palate ‘oomph’, head to Marlborough in New Zealand, Elim in South Africa or Adelaide Hills in Australia. Remember that the richer the cheese, the bigger the white, so Chardonnay can be considered, too. For reds try Pinot Noir (either red Sancerre or lighter red Burgundies), fresh young Syrah/Shiraz from the Rhône or McLaren Vale in Oz, and rosé Champagne. Gratte-Paille and Brillat-Savarin traditionally go well with youthful, inexpensive red Bordeaux.
Washed rind cheese Milder examples like Chaumes, Rollright, Wigmore, Ogleshield, Port Salut and Milleens need nothing more than dry, fruity reds – light Loire examples, or inexpensive red Bordeaux or New World Merlots. Smellier cheeses, including Epoisses, Chambertin and Langres, really enjoy white Burgundy (from Chablis in the north all of the way down to Mâcon in the south), Alsace Riesling or Pinot Gris, and other controlled (i.e. not too oaky) Chardonnays from further afield. Munster loves Alsatian Gewürztraminer and Waterloo, Baron Bigod and Vacherin Mont d’Or love red Burgundy, Beaujolais and lighter red Rhônes.
Semi-soft cheese This covers a huge selection of cheese. Try the following combinations: Livarot – Alsatian Pinot Gris; Maroilles – Roussanne or Marsanne from the Rhône; Pont-l’Evêque – Viognier, also from the Rhône; Raclette – (assuming you are reading this halfway up a mountain in the Alps, you lucky thing) anything from the Savoie region, red or white; Gubbeen – Pinot Blanc or Sylvaner from Alsace; Edam – whatever, it’s not fussy (light whites and reds); Morbier – Rhône whites; Fontina – light, Alpine Gamay or Valpolicella; Reblochon – this outstanding cheese likes much richer Gamay (smart Cru Beaujolais) and also red Burgundy; Saint-Nectaire – another heroic cheese, particularly the wild, farmhouse version, likes the same again, plus meaty red Côtes-du-Rhônes; Tomme de Savoie and Tomme de Montagne – Rhône whites or lighter reds; Bel Paese and Taleggio – Lombardy whites such as Lugana and reds like Dolcetto, Barbera and Franciacorta.
Semi-Hard to Hard cheese The largest category of all, ranging from mild, via medium and strong, to extra-strong cheeses. As a starting point get an idea of the strength and age of your chosen cheese (a small taste in the shop is recommended) and this will help your wine selection. Cheeses in this group are, among others – Cheddar, Appleby Cheshire, Wensleydale, Gruyère, Lincolnshire Poacher, Cheshire, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Cornish Yarg, Double Gloucester, Lancashire, Caerphilly, Gouda, Beaufort, Manchego, Cantal, Etorki, Comté, Emmenthal, Jarlsberg and Mimolette. From wines for mild cheese all the way to wines for the extra strong: whites – Alsace Pinot Blanc, Chablis, Jurançon Sec, white Burgundy, white Rhônes, New World Semillons and, lastly, New World Chardonnays; reds – Loire reds, Chilean Merlot, Côtes-du-Rhône, spicy Italian reds like Primitivo, Old World Cabernet from Bordeaux or Margaret River (Australia), Shiraz from Frankland, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley (Australia), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti (Italy), and Zinfandel (California); fortified – port (tawny, LBV and vintage), Madeira, Banyuls and Maury (both from France), and old oloroso sherries.
Blue cheese For Stilton, Stichelton, Bath Blue and Crozier look no further than rich, nutty Madeira, tawny port, LBV or vintage port; Roquefort and Fourme d’Ambert, in contrast, prefer sweet Sauternes, Monbazillac or Saussignac; Dolcelatte is a bit of a lightweight and, because of its unusual sweet flavour and texture, I leave it alone (can you tell I can’t bear it?); Gorgonzola likes Amarone Della Valpolicella; Cashel Blue needs sweet whites; and Beenleigh Blue, on account of its birth nation, needs a pint of authentic, hazy scrumpy cider (drunk in Oxford overlooking the Cherwell!).