Matching food and wine with wine guru Fiona Beckett

Food and wine pairing. Photo by Rachel Kennedy
Food and wine pairing. Photo by Rachel Kennedy

Any morning that begins with a flute of expensive champagne handed to you can’t be a bad start. Last Tuesday I had the immense pleasure of being an audience to food and wine writer for the Guardian, Fiona Beckett.  As part of ’Febvreuary’, a month of wine events hosted by national wine distributor Febvre, I had the unique opportunity to sit in on a seminar of food and wine pairing.

Fiona shared with the group her six rules for pairing wine with food, all of which are very useful for both everyday dining or within the hospitality industry.

Rule 1. Analyse your dish. Assess the flavour combinations, the ingredients and how they are going to be cooked. Delicate cooking methods such as steaming will not match heavy flavoured wines. The same goes for raw foods or ceviche (raw fish cooked through acidity, i.e. vinegar or citrus): light tasting dishes, therefore light beverages.

On the contrary, roasted, charred or barbequed meats will be complemented by a deeper flavoured wine.  Pasta sauces should be taken into consideration under this point also, a neutral white will match a creamy carbonara whereas a robust red will be paired better to a lasagne.

Rule 2. Bear in mind dish accompaniments and sides. Many dishes come with chutneys, relishes, pickled and fermented sides which will all affect wine choice. Breads served with courses often include a variety of seeds, malt, grains, molasses, all of these additives swirling in the palate will affect accompanying beverage choice.

Rule 3. Drink like you cook. Build up a memory of flavour combinations and recall pleasant matches for your future consumption. Cultivate a palate memory.

Rule 4. Respect the terroir, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Classic examples of matching food and wine according to location would be Guinness and oysters or a deep Tuscan red wine with a bean stew.  While travelling try local wines and beers of the region and match them to regional dishes.

Rule 5. It’s not just about the food and wine. The dining out or eating in experience is not made up of just the consumable components  but also the atmosphere and setting.  The warmth of the welcome into a restaurant, the atmosphere, time of year, season and weather will all have an effect on the dining experience. Occasion and expectation should also play a key role. If hosting a large event such as a wedding or birthday bash it is not a good idea to take risks or select wines  for your own agenda.  Choose a crowd pleasing wine rather than showing off with an obscure vintage.

Rule 6. Play a wild card. Don’t be afraid to play around with flavour combinations. Often combinations  you wouldn’t traditionally match will work beautifully.

Food and wine matching audience, by Aoife Lawless
Food and wine matching audience, Photo by Aoife Lawless

Along with these six gems of wisdom for pairing wines with food, a really interesting point Fiona made regarding non-traditional matchings really struck a note with me. So called ‘bad foods’ tend to get overlooked when it comes to matching with wine and for no good reason.

A delicious burger or plate of wings has just as much right to a fine wine accompaniment as any other dish. A burger, depending on extra topping,s can usually be matched to the wines you’d have with a juicy steak. A big red, such as Chianti or Shiraz, will complement the beefy flavour and meaty texture superbly. For a plate of chicken wings a chardonnay can be a good match, the creamy chardonnay picking up the elements of spice and enhancing the flavours.

Another important factor to remember is the effect salt has on the palate and how this will alter the perception of wine.  Salt tends to make the taste appear fuller and enriches the sweetness of the wine.

Be conscious of the weight of flavours too: a heavy wine will not necessarily blend with a heavy dish. For example a rustic ragú will be drowned by an equally robust red wine. In this case it is a good idea to dial back your chosen wine to a lighter variety. A fresher wine will have a more positive impact on the meal as a whole.

These and more tips for food and wine enthusiasts are available on both of Fiona’s blog (links below) along with her weekly contributions to the Guardian.

By Aoife Lawless

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