We all know that some wines go better with certain foods, and that well-matched flavours in any dish can be highlighted and improved by serving the right kind of fare for the grapes you have on offer. What you might not know, though, is that there’s a kind of food-wine utopia called a ‘perfect’ pairing. This is when two different flavours - the bite of food and the sip of wine - come together in a way that doesn’t just enhance the flavour profile of what you’re eating and drinking, but it in fact changes it altogether, into a new, incredible sensation some people refer to as a ‘mouth-gasm’.
How should you taste food-wine pairings, anyway?
It’s a simple process of just a few steps:
There are plenty of great food and wine pairings you can make, and a lot of these are well-known: a charred T-bone steak with a Shiraz, a sweet ‘sticky’ dessert wine like Botrytis with a cheese platter after a meal - but we’re talking about something that’s better than just ‘good’. A perfect pairing occurs when the food and wine components work together to augment the flavours, creating something new when tasted together. Good pairings are common and well-known, but perfect pairings are actually relatively rare.
How do I get a perfect pairing, then?
Sometimes it’s to do with a specific wine with a dish, but we can definitely tell you there’s a lot of trial and error involved! You’ll really only know for yourself which works best by trying the different things that you like. But, in case you wanted our opinion, here are a few perfect pairings to get you started with the idea.
Champagne + caviar
Amazing...if you can afford it! On its own, caviar can be salty, oily and it does objectively have a bit of a strange texture. When you whack out the Champagne, however, caviar turns into something more like a light, airy pâté that now has a totally different consistency in your mouth as each little bubble in the wine pops. This pairing works so well for not only textural reasons: the Champagne’s acidity dissolves some of the ‘fishy’ flavours and works together as the perfect complement.
Muscadet + oysters
Muscadet (pronounced mus-kah-day) is a French white wine grown in the Loire valley, similar to Chablis. Importantly, it’s totally unrelated to Moscato and Muscat - so careful you don’t confuse them! Muscadet is light, zesty and usually mineral-like. A sip of Muscadet after a freshly shucked oyster changes the type of flavour of the oyster: it no longer tastes like the salty bottom of the ocean, but instead makes the oyster taste creamy. Don’t trust us, just try it.
Riesling + orange duck
You may see this classic French dish on restaurant menus as duck (or canard) à l’orange. Its sauce is bittersweet, and easily overwhelms most wines you would otherwise think to pair with duck, such as lighter reds. If you try it with an Riesling (especially an off-dry style Riesling), the combination takes on a whole new character. The wine acts as a kind of ‘sauce multiplier’ with the stronger flavours - it works like a sweet-and-sour explosion in your mouth with every bite.
Cabernet and black pepper steak
Cabernet is a richer, bolder wine than Shiraz, very high in tannins - and most importantly, it has subtle hints of black pepper in the varietal’s flavour profile. It might therefore not be a surprise then when you match a peppery-toned Cabernet with a cracked black pepper steak, the peppery aromas in the wine hold onto to the flavours in the steak, highlighting the naturally fruity flavours in the wine. Test this theory with an earthy Cabernet Sauvignon; do your research or look out for ‘black pepper’ or ‘earthy’ notes on the label description (or ask your wine expert or sommelier).
Sauternes and foie gras
And now for the sweeter suggestions - our favourites! Again, if you can afford foie gras (as it’s typically a very pricey option), this makes for quite a statement flavour-wise. Rich and creamy foie gras when paired with a sweet yellowy, honey-like wine is like pairing meat, butter and syrup…. think of it like eating bacon pancakes, or chicken and waffles - but packing much more of a punch.
Vintage Port and stilton
Even if you don’t love blue cheese, hear us out on this one. Stilton is a stinky, oozy blue cheese - matching it with vintage Port brings out its characteristics: tannin, sweetness, alcohol and acidity. Why does it work? Well, when you put the two components together suddenly the Port is not as syrupy-sweet, and the cheese isn’t just a gooey stink-bomb. Basically, they cancel each other out and they substitute the individual flavours for something entirely different… tasting instead like cherries and cream. Wow!
With so much to taste, there’s no doubt many more perfect pairings out there just waiting to be discovered (or even just popularised). We can’t wait to try even more of them.
Just in case you aren’t a Champagne pro, we’ve compiled a handy list of hints to up your game – with plenty of time before the festive season kicks off this year to get you into the groove!
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