Wineducation: Wine and Food

Here’s a short discussion of the food / wine relationship. It is meant to act as a simple introductory guide, and of course, that leads to an oversimplification of the issues.

The Food and Wine Relationship

A symbiotic relationship has existed between wine and food for centuries. As tastes change and develop over time wine evolves with it. For this reason, Old World Wines (OWW) have the closer relationship with food than do New World Wines (NWW). For OWW read ‘Europe‘ and for NWW; the ‘rest of the world‘. It’s a broad statement, it’s simplistic and will cause the odd murmuring, but it generally holds true, and it serves a purpose here.

Steak and red wineFood and Wine Matching

The sauce or flavourings added to a dish impart the lion’s share of the saltiness, sweetness, acids and fats. They have more influence generally than the type of meat or fish involved.

Saltier foods prefer wines with sweeter tones from fruitier styles; New World reds. Richer foods tend to match wines with a backbone of tannins; Cabernet Sauvignon.

Simple grilled fish matches better with whites, but if you like red wine with fish, drink red wine with fish. Lighter reds will generally complement fish better.

Tomato based dishes go well with acidic Italian and Spanish red grape wines: Barbera, Sangiovese, Dolcetto (Italian) & Tempranillo (Spanish).

What would be a Safe Bet?A.-Zirnhelt-Riesling-55x150

If you really can’t get to grips food and wine matching at all, there are 2 helpful grapes that tend to be pretty universal and will satisfactorily match with anything: Pinot Noir for red meats dishes and Riesling for everything else. Pinot Noir, unfortunately, tends to be rather expensive and Riesling, a rarity, in China. Another factor to consider is that Pinot Noir is somewhat polarising among wine drinkers whilst Riesling is simply unfashionable, and has been since the 1970’s (except in Germany, of course!)

Food Friendly safe bet:  A. Zirnhelt’s Alsatian Riesling

Food only Wines…

the choice is largely up to you

Some wines are only intended for having with food. Complexity is sought in those wines. Complexity comes from various sources, amongst them: sugars, acids and tannins. Wine with higher levels of acids and tannins age better producing more complex flavours and they happen to go better with many types of cuisine.

Much of the Old World has operated solely on this model for centuries, until quite recent times. Acids, tannins and barrel ageing all a part of the process to produce wines for specific purposes at the meal table.

NWW’s tend not to have evolved within such a long established close food/wine relationship. They developed under different local requirements and conditions. Environmental factors, labour and land availability were very different and consequently the wines tend not to be made quite in the same way.


NWW’s tend to have lower levels of acids and tannins. They are therefore almost always suitable for earlier consumption and contain simpler flavours, often softer and sweeter than even their earlier drinking OW counterparts. It is the lower levels that tend to make them attractive to drink without food because they have more fruit sweetness to make up for the lower acids and tannins.

Easy drinking no food needed: Penfolds Koonunga Hill


Always, but, always cook with a wine you like the taste of. Never, but, never cook with a wine you won’t drink. There is only one place for a wine you don’t like to drink: the sink. The food will always be a disappointment if you do use it. Ideally, if the dish requires wine as an ingredient, you should cook with the same wine you are drinking with a meal, though often this is impracticable.


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