basics to food and wine pairing

The world of wine can be a little daunting, with a vast range of varieties from regions right around the world. The good news is that it does not have to be complicated; in fact, it can be relatively simple.

The best way to begin is to start with the more popular varieties as they are the ones customers will expect to see offered. For the reds these are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. I’ll also include GSM blends (Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre) as they are quite common in Australia. The white varieties include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris/Grigio.

Most Australian Shiraz will be big and bold. They have strong jammy fruit flavours, a bit of pepperiness and savoury woody elements they are best suited to red meat dishes with a bit of substance to them – think roast lamb or beef. Look for South Australian producers like Penfolds, Wynns, Henschke, d’Arenberg and Teusner; they go from traditional through to more modern and forward thinking styles.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a bit deeper than Shiraz. It has jammy fruit flavours with complex notes like clove, anise, dried fruits and woody herbs, so it can be a little more elegant than Shiraz. It will also go with roast meats but can easily be paired with duck, steak, gourmet meats and stews. For the big juicy examples look to South Australian producers from Coonawarra like Wynns, Majella and Brand’s Liara. For softer, elegant styles look to Western Australian producers from the Margaret River region like Moss Wood, Cullen, Leeuwin Estate and Woodlands.

Pinot Noir is one of the most complex categories of wine. These wines are softer and have fresh cherry, raspberry and blueberry flavours, which are usually backed up with an earthy/umami quality. Pinot can be paired with most things, from hearty stews, gourmet meats, roast meat and game, through to chicken and fish dishes as well as Asian food. In Australia some of the best examples come from producers in Geelong, The Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsular, some brands to look out for are By Farr/Farr Rising, Curlewis, Bannockburn, Yerring Station, Mayer, Kooyong Estate and Yabby Lake.

GSM blends have been around since we first started making wine in this country; they bring together the best elements of each variety. They have lifted fruit and spice from the Shiraz, depth and elegance from the Grenache, and structure and savouriness from the Mourvedre. They are easy, food friendly wines that go really well with grilled and gourmet meats as well as pasta dishes (this one is a bit of a barbeque wine). For this style we really can’t go past the likes of South Australian producers d’Arenberg and Teusner, they make some of the best examples of this style in the world and range from very affordable to rather expensive.

The king of white varieties is Chardonnay; this wine is a more elegant style. The fruit flavours tend to be relatively mellow and along the lines of melon, peaches and apricot, the main substance behind this wine though is a buttery richness and some oak to give power. This style goes well with roast and grilled chicken or pork as well as some of the more sophisticated fish dishes. The best examples in Australia come from Victoria and Western Australia, look to Kooyong Estate, Giant Steps and Yerring Station in Victoria and Leeuwin Estate, Devils Lair and Vasse Felix in Western Australia.

Sauvignon Blanc is currently the most popular white wine variety. If it’s a wine from New Zealand, think easy drinking and full of tropical fruit flavours. If it’s Australian or French think easy drinking but with the fruit flavours toned down a few notches and a little more mineral edge. These wines are great with a pretty wide range of fish and white meat dishes. Producers from Marlborough to look for include Craggy Range, Giesen, Villa Maria and Dog Point, when it comes to Australian producers Shaw & Smith and Dandelion Vineyards are two names to look out for.

Riesling from Australia is sometimes thought of as being a sweet wine but make no mistake with this one. It has fresh fruit flavours, with nice acidity and a clean crispness – definitely not a sweet wine. Again this style will go really well with a variety of white meat, seafood and spicy Asian dishes, but is also good with things like chicken schnitzel, German sausages and even something like a hot dog if you were inclined to drink wine with one. In Australia the best Rieslings tend to come from South Australia and Western Australia, some great producers of this variety include Pikes, Jim Barry, Grosset, Knappstein, Leeuwin Estate and Frankland Estate.

Pinot Gris/Grigio is the same variety; however the labeling depends on whether it’s been done in a French style (Gris) or the Italian style (Grigio). Gris is a little more refined, it’s lighter and a little floral smelling (I will stress though that it’s not usually a sweet wine). Grigio is fresh but has a little more substance and acidity. Gris is really good with something delicate like French onion soup, or spicy like South East Asian food, but Grigio is better suited to grilled fish and seafood meals with a bit of substance. For the Gris check out producers like Spring Vale, Tim Adams and Bay of Fires, for the Grigios look towards Victorian producer Pizzini.

As with everything there are always exceptions… Keep it simple to start with and once you have your head around it start experimenting and broadening your offerings. Bon appetite!

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