I seem to be thinking about food and wine matching all the time these days, which led me to try and put together a guide for when eating out. Starters are where a good food and wine match can be most rewarding, due to the lightness of the food, the delicate combinations of ingredients, and the freshness of one’s palate.
One problem that I struck upon almost immediately, however, is just the sheer diversity of food in the UK these days, and the impossibility of tackling all the different permutations, combinations and configurations of ingredients. So instead, I tried to take a more classic view, figuring that a basic breakdown of the most popular ingredients/dishes would help as a handy guide, and present some go-to rules that would hopefully help when presented with a menu.
Salads & Vegetables
When it comes to salads,
you only really need to be wary of strong vinegar-based dressing, which can react harshly with most wines. Citrus-based dressings are far more wine-friendly.
For a rocket salad
dressed with olive oil and parmesan (or variations thereof), try a dry sauvignon blanc, such as a Côtes de Duras,
or a dry chenin blanc like a Vouvray Sec
With tomato salads
(and variations), go for bright and acidic whites, such as an Italian Verdicchio
or one of the more characterful Pinot Grigio
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="479" caption="A bounty of tomatoes at Borough market, London. Pic: email@example.com"]
When it comes to buttered asparagus
, go for richer sauvignon blancs (such as this Chilean Organic Sauvignon Blanc
or a Côtes de Duras
from South France). For asparagus with hollandaise
, opt for a sauvignon with a touch more acidity, such as a classic Loire like the Petit Bourgeois
or a Saint-Bris
The creaminess of avocado
is well matched by good high-acid whites such as a Loire valley chenin blanc – like this Vouvray Sec
– or German riesling. Rieslings also work well if you’re going for a salad of avocado and prawns.
Opt for a well balanced Alsace riesling, such as this Riesling Tradition
The creamy dressing of a caesar
salad is well suited to a richer style of chardonnay, such as a Vin de Pays d’Oc
, or something weighty-but-balanced from the new world, like a Chenin-Torrontés
blend from South Africa. Richer chardonnays, such as a classic Pouilly-Fuissé
, also work, and make a great match for garlic / breaded mushrooms
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="A classic Caesar salad: crunchy, creamy and great with richer chardonnays"]
A plate of antipasti
featuring grilled vegetables, olives and artichokes
can prove tricky, and it’s perhaps best to stick to Italian wines. For whites, try a good quality Gavi
or a Trebbiano d’Abruzzo,
but a lighter red would work well too, such as a Morellino di Scansano Bellamarsilia,
again from Abruzzo.
Fish, Shellfish & Seafood
Fish and seafood often feature heavily on starter menus, and while it’s impossible to cover all the different varieties and dishes, the following should help as a guide.
For a salad involving cold lobster
, perhaps with fresh mayonnaise, you can’t get a much better pairing than a classic Burgundian chardonnay, such as a Premier Cru Chablis
While there are many whites that make ‘acceptable’ partners for oysters,
you get really magic flavour combinations with a well made Picpoul de Pinet
. Alternatively, if you want something Burgundian, try a richer, warmer style of chardonnay, such as a good Saint-Véran
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="Raw oysters, with their brine and iodine flavours, are perfect with Picpoup de Pinet"]
are a starter staple these days, and are generally very accommodating when it comes to wine. When seared or grilled
, go for a white with some weight, such as a Côtes de Gascogne
or an Italian Gavi di Tassarolo
. Dressed scallops
, or those served ceviche,
tend to need a little more bite, so try a richer sauvignon blanc such as a Saint-Bris
or a good quality example from Chile, such as De Martino’s Organic Sauvignon Blanc
served in a more traditional creamy sauce favour rich, slightly oaky whites, such as a good Entre-Deux-Mers
Bordeaux or a buttery white Burgundy like this Rully
can be notoriously tricky to match with wine. While champagne is a popular choice, in reality, only the richest styles will stand up to the richness of the fish. Try our lovely rich grower champagne Grand Reserve Benedicte Jonchere,
or else a rounded white Condrieu
For more rustic fish starters such as Mediterranean brandade
go for an oily-textured white with good aromatics and acids, such as a Costières de Nîmes Blanc,
or a cracking Sicilian Inzolia
also works really well with a characterful Provençal rosé
a classic Muscadet is always a winner, but it can be bettered. As with oysters, try a Picpoul de Pinet
or one of Italy’s fish-loving whites, such as a delightful Falanghina Rami
. However, top of the list for mussel-matching has to be a Spanish Albariño
. Perfection in a glass.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="Plump fresh mussels, completed with a glass of Spanish Albariño"]
With so many types of cured meats, pâtés, salamis and terrines available, matching charcuterie starters can be a little daunting. In reality, however, it needn’t be difficult, as long as you follow your nose and understand a little about classic regional pairings.
For most pork charcuterie,
you can try to match the meat’s region to the wine’s, (e.g. Bayonne ham with a Gascogne red like Madiran
or Spanish jamón Ibérico with a Rioja Crianza
). Alternatively, choose young reds with good acids, which match well with most charcuterie
. A fruit-forward Loire Chinon
will work well, as will a young Bordeaux
and a richer Beaujolais cru, such as a Régnié
When it comes to Italy’s famous Parma ham, mortadella
or salame Milanese,
again choose a lighter red, but something Italian, juicy and vivacious, such as a fresh-tasting Morellino di Scansano
or a Dolcetto d'Alba.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="479" caption="Full flavoured Italian salame, perfect with a lighter Italian red"]
With black pudding
or boudin noir
, go for something that can handle fatty meat and
spice. A firm Beaujolais – either a good village wine or a fragrant cru such as a Chiroubles
works well, as will a young unoaked Rioja/Tempranillo
– thin slices of raw beef dressed with oil, Parmesan and rocket – is a dish that requires a little delicacy. Whites work particularly well: try a rich unoaked chardonnay, such as a good Vin de Pays d’Oc
or a regional Italian white, such as a good Verdicchio
. If a red is preferred, you’ll find a young chianti, such as Cantine Vittorio Innocenti’s
, or other light red, an excellent match, even lightly chilled.
Lastly, we turn our attention to foie gras
, that unmistakable and often controversial goose liver delicacy. While there are many ways to serve it, simple is best, and when so, there is no finer match than a classic Sauternes
. Truly a match made in heaven.
Cheese & Eggs
While this may seem a fairly arbitrary grouping, in truth, similar wines pair well with many egg-based and cheese-based starters.
The wine to drink with deep-fried cheese
will be determined by the cheese itself (although it’s most often Brie or Camembert), but don’t underestimate the sweet/tangy relish usually served with it. As such, choose a fruity red with bright acids. A good Beaujolais-Villages
would be perfect, as would a richer Loire red, such as a fruity Chinon.
– typically made in the French style, with herbs, cheese and/or tomato – can work with richer chardonnay or sémillon whites, but for the ultimate pairing, try a lighter, fresher Bourgogne Rouge
or an ever dependable Beaujolais cru, such as a Régnié
, lightly chilled.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="A classic French omelette, crying out for a good glass of Beaujolais"]
On the other hand, Spanish tortillas
and Italian fritattas
have different requirements, as decreed by their more varied ingredients and flavours. With tortillas
, especially where chorizo
has been used, go for a modern, unoaked Spanish red, such as a straight Rioja Tempranillo
or the Iniza Tinto from Bodega el Cotijo de la Vieja
. Similarly, fritatta
will be well served by a youthful Italian red, such as a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Classica.
While goat’s cheese
comes in myriad different styles, one wine always seems to pair beautifully with it: sauvignon blanc. Whether raw or baked, in general, if there are stronger ingredients alongside the cheese, go for a richer style such as a Chilean
expression or even a white Bordeaux
, where the sauvignon is blended with the rounder sémillon grape. However, where the cheese is the star of the plate, and indeed, is one of the excellent matured British or French types, nothing beats a classic Loire sauvignon, such as a Sancerre
or a Touraine