For us, the key is balance and our goal is to pair food with wine with neither dominating the palate. There is an infinite amount of things that influence our food and wine pairing. For me, I like to think of the texture & body of food and wine from light to light plus to medium to medium plus. This I have mapped out below for food in terms of the type of food, the cooking preparation, richness, spices of the food and recommended wines on the same spectrum. The effect of the growing season and oak usage for the wine also contribute to the attributes of a wine and are worth mentioning. So the whole map goes from light at the top to medium in the middle to medium plus at the base of the map. We all have different palates and taste things differently. And there in lies the fun of it all…
1. Type of food – are you going to prepare a fish or meat dish?
If you think of the different foods that you have eaten, think of the texture they have as you chewed them.
Fish typically has a more delicate texture compared to meat, i.e. there is a general increase in body and texture from fish to meat. Some fish have more delicate flesh such as whiting which lends itself better with a lighter bodied wine like a Sauvignon Blanc. While a fleshier fish like monkfish has more texture and will pair with a light plus bodied wine like a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc while an oiler fish like mackerel has more body and richness and can pair with a medium wine like a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Merlot.
While chicken or pork also have medium texture and pair well with Chardonnay or a Cabernet Merlot. Beef or lamb have much more body and texture and thus pair well with a medium plus bodied wine such as a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.
2. Cooking preparation
How you prepare a dish makes a difference to the weight, richness and body of the dish.
Lightly plain cooked foods, like steaming or poaching, pair with lighter bodied wines like a Sauvignon Blanc. Roast Turkey with trimmings of ham, bacon, chestnut stuffing, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts and roast spuds would be more medium bodied and would pair beautifully with a Cabernet Merlot.
3. Sauces/ richness of food
Sauces add richness to a dish. A light sauce will pair with a lighter wine while a medium sauce such as a tomato based one which has more body, will pair well with a medium bodied wine like a Chardonnay. While creamy sauces have more texture, are heavier so go well with a medium plus bodied wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon.
4. Flavour of the dish - Spice level of each
In Asia I have seen a roast Turkey marinated tandoori style to give it a spicy Asian twist. This spice will pair well with our Shiraz which has a little touch of spice to it.
5. Varietal/ blend of wine
Some grape varieties are lighter bodied than others. What I have done is to chart in general the varietal/ blend in the map above, starting from a light bodied wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc to a light plus Sauvignon Blanc Semillon or Semillon Sauvignon Blanc Blend to a medium bodied Chardonnay or Cabernet Merlot and Cabernet Franc to Medium plus Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
6. Winemaking style – with or without oak.
Oak gives a wine more texture and weight. We strive for the use of oak to be in balance with the fruit. For any given wine grape, see if it has had any oak treatment? If so how long for? So for example a Sauvignon Blanc that has had no oak treatment will be lighter bodied versus one that has been in oak barrels. Our Sauvignon Blanc has spent 10 months in oak barrels. For our Sauvignon Blanc Semillon we put about 10% of the blend (depending on the season) into oak barrels for a few weeks to give the wine more texture.
7. The growing and ripening season of the grapes
In choosing your wine, one factor to bear in mind is the vintage and where the wine is produced. This adds another interesting dimension. All things being equal, cooler seasons will see a wine tighter and generally lighter in alcohol and body. Warmer seasons give the vines/ grapes the capacity to ripen more and build up more complex flavours and hence body. So within any one region, there will be varying seasons. And similarly, there are cooler climate and warmer climate growing regions which impact the body of a wine. So for example the coolest season Margaret River has seen would be 2006, the whites are very fresh from this vintage. The reds are also lighter and have lower alcohol and than the following warmer season of 2007. By an aside, I was trying to find a bottle of Bordeaux red from 2010 and they were all 14 percent alcohol so 2010 must have been a warm dry season.
The wonderful thing about food and wine pairing is there are so many possibilities and there in lies the fun of the journey. So based on these tips along with what you have tasted, you can trial and find (new) pairings. Just think back to the various meals you have enjoyed, was there a pairing you thought worked and one you thought umm? One can always test the pairing in advance…
9. For deserts
I am certainly having fun exploring here. Discoveries include a pairing of mango crumble with our Cabernet Franc. And chocolate based desserts pair with our Shiraz. I discovered how well our Shiraz pairs with chocolate when I was in Jakarta participating in a wine & food fair with our local agent. A neighbouring stand was exhibiting chocolate… the great thing about these fairs is you chit chat and try each others products. I got to sample various chocolates with our wines and viola, choc & UMAMU Shiraz goes together!
Do you have a favourite pairing? We'd love to hear from you.
When creating the name for our wine brand, one of the prongs was having an affinity with umami, the fifth flavour of food… Our goal is to produce wines that drink on their own but also pair well with food.