Wine Masterclass: Pairing Wine With Food

by Piotr Pietras MS

When deciding which wine to pair with a dish, there are several factors to take into consideration, primarily the ingredients of the dish. Most people make the mistake of only considering the main elements; however, whilst it is true that some ingredients will influence the flavour of the wine more than others, they forget that, when eating, most people never focus on the individual elements; they’re enjoying the experience as a whole, which is why it’s important for the wine and ingredients to compliment each other. 

The most important factors to consider are:

1. THE BASE. Is it a meat dish, a fish dish or a vegetable dish?
2. THE INGREDIENTS. Are there any potentially challenging ones? (E.g. artichoke, asparagus, radish or courgette.)
3. THE SAUCE. This is the most important component because fish, for example, can be served with a dark heavy sauce, a citrusy buttery sauce or another style, each of which will have a different influence on the taste of the wine.
4. THE WINE. Considering the qualities of the wine itself is key, yet often forgotten. For example, certain wines, which have spent time aging in the barrel or have texture will best suit dishes with spicier notes; whereas for sweeter dishes (e.g. if the sauce is based on mandarin), you’ll need a slightly sweeter dry wine to balance the sweetness on the plate. Are you planning to drink white wines? Champagnes? Red wines?

The best wines to cook with are sweet wines such as Port, Sherry and Madeira. Having been fortified with brandy, they are fantastic for preparing meat courses and also for some of the meatier fishes such as monkfish, swordfish and halibut. This surprises most people; however a red wine such as a Californian pinot noir would complement them perfectly. It’s rich and full-bodied so can hold its own against the meaty flavours of the dish, whereas a white wine would be overpowered.

‘I recommend serving monkfish alongside a deliciously rich Madeira sauce. It’s full of flavour and, when served with a complimentary red wine… ahhh sublime!’


There’s still a common misconception that fish should always be served with white wine but, actually, it works extremely well with fish. At Launceston Place, we serve a monkfish dish with a banana purée and spring onion sauce, which tastes incredible with a rich pinot noir.

Many people assume vegetable-based dishes work best with white wines; however pairing them with a delicate red wine can be extremely interesting. Ratatouille, for example, is quite meaty and chunky so works really well, as do vegetarian dishes with richer sauces.

There’s nothing better than a cheese board accompanied by red wine. Red wines are quite robust so they can compliment an enormous variety of cheeses perfectly. However, if you fancy something a little different, try replacing your cheese board with a rich and creamy vanilla cheesecake, perhaps accompanied by some berries to bring out the flavours in the wine, or a fondue. Delicious!

Many people assume that chicken and other white meats are best complimented by lighter white wines but, actually, the most important factor is which sauce its served with. For example, if you’re serving a rich, hearty stew, then a red wine will be best but, if you’re serving it alongside a creamy lemon sauce, a white wine will be most complementary. It’s all about the wine being versatile and complimenting the dish.

‘When deciding which wine to use, look at the main ingredients. What are the dominant flavours? Then pair your wine accordingly.’

When deciding which wine to pair with a dessert, always opt for a wine that is sweeter than the actual dessert because otherwise the wine will underperform, especially when faced with a sweeter dessert. You need to taste the wine and the food to see how it works. As a guideline, I recommend pairing richer, more concentrated desserts (e.g. chocolate or dark cherry desserts) with a sweet red wine. Or, for lighter, more summery desserts opt for a more delicate pairing. Lighter white wines - perhaps something sweet with floral, peachy or honeyed notes such as Tocai from Hungary or Sauternes from Boudreaux - work perfectly.

Sometimes it's difficult to know where to begin so here are are two of my favourite pairings. Enjoy!

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France, work extremely well with french goats cheese, especially Crottin de Chavignol from Loire Valley as it’s very delicate and the wines are very fresh and delicate so they won’t overwhelm the cheese.  

I personally really enjoy tasting the Crottin de Chavignol with a refreshing and lively champagne; something very crispy so that it cuts through the creamy texture of the cheese. Delicious!

Pinot Noir from Oregon, USA works incredibly well with roasted duck breast with a cherry chutney and sweet potatoes. Pinot Noir works miracles. Not only is it great alone but it also compliments an enormous variety of ingredients. It really is very versatile. That said, when you create the perfect pairing between the Pinot Noir and the ingredients, that’s when magic happens. If you taste the wine on its own or if you taste the food on its own… ok, they taste nice… BUT when you taste them together… woowwww! It makes a huge difference. The common denominator with this selection is that both have a freshness and fruitiness so, when you also consider that duck is quite a delicate, rich meat, it’s easy to see why they compliment each other so well.

Vegetarian? Try pairing the wine with a truffle risotto. It’s creamy, aromatic, mushroomy, earthy… so will work incredibly well with the Pinot Noir.

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