mcguigan the shortlist bottle with food

A Guide to Food and Wine Pairing

The right food and wine pairing can turn a good night into an unforgettable one. There is very little better in life than good company, great wine and fantastic food, and harmonising these three makes for an unforgettable evening. However, food and wine pairing doesn’t need to be left just to the sommeliers and chefs but is easily achievable by anyone with an interest in food and wine. And after all, if you get it entirely wrong, you’re still eating beautiful food, drinking great wine and enjoying the company of your loved ones - so there’s little to lose when trying out new food and wine pairing tips.

The Basics of Pairing Food and Wine

When creating any truly brilliant dish, the key is balancing flavours; finding the perfect complement of acidic, sweet and salty tastes. And when it comes to pairing wine with a meal, these principles don’t change. There are, however, two ways you can pair food and wines; by congruently pairing your food and wine or by complementing them. When contrasting (or congruently pairing) the flavours of your vegetable, animal or mineral, you create what could be described as a “smack in the face”. While a complementary flavour combination will give you the feeling of a perfect marriage in your mouth. Either way, food and wine pairing is a fun, delicious and enjoyable pursuit.

Foods that share similar compounds will complement each other when eaten together, and this goes for food and wine pairings as well. This premise can be seen in the harmony created when consuming cheese and tomato together or apple and honey. On the other hand, food or wine pairings with very few compounds in common will work well together, as their differences create contrast and enhance the flavours in their partner. When attempting a food and wine pairing, the very basic ground rules are not to overwhelm one with the other and decide ahead of time if you want to complement the dish or enhance it.

Complementary Pairings vs Congruent Pairings

Before you start practising your food and wine pairings, it is important to understand the difference between flavour and taste. Flavours are the compounds and aromas which arise from the natural ingredients of your food or wine. Tastes, on the other hand, are the individual characteristics that make up these flavours, such as salt, acid, fat, spice, sweetness. Once we understand these, it is much easier to pair food and wine as we look for tastes that complement or contrast one another.

There are two different ways to go about food and wine pairing; congruent food and wine pairing and complimentary food and wine pairing. A good example of this is to look at the way different people might eat lobster. Some enjoy lobster with butter; this is a complementary pairing with both flavours being fatty, rich, creamy and delicate. Other people, however, may enjoy lobster with a squeeze of lemon; this is a congruent pairing, with the lemon’s bright acidic sharpness contrasting the softness of the lobster.

The savoury depth of a Pinot Noir, like McGuigan's Single Batch Pinot Noir, is regularly paired with meaty fish or gamey meats. However, if you wish your pairing to enhance, rather than complement the dish, a congruent food and wine pairing utilising a Pinot Noir, would be matching it up with a cheese and wine board, allowing the tannins of the wine to cut through the fats of the cured meats and cheeses.

Food and Wine Pairing Tips

What grows together, goes together.

It is conventional food and wine pairing wisdom that foods and wines with the same providence will have flavours that marry together. Classic examples of this include a nice Italian prosecco and parmesan or a goats cheese and Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France. Likewise, McGuigan Cellar Select Chardonnay harmonious flavour profile and freshness congruently pair well with richer meals such as decadent Mulloway fish pie from locally sourced South Australian fish.

Try swapping your well-known wine for a similar grape

While it is easy to have your favourite wines and return to them time and again, it can be eye-opening to try something new, as well as creating a good conversation starter for your next dinner party. Why not try a different grape you’ve never heard of before? Or forgo the alcohol and enjoy an alcohol-free food and wine pairing. With the bright and lifted aromas of delicate grapefruits and strawberries, as well as the generous palate you’d expect of a Rose, McGuigan Zero Chardonnay Alcohol Free perfectly complements a summery Nicoise salad. Its crisp and refreshing finish can also congruently pair with pasta dishes that feature-rich, creamy feta cheese, as the food and wine pairing lifts the pasta up and makes it sing.

Tell a story with your pairing

Good dinner party stories can make or break your social gathering, and so too can the stories you tell with your food and wine pairing. You can transport yourself to the seaside when pairing a slightly briny Chablis and oysters, with the salt of the oyster making the wine sing. Or create a moody meal by mirroring the charred components of a dish with a Nerello Mascalese grown in volcanic soil. Whatever story you choose to tell, good food and wine pairing can make you stop and imagine you are on another continent entirely.

Keep an almost universal pairing wine on hand

It is always a good idea to have a wine up your sleeve, which pairs with basically any food. McGuigan Shortlist Riesling is one such wine. With its crisp palate and well-balanced green flavours, the lemon blossom and apple notes can balance spicy Thai food with its acidity and sweetness as easily as they can complement the delicacy of sashimi.