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Wines to Enhance your Food

Before I met up with Marie-Danielle (who is now my wife) I knew what wines I liked, but I didn't know why. I just knew that a certain wine went well with a certain type of meat. The only thing I was absolutely certain of was that I loved French wines but had difficulty finding others that gave me the same pleasure. I tried wines from South Africa, Australia, California, Chile, Italy, Spain and even something totally unpronounceable from R�mnicu Sărat in Romania! But nothing pleased my palate like the French wines.

OK, I'm generalizing! Sure there are some good wines coming out of the California valleys and certainly there is more than a handful of notable Australian wines, but in terms of quality and choice, I never was able to beat French wines. Good job really since I went on to marry a French woman! So forgive me if my choice of wines tends to be French. It's just that these are the wines I know and enjoy.

Before moving to France (about 1993) I lived in England where it was considered snobbish to match wine with the food. If you asked for a bottle of wine in an average restaurant, the question you got back was. "Red or White?". That was the limit, at the time, of people's appreciation of wine. Things are better now, but there is still a huge mystique about choosing wines, so here's my quick guide that I hope will help you decide. Ultimately the choice of wines that best accompany your meal depends on personal taste. However here are some fundamental rules of thumb that can help you narrow the choice a little.

Wines that go well with Roast Beef
Wines that go well with Roast Lamb
Wines that go well with Roast Venison
Wines that go well with Roast Pork
Wines that go well with Roast Chicken
Wines that go well with Roast Turkey
Wines that go well with Roast Fowl
Wines that go well with Fish and Shellfish
Red Wines - Summary of Grape Varieties
White Wines - Summary of Grape Varieties

Wines that go well with Roast Beef

Typical Bordeau Grape VarietyMost red wines (except for the really bad ones!) go well with a nice roast of beef. In fact, the chewiness of the meat has the effect of making the tannins that you find in red wines more subtle. So roast beef and red wines are great bed-fellows. The real challenge is to find a wine that enhances the flavour of the beef and adds pleasure to the eating experience.

Assuming that you are serving your beef rare (is there another way?), a tannic wine such as Bordeaux, or one of the better Languedoc-Roussillon wines could be considered. Equally good would be a Costières de Nîmes from the Rh�ne Valley (we have some excellent Chateau de Raty in the cellar), or a Côte-Rôtie from the same region. One that we enjoy is a Hermitage, coming from the northern Rhône wine region, the spiritual home of the Syrah grape variety

If you want to stray beyond the French borders, a couple of other wines that enhance the flavours of red meat are Rioja (pronounced "Ree-o-ka") from northern Spain or a Valpolicella from the Veneto region or northern Italy.

As a little aside, one of my absolute favourites, but only suitable with rich red meats is Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône wine region in southeastern France. Available both in red and white wines, the red is a full-bodied, rich combination of grape varieties. In most red Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache noir is the most common variety, producing a sweet juice that can have almost a jam-like consistency when very ripe. Syrah is typically blended to provide color and spice, while Mourvèdre adds elegance and structure to the wine. One that I have quietly tucked away in our wine rack is a 1999 Château de Vaudieu. I will wait till we decide on venison or wild boar before opening one of those little gems!

Wines that go well with Roast Lamb

Cabernet Sauvignon GrapesLamb is far less able to stand up to tannins in the same way as rare roast beef will. The sweet fattiness of the lamb fights with the bitterness of the tannins, leaving an unpleasant pungent taste. For this reason, the only way that any of the heavy-tannined wines can be served with roast lamb is if they are sufficiently mature for the tannins to have mellowed. A mature Saint-�milion from the Bordeaux wine region is particularly suitable. Traditional red Burgundy is famous for its savoury fleshiness and 'farmyard' aromas, but Saint-�milion is a far lighter Bordeaux than many.

You might also want to try a Cabernet Sauvignon with your lamb. Its a global classic, being produced in most wine-making countries and tends to be medium or full bodied. It's a great match to hearty dishes like roast lamb and also more complex dishes such as coq au vin.

If your budget doesn't stretch to buying mature wines, there are several less expensive options such as a Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region. The Vigne des Seigneurs is of particular note. In fact, The United States has increasingly become a major Pinot Noir producer, with some of the best coming from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and California's Sonoma County. In the broadest terms, the wine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma reminiscent of cherry, raspberry and other red and black berry fruits.

Wines that go well with Roast Venison

Chardonnay GrapesVenison can be a difficult to match with a good wine; the meat is strong and gamey and it's a fine balancing act between meat and wine so that one doesn't 'outperform' the other. However, when the venison is roasted and served rare, a good Chardonnay takes some beating. In the Chablis region of France, it is the only grape permitted and it renders a "crisp, flinty" wine.

"Rich" is the word that best describes Chardonnay, and this explains its popularity. Its aroma is often appealing, yet delicate, difficult to characterize yet easy to recognize. Like sponges, chardonnay grapes tend to soak up the influences of both vinification technique and appellation of origin and California Chardonnay is every bit as exciting as its French counterpart.

A good Merlot, like a Chateau Martet, would also be an excellent choice with game meat like venison. Most major wine-producing country have Merlot vineyards. In France, Merlot has a starring role north of Bordeaux's Gironde River, where it is the basis of the St. Emilion and Pomerol wines. If you can get hold of a Chateau Haut Tropchaud or a Chateau Faytit-Clinet you'll never regret it!

Diversifying for a moment... a couple of times, we have spent a long weekend in a wonderful country hotel called "Hôtel Doux Repos" in Haute Bodeux in the Ardennes region of Belgium (Google Earth 50.359727,5.805361). Their superb restaurant specializes in game (it's a big hunting region) and on one occasion, having eaten venison the night before, I chose a hearty plate of wild boar. With it, I drank a 1995 Barolo - La Rocca e La Pirra - from the Piedmont region of North-West Italy. This wine was ruby-coloured with glints of orange around the edges, holding the classic Barolo flavours of flowers, minerals and cherries... wow, what a joy! I know wild boar is not venison, but the same rules apply... it's a game meat that needs the balance of a good wine and, on that occasion, I really hit lucky. If the world had ended just after the dessert, I would have died a happy man!

Wines that go well with Roast Pork

St Estephe WineWhat to eat with roast pork, eh? It's a problem because pork is a very fatty meat and all that fat causes even more problems with tannins than it does with lamb! With pork, being a light meat, you can actually go for either a red or a white. If you want to serve a red wine, try something very soft like an ageing Saint-Estèphe. Saint-Estèphe wines have a finer acidity, tannic structure and colour than other Médoc wines. With maturity a Saint-Estèphe acquires stronger fruit flavours and becomes more rounded and elegant. It is definitely a wine that improves with age, and can be kept for some considerable time. We are nursing some bottles of Chateau Tronquot-Lalande from 2000 and 2001 which might catch our attention one of these fine days!

Also with roast pork, you can try a soft pinot noir like a Savigny-lès-Beaune or a Nuits-Saint-Georges (particularly Domaine de la Vougeraie from the village of Premeaux-Prissey where the wines are often on the lighter side). Dry whites such as Chablis and Muscadet can also work well with pork as long as you are not accompanying the meat with anything sweet like apple sauce.

Wines that go well with Roast Chicken

Corton Charlemagne wineIf you are eating your chicken without herbs such as garlic, thyme, chilli, or rosemary, it's easy to mask the flavour of the chicken by choosing a wine that is too heavy. Generally lighter flavoured whites such as Merlot (Chateau Valentin - a Margaux) or Chenin Blanc (Vigneau-Chevreau) make good partners for roast chicken.

Now I know full well that the two largest regions producing merlot today are California and France. If you are deciding on a merlot, bear in mind that the merlots from France tend to seek a balance between the non-fruit and fruit aspects. California merlots tend to emphasize the fruit first. If you tasted one alongside the other, you would understand the difference in their nature.

If you're changing the basic flavour of the chicken with some herbs you could go for a light white wine like a good C�te de Beaune Chardonnay like Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, or even the imperial Corton-Charlemagne.

Wines that go well with Roast Turkey

Wine for Thanksgiving turkeyWith turkey, it's almost case of choosing the turkey to go with the wine rather than the wine to go with the turkey. If you're going to eat a cheap supermarket turkey, you might as well save money and drink Coke (or diesel oil). There is little point in investing in a good bottle of wine when the meat is tasteless and bland. Better to splash out on a good-quality free-range, corn-fed turkey that has been hung to give it some flavour - particularly if you are cooking Turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

As with roast chicken, roast turkey is in danger of being swamped by the flavour of the wine, so apply the same guidelines as roast chicken - a light-bodied Margaux like Chateau Notton or a really vibrant wine like the 2001 Chenin Blanc from Chappellet Vineyard in the Napa Valley. This particular wine is barrel fermented and aged in old French oak barrels. This adds a note of richness and fullness to the natural fruitiness of the stainless steel fermented wines.

Wines that go well with Roast Fowl

Wine for Duck or GooseAgain, lots of fat can cause problems with tannins but, assuming you have a good-quality bird and have cooked it properly, it should not be too fatty. Both duck and goose have lots of flavour that invites a wine that is capable of standing up to it. Mature vintages of "big wines" such as that Italian Barolo - La Rocca e La Pirra - that I mentioned unfer the Roast Venison section, or the vintage red Bordeaux, often referred to as 'claret' can work here.

The Bordeaux can be tricky simply because there are so many of them to choose from, but the best recent vintages are 1982 - 1990 - 2000 - 2005 (2009 and 2010 will come good if they are left to age). If your pocket can stretch to it, a Château Lafite Rothschild or a Château Latour would give your duck or goose a big hug and thank them for being their friends!

Game birds such as pheasant or grouse need a wine that can stand up to their "gaminess" without being overpowering. A young Rioja or a merlot-dominated Bordeaux like St Emilion or Pomerol can all work well. And just to prove that I can occasionally think of wines beyond European borders, New World Pinot Noirs also have their place when consumed with game birds.

Wines that go well with Fish and Shellfish

Pairing wine with seafood can be a daunting prospect. Certainly white wines are generally the right choice but what about fish with heavy sauces? And should you use the same wine with lobster egg foo young that you would choose for lobster thermidor?

Here are some 'down-and-dirty' guidelines that might help clarify the issue! The grape varieties I have listed appear in the "Summary of Grape Varieties" lower down.


This grape variety from Spain (and, to a lesser extent, the Verdelho from Portugal) is now being grown in California. Both these wines are perfect with clams, mussels and scallops as well as lobster and crab. Try Spicy Baby Octopus with a good bottle of Zarate El Palomar; it will truly blow you away.

Champagne and other 'sparkling' wines

Sparkling wine is, surprisingly, a perfect choice for fried fish like Fish in Breadcrumbs. Sparkling wines like Champagne cut through the batters and breadcrumbs and oil of fried food as if they were created for the task. Naturally, as you would expect, Champagne also pairs well with caviar!

Chardonnay, Fumé Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Gris

This grape variety produces the fuller whites that make an excellent choice for crab, raw oysters and simple lobster dishes. What you are actually doing is matching a full-bodied wine with a full bodied dish. For fish that are a little more oily, like bluefish or a simple dish like Maquereaux au Vin Blanc, move towards the Pinot Gris or Viognier.

Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio grape varieties

Dry, aristocratic and crisp, these are the wines you should look for when serving simply cooked lean, white fish like flounder, snapper, cod, halibut or simple fish dishes like Sole Véronique. Raw oysters and clams also do well with these wines. Alternately, you can use wines from these grape varieties to cut through the natural fat in seafood such as catfish, lobster, shrimp or mussels.

Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sangiovese, Grenache

These grapes produce light, red wines that do quite well with the slightly fatty "big-flavour" fish like mackerel, swordfish, salmon, marlin, tuna and bluefish. You can also use this variety with seafood and sauce combinations like Carpaccio Style Octopus. Be careful though, these reds do not react well with spicy seafood, leaving you with a metallic taste in the palate.

Riesling, Gewurztraminer

These are the fuller whites that often have some lingering sweetness to them. I go for these wines with anything spicy like Spicy Baby Octopus or Sautéed Calamari. Gewurztraminer is especially good with Asian seafoods, marrying perfectly with the tropical flavors.

Rosé Wines

Rosé wines can be fun in summer when you are maybe grilling or barbequeing swordfish or tuna steaks but otherwise, the only time we touch a rosé is when we are eating Japanese. With Maki Sushi, Nigiri-zushi and Sashimi, a light rosé is a natural, bringing out the flavour of the raw, oily fish.

Red Wines - Summary of Grape Varieties

Barbera d'Asti like Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d'Asti
Italian Barbera goes well with pasta, tomato-based dishes and dishes from the North of Italy.
Pasta and Fresh Tomato Sauce
Pasta and Pesto
Spaghetti Bolognese

Cabernet Sauvignon like Chateau d'Og
A global classic, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be medium or full bodied and is a great match to hearty dishes such as lamb and beef, and more complex poultry dishes.
Minted Lamb Meatballs
Flank Steak With Cabrales Cheese
Coq au vin

Gamay like Chateau de Raousset, a Fleurie from Beaujolais
An ideal wine for a barbeque since it's at its best when served alongside griddled vegetables, barbecued sardines or spicy sausages. Works well if you place it in the fridge for an hour before opening, and serve lightly chilled.
Sausage and Bacon Kebabs
Kansas Dry Rub Ribs
Mozzarella and Tomato Skewers

Grenache like Chateauneuf du Pape
The perfect partner to game and cassoulet.
Rabbit with Mustard
Stewed Pigeons

Malbec like Les Hauts de Saint-Georges
Malbec-based wines are at their best as a match to grilled or stewed steak.
Easy BarBeQue Steaks
Steak and Kidney Pie
Steak with Mustard Cream Sauce

Merlot like Chateau de Fonbel St Emilion
Merlot is a dream with your Thanksgiving turkey or roast chicken lunch. It also pairs well with roast duck and deep, rich casseroles.
Turkey with Chestnut & Apple Stuffing
Crispy Duck with Grape Sauce
Chicken with Garlic Cloves

Nebbiolo like Barolo and Barbaresco wines from Northern Italy
A young Barbaresco goes perfectly with a cold meat platter, while Barolo wines are at their best with richer dishes like braised beef.
Ploughman's Lunch (Barbaresco)
Boeuf � la Bourguignone (Barolo)
Country Beef Stew (Barolo)

Pinot Noir like Vigne des Seigneurs
Medium bodied Pinot Noir will happily grace any table. It's at its best when married with roast turkey or roast lamb. It also works well with creamy, mild soft cheeses.
Slow Cooked Lamb with Maple Syrup
Roast Lamb Guard of Honour with Peppercorn Sauce
Hot Camembert with Cherry Filling

Pinotage like Diemersfontein Pinotage (a uniquely South African grape variety)
Pinotage has a truly rustic character so is a natural with just about anything barbecued or fried.
Sticky Sausage in a Roll
Honey Spare Ribs
Graham's Mixed Grill

Syrah (or Shiraz) like Côtes du Rhône
This grape variety produces full bodied wines that go particularly well with grilled steaks and rich, winter dishes.
Beef and Ale Pie
Daube Provençale
Pulled Pork with Pineapples

Tempranillo like Rioja
The bright red juicy wines from the Tempranillo grape (mostly used in Spain) are a perfect match for lighter meats, roasted vegetables and mushrooms, and vegetarian main courses.
Stuffed Mushrooms
Sicilian-style Cauliflower with Wholemeal Pasta
Victorian Chicken Pie

Zinfandel like Buehler Zinfandel
The Zinfandel grape has been a cornerstone of the California viticulture scene for 150 years, creating medium to full bodied wines that go well with mushrooms and hearty dishes such as roast venison.
Chicken Liver and Mushrooms on Ciabatta
Mushrooms � la Grècque
Guinness Beef Stew

White Wines - Summary of Grape Varieties

Albariño like Zarate El Palomar As Spain's sunniest white wine this grape variety pairs beautifully with the simplest, freshest shellfish, especially prawns, langoustines, mussels and raw oysters.
Scallops à ma façon (scallops - my way)

Chardonnay like Pouilly-Fuissé
Chardonnay creates dry, medium bodied wines and is an ideal accompaniment to light chicken and turkey dishes, smoked salmon or trout.
Chicken With Sesame Seeds
Salade des Gourmets
Chinese Chicken Salad

Chenin Blanc like Vigneau-Chevreau
Try a dry Chenin Blanc alongside straightforward roast pork, or stuffed pork. Sweet Chenin Blancs pair well with a tangy lemon dessert or a bread and butter pudding.
Stuffed Pork with Redcurrant Sauce
Roasted Loin of Pork
Bread and Butter Pudding

Colombard like Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux
generally producing light to medium bodied wines, the Colombard grape works extremely well with a goat's cheese salad, root vegetable soups and chicken in creamy sauces.
Grilled Goats Cheese Salad
Leek and Potato Soup
Chicken Pot Pie

Gew�rztraminer like Chateau LaFayette-Reneau
The Gew�rztraminer grape grows best in cooler climates and produces such classics as Riesling. The dry wines are ideal with Asian flavours and spiced foods, while sweet suits fruit tarts and creamy blue cheeses.
Simple Chicken Curry
Fruity Beef Curry with Rice
Pears with Blue Cheese Dressing

Muscat like Muscat of Frontignan
Drink Muscat on its own as an aperitif or with pastries, ice cream, fruit cake or sweet puddings.
Meringues with Clotted Cream and Strawberries
Queen of Puddings
Crunchy Stuffed Pears

Pinot Gris like Tokay d'Alsace
Pinot Gris makes intense white wines that are perfectly acceptable to enjoy with friends, without food. If you're having Chinese food, then a typical Pinot Gris goes well with most Asian style cooking.
Chicken Chow Mein
Peking Duck
Stir Fried Pork with Spring Onions

Riesling like Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling
The more delicate 'Old World' Rieslings from Germany are perfect as an aperitif, while the young 'New World' ones are excellent with dishes such as Thai green curry and chicken korma. The sweeter Reislings are a good match with apple crumble or vanilla ice cream.
Okra Bhaji
Apple Crumble
Profiteroles au Caramel

Sauvignon Blanc like Sancerre
Dry styles like Sancerre a good with cheeses while the sweeter Sauvignon Blanc wines are the classic match for foie gras. The also work well with creamy blue cheese, or caramelised peaches or plums.
Escalopes of Foie Gras with Dates and Pears
Fresh Fruit Salad
Foie Gras Escalopes on Spice Bread

Semillon like Chateau D'Yquem (the absolute classic Sauterne)
Semillon wines like Graves, Sauternes and Monbazillac are perfect with sweet foods, but also, in France, are drunk with Foie Gras - a match made in heaven. Apricot tart, treacle sponge, or other sweet traditional puddings, are perfect with sweet styles.
Rice Pudding with Clotted Cream
Graham's Apple Delight
Orange and Honey Fluff

Viognier like Coteaux du Languedoc
A stylish, exotically aromatic variety producing an intense, dry white wine with lots of fruit and a flavour. Enjoy it on its own as an apertif, or try with richer 'fish fusion' recipes such as the three below.
Butter Roasted Monkfish Tail with Sweet Pepper Risotto
Fish in Cream and Mustard Sauce
Monkfish Medallions � l'Orange


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