DINNER PARTY DILEMMA: Food and wine matching is a balancing act.
I certainly don't expect friends to BYO if coming for dinner, but if they did bring a drop my response would be simple. At the next relevant point in the meal, open it. That's manners, right?
But knowing when to open a shiraz or semillon, or cork the chablis, is something I don't have a terribly sophisticated handle on.
For some pointers on wine and food matching I turned to Rockpool Bar & Grill's wine director Sophie Otton. She has a team of sommeliers working for her at the restaurant and presides over a 3300-strong cellar with wines as old as 1889 and fortifieds dating back to 1827.
"There are no rules, you just go with what feels suitable," she says.
"It's all about balance really, that's the rule."
Balance being important because you don't want your guests to end up totally pickled (and reaching for the Singstar microphone before dessert!) or so full they're going to have trouble sleeping. You've put all this effort into the meal so you want all elements, from the side dishes to the wine, to complement each other.
So while there are no "rules" per se, there is a way to approach wine and food matching to bring out the best in both your guests and your menu.
Otton says a standard progression during a meal is from lighter, crisper whites to more lush varieties. Then from lighter reds onto heavier. But bear in mind the season. Coming into the warmer months, the heavier reds tend to take a back seat in favour of lighter styles. Consider a dry rose as an alternative, suggests Otton. It can offer the best of both worlds.
Bubbly also becomes more popular as the festive season approaches.
"Champagne is always good to start in the sense that it has this wonderful effect on people," she says.
"Whereas cocktails can be a bit strong."
If you don't want to get too fancy about the wine, one option is to choose a few versatile drops and stick with them.
"I'd say light reds can pretty much handle anything, and heavier whites," she says.
On the white front, the much-maligned chardonnay is a good option. As is the Marsanne Rousanne, which Otton describes as "underrated".
"If you just wanted to drink white, you could do something that's got a little bit of bottle age as well as some richer, fuller bodied flavours," she says.
"So long as the freshness is still there."
For the light reds, a savoury pinot noir that isn't too fruit driven can handle even heavier red meat dishes. Or sangiovese, an Italian varietal that's growing in popularity here.
"Sangiovese is beautiful like that, savoury, dry with tannins," she says.
"It can manage across the range, if you have one style."
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD
For a more serious focus on wine and food matching, Otton has two strategies – complement or contrast.
Contrasting is a good approach for a course that's rich and heavy on the fat, for example dry aged beef or shellfish like lobster or prawns served with a creamy sauce. The wine's qualities need to be almost opposite that of the meal, but still with a common element to link it.
"If you've got a lovely, rich succulent piece of beef, and you've also got a very rich red with a lot of sweet fruit and say alcohol, it's a bit of a heavy experience," she says.
"You want something to be able to cut in underneath. It's tiring [otherwise]. You don't want to feel weighed down by the food."
She suggests wines that have some intensity and complexity of flavours but not presented in a big body ie. not a massive alcohol content. It also needs some acid to lift it.
Red options: cooler climate reds that have a longer growing season such as Hunter Valley shiraz, Yarra Valley and Heathcote wines from Victoria, and Rhone Valley syrah from France.
White options: A chardonnay with acidity and freshness.
For lighter dishes such as sashimi or salads, Otton suggests choosing a wine that will complement the cuisine, not overpower it. A young Semillon is a delicate wine for delicate food, she suggests. Other options include gruner vertliner, riesling and pinot grigio.
An off-dry riesling is also a good option for Asian food, particularly dishes with a bit of spice.
"Off-dry, as in carrying a little bit of sugar, it just helps to carry the dishes,'' she says.
For dessert, Otton says the wine should be sweeter that the confection served up.
"But not necessarily by much, otherwise the flavours will be distorted," she says.
For a fruit based desserts, including tarts and other pastries, stick with a dessert wine. For a chocolate based dessert, consider a fortified, slightly chilled but not cold. Tokays are a good option as they're a bit lighter and not as sweet as muscat.
"Instead of having a wine with dessert I tend to just have a digestif," she says.
"It's a herbal liqueur or bitter liqueur that helps to settle the stomach. It really works, it's just beautiful."
A good way to make up for any wine-food matching "mistakes" in previous courses, perhaps?
- Sydney Morning Herald
Orignal From: Matching wine with your food