Our wine writer Greg Landman shows us how to pair food and wine. Be warned. You might find yourself hankering for a bite to eat and a glass of vino.
A match made in heaven
Isn’t it marvellous how certain flavours just are made for each other? How one without the other is virtually unthinkable. Think bacon and eggs, cheese and tomato, orange and chocolate, melon and serrano ham, rum and raisin, jelly and custard – the list is endless.
Of course, a lot of it is common sense. For instance, drinking a heavy, bold Cabernet with a light fish dish does neither element any favours. Try Sauvignon Blanc with Durban style curry and see what I mean. Or take the same Sauvignon and have it with chocolate ice cream – yuck!
One of the most delicious ways to start a meal is with a free-range chicken or duck liver pâté (not foie gras, of course) served with cold, sweet wine like a late harvest or a fortified one. The flavours and combination of textures with a cracker or two will knock your socks off.
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Then there is the classic smoked salmon which I serve with boiled potato, béarnaise sauce and a spoonful of salmon roe. Try this with an ice-cold local bubbly to open up avenues of thought you had never imagined. Another favourite is leek and potato soup with lashings of cream served cold (vichyssoise) or hot (potage Parmentier). The cold version is best served by a wooded Chardonnay and the hot one goes perfectly with a cold Port or wooded Chenin.
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Sushi and simple fish dishes make the perfect pairing with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin. If you are serving seared tuna or other game fish, a light cold Pinot Noir ticks all the boxes.
The subject of meat is fiercely contested but go with your instinct. Obviously roast beef or red meat casseroles like oxtail work well with a robust red wine like Cabernet, Shiraz, or Pinotage.
If you’re serving roast pork, enjoy it with Merlot – even a wooded Chardonnay will do wonders. Take the edge off the saltiness of gammon with the help of a Pinot Noir or Sangiovese.
Roast chicken, nice and crispy not too heavily seasoned, cries out for a fabulous wooded Chardonnay or a perky Rosé.
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When it comes to curry dishes the field is so vast I am (almost) stumped for words. I hate to say it, but beer is the best thing with a very hot curry. The milder options, even with some bite, are great with a cold glass of Colombar wine – you could get away with a slightly sweet white blend, even a sweet bubbly.
As for Thai curries with their wide range of flavours and ingredients, especially the creamy ones, try an unwooded Chenin or Chardonnay. A Semillon goes down a treat with chicken and prawn dishes.
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Cheese and wine: a timeless duo. What would a host do without this string to their bow? First of all, take the cheeses out of the fridge at least two hours before serving – all of them – and let them breathe. During my travels in Europe, I knew someone who would buy Edam cheese in Holland and carry it through France storing it in his hotel room. After the first two days, I used to insist our meetings took place in the hotel library as the smell was somewhat overpowering. But to his credit, they never went off.
Port and Stilton or any really good blue cheese like the fabulous gorgonzola we get here, go superbly well together, while a soft Camembert or Brie with a late harvest wine served cold is equally enticing. If sweet is not your thing try a very good red wine, maybe a Cabernet with Cheddar or even Brie if it is getting on a bit for something really special. A walnut or two and some preserves like konfyt or green figs are proven winners at this game.
The cherry on top
There’s no need to complicate dessert; stick to bubbly with almost everything. Chocolate cake and a fabulous local MCC like Graham Beck is extravagant and unforgettable. Having said that, this is the time to bring out a brandy or two – brandy starts out as wine after all – or Jerepigo, Muscadel, or that bottle of witblits you bought in Calitzdorp years ago and haven’t had the courage to taste since then.
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There are dozens of food and wine pairing combinations. Just look at the wine farms with their fine chocolate, cupcakes, ice cream, nougat and fudge pairings. Then there are more traditional things like biltong, charcuterie and cheese. Pancakes and pizza have their fans and as you can see there are no rules. All of these experiences have their devotees and what works for you might be anathema for someone else. The Spanish love a cheap red wine mixed with Coke called Calimocho (Katemba in Mozambique) so who am I to argue. My rule of thumb is as long as it doesn’t harm the kids and the horses –and I don’t have to do it, it’s fine by me.