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The Art of Wine Pairing: A Beginner’s Guide to Matching Flavours

Indulging in a fine dining experience is truly something special. When you find a restaurant that prepares the dishes you love, fresh and flavourful, and made with the highest quality ingredients, you will want to dine there again and again. What can truly elevate an elegant meal, though, is the right wine pairing. It takes some special knowledge and understanding of both food and wines, but with help from the experts, you can learn how to order the perfect wine to go with your meal every time. Here, sharing their wine pairing experience, Cornwall Hotel and Restaurant The Old Quay House offers wine and food pairing tips.

The Beauty of the Perfect Meal

When you understand how to choose the right wine to go with your meal, you can enhance the flavours and textures of both food and drink, increasing your overall enjoyment and elevating your meal into an extraordinary dining experience. Food and wine pairing is an art and science that has evolved over many centuries and across cultures, and it can be complicated to understand because of the vast number of possibilities. To find the right balance, so that the food and wine complement each other perfectly, you must understand a few key principles.

Food and Wine Pairing

Principles of Food and Wine Pairing

  • Know wine varieties and their characteristics. Learn about the differences between bold reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and more adaptable reds like Pinot Noir or Merlot. When it comes to whites, you should be able to distinguish between a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, which can be light and unoaked or rich and buttery.
  • Consider the intensity of flavour. Lighter wines go with lighter dishes, and richer dishes require heavier wines. A delicate poached salmon will work beautifully with a similarly delicate wine like Pinot Noir, while to balance a thick, juicy steak, you need a bold wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Think about the characteristics of the sauce. Many people make the mistake of focusing just on the dominant ingredient in a dish, but the supporting ingredients can make a significant difference in the flavour. If your sauce is tangy or citrus-based, for example, look for a wine with a high acidity, which will balance the flavours. If your sauce is creamy and rich, pair it with a buttery Chardonnay.
  • Learn about factors like acidity and tannins. Tannins are generally found in red wines, and they are the element that makes your mouth feel dry. That quality can be softened by the fats in foods, so a tannic wine might go well with a well-marbled steak. Acidity gives wine its tart taste, and it is best to balance the acidity in your food and wine. A high-acid wine can work with tangy food, while a less acidic wine is better with a creamy dish.
  • Know when to complement and when to contrast. Choosing between complementary and contrasting wines is really a matter of personal preference and mood. Certain pairings, like a fruity wine and a berry tart, seem like a matched set. Contrasting pairings, though, can be more exciting. Think of a spicy Thai dish, paired with a crisp, dry Riesling, and the dynamic push-pull of those flavours.

A Few Basic Rules of Thumb

These are a few general guidelines for pairing wines with different foods. You should never feel obligated to stick to the “rules”, however. Wine pairing has some flexibility because you want a wine you will enjoy. Feel free to try new things and see what tastes best to you. Let these guidelines serve as generalities, and perhaps a jumping-off point.

  • With seafood dishes, crisp, dry white wine is usually a safe bet. The richness of the seafood is balanced by the acidity of the wine, making your meal taste fresher. Sauvignon Blanc is often the go-to with seafood, but a lighter-bodied wine, like a dry Riesling or a Pinot Grigio, can also be refreshing, especially with spicy seafood. Another nice option is a sparkling wine, like Prosecco or Cava, which can go with any seafood dish, including oysters.
  • Grilled or roasted meats work best with red wine. This is because the meat will have charred, smoky notes, and the fruity complexity of the red wine will complement that nicely. Try a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot with roasted lamb or beef, or a Syrah or Zinfandel with burgers or grilled sausages.
  • White meat needs a lighter touch. Meats like chicken and turkey go well with light-bodied whites or medium-bodied red wines. A caveat: fried chicken calls for a sparkling wine, like Champagne or Prosecco, to cleanse the palate and provide a decadent contrast to the heaviness of the fried meat.
  • For vegetarian and vegan dishes, consider the type of dish. For a light salad, a white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Pino Grigio will be refreshing. With a richer, more flavour-intense vegetarian dish, Pinot Noir or Syrah are better options. If the dish is spicy, consider an off-dry white or a fruity red wine. Further, the appeal of a sparkling wine or rosé with vegetarian and vegan dishes should not be discounted.
  • When pairing wine with dairy, consider the fat. A high-fat cheese like gouda, for instance, will go well with a full-bodied red, while a fresh, light cheese like goat cheese will do better with white wines. Semi-soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert go well with sparkling wines and light reds, but blue cheeses work best with sweet dessert wines. Play around with different combinations until you find your favourite.
  • The wine you choose with something sweet depends on the decadence of your dessert. Sweet wines like Port or Sauternes are delicious with rich sweets, while fruity or light desserts are better served with Champagne or Prosecco. Look for a wine with a similar or higher sweetness than your dessert.
  • What about special dish wine matches? If you are ordering something a little bit out of the ordinary, perhaps something with which you are unfamiliar, do not hesitate to ask for a recommendation. Many restaurants have suggested wine pairings into which they have put a great deal of thought, so it can pay to ask.
Consider the Cuisine

Consider the Cuisine

Different cuisines have different flavour profiles, so you would choose different wines to go with the various dishes you might order.

  • Italian Cuisine: If you are eating tomato-based pasta, choose a red wine like Chianti or Barolo. On the other hand, seafood and light pasta dishes call for light wines like Pino Grigio or Vermentino. A hearty meat dish like Osso Buco or Bistecca Fiorentina needs a bold red like Brunello di Montalcino, while an indulgent Italian dessert like tiramisu pairs well with a sweet wine like Moscato d’Asti or Vin Santo.
  • French Cuisine: French cuisine, like Italian, has a rich and diverse range of flavours and ingredients, so there is a wide variety when it comes to wine pairing options. A traditional dish like coq au vin, for instance, will go with a red like Burgundy or Bordeaux, but seafood and goat cheese salads will be better complemented by a crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Having French pastries, like macarons or tarte tatin? Try a delicious glass of Champagne or Sauternes.
  • Asian Cuisine: The versatility of Asian cuisine, with flavours ranging from spicy to umami, allows it to pair with many different wines. Off-dry or sparkling wines are good for balancing spicy dishes, while rich, savoury, soy-based dishes go well with medium-bodied reds. Sushi and sashimi can work with light-bodied reds or crisp white wines, so experiment to find your perfect pairings.
  • Mexican Cuisine: Mexican cuisine tends to have fresh, simple, vibrant flavours, so it goes well with refreshing white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or a bold red like Zinfandel.
  • American Cuisine: American cuisine ranges from burgers and fries to barbecue to seafood, and just about everything in between. For that reason, you really must think of the flavours of the dish before choosing a wine. Pair light dishes like salads and seafood with crisp white wines, choosing bod reds for grilled steaks or stews. Do not forget about the possibility of trying something unexpected, like rosé with barbecue.

Culinary Wine Experiences at Old Quay House

If you are visiting Cornwall, The Old Quay House Hotel is the perfect Cornwall dining destination, where the menu is built around use of only the highest quality, locally sourced ingredients. The result is an inspired collection of creative, contemporary dishes that will cause you to rethink your opinions about British cuisine. Served with most flavourful, freshest dishes imaginable, The Old Quay House wine pairings take the dining experience to the next level. The Old Quay House Hotel is also a wonderful place to stay.

Nestled in the heart of Fowey, this riverside boutique hotel offers a modern-day bolthole away from life’s stresses and chores. Stay in one of our 13 luxurious bedrooms and you will enjoy not only big comfy beds and every amenity you need for a decadent stay, but also five-course meals and exquisite estuary views. Our location is perfect for exploring the quaint, bustling, seaside town of Fowey, enjoying its cafes, boutiques, and galleries, as well as venturing into some of the other beautiful places that this area so charming. Stay with us to explore Cornwall, and enjoy our delectable menus for breakfast, lunch, afternoon high tea, and dinner, in a gorgeous setting, where you can watch life on the estuary unfold from your vantage point on the terrace. In a town set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we strive to provide each of our guests with a unique experience.

Once a refuge for sailors, The Old Quay House is deeply connected to the area’s history, and the character of each bedroom is meticulously crafted to tell its own story, in keeping with that rich tradition. In our Victorian building, you will find friendly staff ready to make your stay comfortable and memorable, and while we cannot accommodate children under the age of 8, we welcome well-behaved, friendly dogs (dependant on availability). For more information about our rooms, special offers, or our spectacular restaurant, call +44 0172 683 3302, email [email protected], or contact us through our website.

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