News & views | Wine pairing: it’s not about rules just useful knowhow

News & views

Wine pairing: it’s not about rules just useful knowhow

Every so often someone has a go at food and wine pairing. The media love it as they like to knock anything to do with wine (the other old chestnut being that wine professionals haven’t a clue because they can’t always recognise wines blind)

The latest is a post on Eater headed It’s Time to Forget the Old Rules of Wine Pairing by a Miami-based sommelier called Bianca Sanon

One of Sanon’s arguments - and it’s a fair one - is that in many restaurants nowadays small plates are the norm and it’s impossible to find one wine that will go with them all let alone take into account everyone’s personal taste.

But that’s not the only occasion on which we eat. More often at home - and it is more often at home nowadays - we decide to make a dish and have to choose what to drink with it. Easy enough, goes the argument, drink what you like but wouldn’t it be better having taken the trouble to cook something special to find something that would show it off?

It’s this idea that any advice about the subject constitutes a 'rule' that I have an issue with “There is a long history of the all-knowing wine guru telling you that you absolutely must have X with Y.” (No there isn’t. It’s merely a suggestion, a prompt.)

“There is no such thing as an objectively perfect pairing” she continues.

I agree no more than there’s a perfect rendition of a particular dish but that doesn’t mean that if you’re enthusiastic about a particular combination you shouldn’t communicate it on the basis that someone mightn’t like it.

Take sauvignon blanc and goats cheese. Of course it won’t appeal if you like neither sauvignon or goats cheese in which case there are a number of other options such as rosé - no-one’s pretending that there aren’t. But MOST people will enjoy it. Same with duck and pinot noir or fish and chips and fizz. It’s useful to have a few combinations up your sleeve just as you know that tomatoes, mozzarella and basil are great bedfellows.

20 food and wine pairings to learn by heart

I like Sanon’s advice - pair to the vibe - and the people and the occasion. I wouldn’t serve natural or orange wine to your conservative in-laws for example or a high alcohol sweet-fruited cabernet to a natural wine fan but you can tailor the type of wine to your audience and still consider the flavours, just as you would if you were choosing a side.

‘Drink what you like’ is really not that helpful a counsel. Translate that into ‘forget recipes just eat what you like’. Most people are not confident enough to cook without a recipe yet no-one says they shouldn't follow someone else’s guidance.

In her desire not to put up barriers Sanon claims ‘most wines will taste pretty okay with most foods’. But it’s not really helpful to people to suggest that they do if they end result is disappointing. If you drink a full-bodied shiraz with your spaghetti carbonara or a dry white wine with your dessert it’s nothing to beat yourself up about but the people you’re feeding or hosting might enjoy it more if you poured them an Italian white or a sweet wine respectively.

Basically it comes down to hospitality. If you have a bit of knowledge of food and wine pairing you can make the experience of being round your table more enjoyable for your guests and who can argue with that?"

If you're new to food and wine pairing you may find this post useful

A beginner's guide to pairing food and wine

Top image by Yulia Grigoryeva at

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