Top pairings | What wine (or other drinks) should you pair with herbs?

Top pairings

What wine (or other drinks) should you pair with herbs?

Do herbs ever have a strong enough influence on a dish to determine your wine pairing? Relatively rarely in my view. Only very herby sauces like pesto or salsa verde dominate a dish to such an extent that you need to choose a wine to accommodate them.

That said some herbs do tend to steer you in a certain direction and some wines, particularly sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc have a distinctly herbal character.

Some general pointers about pairing herbs and wine

  • Soft herbs like basil, dill and tarragon tend to go better with white wine than ‘hard’ herbs like rosemary and thyme which are generally better with reds (the only exception to that is sage)
  • Fresh herbs are more likely to go with white and rosé than dried herbs such as oregano or a classic Herbes de Provence. The exception is dried mint which is used quite widely in Greek cooking and tends to go just as well with a sharp lemony white as a red.
  • Freshly picked herbs or herbs that are sold in bunches on market stalls and at greengrocers tend to have more flavour and therefore influence on a pairing than herbs that are sold in packets
  • Quite often herbs are used together - like parsley, coriander and mint or mint and coriander. In this case it’s best to be guided by the style of the dish - is it middle eastern, for example or Vietnamese?

The good news is that there are herbs that you don’t need to worry about too much, for instance parsley (in general though see below), chives - just subtly oniony - and dried oregano which is normally dominated by other ingredients - e.g. tomato sauce on a pizza or tomato, onion, and olives in a Greek salad

The 10 herbs that may influence your wine pairing

Basil

In general best with a dry Italian white such as gavi di gavi, vermentino or verdicchio especially when made into a pesto. When used in conjunction with tomatoes - as it frequently is - then the tomatoes are more likely to dictate the pairing.

The best wine matches for tomatoes

Dill

Has a natural affinity with sauvignon blanc but is also good with peppery Austrian grüner veltliner and Hungary’s dry furmint. Arguably better still with a pils, or a frozen glass of aquavit or vodka.

Coriander/cilantro

This love-it-or-hate-it herb is used in such a wide range of contrasting cuisines - Mexican, middle-eastern and south-east Asian, for example - that it’s hard to generalise but I’d say when it’s used in fresh tasting dishes I’d go for sauvignon blanc or dry riesling and with meaty curries a carmenère or cabernet franc

Chervil

Relatively rarely encountered on its own though the classic constituent of omelette fines herbs which I’d accompany with a crisp dry white like a Chablis or perhaps, better still, a furmint

Parsley

Rarely dominant except in tabbouleh (which suits a crisp white wine or rosé) or salsa verde (along with mint, basil (sometimes) and punchy capers) which I personally think suits an Italian red like Chianti Classico best.

Mint

Has a real affinity with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends, especially when used in lamb dishes. Salads containing mint are also good with sharp whites such as sauvignon blanc and Greek assyrtiko. With peas and mint I like pinot but then that’s more about the peas

Tarragon

Particularly good with chardonnay, especially white burgundy, maybe because it’s often combined with two chardonnay-loving ingredients, chicken and cream. Also good with oaked white Bordeaux

Sage

A herb that’s used in a variety of recipes, from Italian dishes such as calves liver (Chianti or Langhe Nebbiolo) to pumpkin ravioli (a smooth dry Italian white such as Soave or a light chardonnay - also good with roast butternut squash). It’s also a regular companion for pork where I think it goes really well with an earthy Rhone white or, better still, with cider.

Thyme

Lovely with onions and therefore with cider, again. Can show up in classic British dishes like a beef stew where I think it goes well with red Bordeaux and in a whole raft of Mediterranean dishes from Greece (try a Greek red like Agiorgitiko) to Provence. Elsewhere in southern France where grows wild in the garrigue I like it with the local red blends made from grenache, syrah and mourvedre.

Rosemary

One of the most wine-friendly of herbs - again great with southern French reds from the Rhône to the Roussillon, with cabernet sauvignon but above all with Italian reds such as Chianti and other sangioveses.

(In his Tastebuds and Molecules Francois Chartier identifies a chemical similarity between rosemary and muscat, gewürztraminer and riesling and suggests they would be complementary too. I’m not wholly convinced but then I haven’t tried it. It could well be the case.)

Top image © marcin jucha at fotolia.com

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