News and views | The 10 trickiest foods to pair with wine

News and views

The 10 trickiest foods to pair with wine

Look up any guide to food and wine matching and you’ll find a list of foods that are regarded as anathema to wine. I’ve done it myself but have come to the conclusion recently that the problems are overstated.

It may be true that most wines fall out with such ingredients as artichokes or hot curries but they may be the kind of wines you wouldn’t be inclined to drink with those dishes anyway.

There are also ingredients or elements that you can introduce to make a troublesome ingredient more wine-friendly either by building a bridge to the accompanying wine or by softening the impact of the food (like adding cream or ricotta to spinach)

The problem
Artichokes contain a chemical called cynarin which reacts particularly adversely with oaked whites and most red wines, making them taste oddly sweet
The solution
Serve them as the Italians do rather than as the French do, i.e. grilled, fried or raw in salads with lemon (including lemon peel) or olive oil rather than boiling them and serving them with a vinaigrette. The wines that match best are dry, earthy whites such as Vernaccia di San Gimignano or Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi or southern French whites including grapes such as Terret or white grenache. Bone dry fino or manzanilla sherry is also a good option.

Read more: Pairing wine and artichokes

Chocolate fondant puddings
The problem
The palate-coating effect of very rich, dark, sweet, molten chocolate
The solution:
Lighten up the effect with a scoop of vanilla icecream or extra thick double cream, add some dark cherry or other berry fruit compote then serve with a sweet red such as a Recioto della Valpolicella or modern-style vintage character port. It’s not perfect admittedly but it’s the best match going (short of espresso coffee)

Read more: Download my chocolate ebook 101 great ways to enjoy chocolate and wine

Very hot curries
The problem
Hot chillies manage to both anaethetise the tastebuds and accentuate the tannins and alcohol in any accompanying wine.
The solution:
I’m tempted to say don’t bother, stick to beer or don’t make your curries so hot but if you must a very well chilled riesling, gewurztraminer or flowery white like Torrontes is your best bet. (If you offset the heat by offering raita and naan as well as boiled rice or a pilau you can even get away with a jammy red like a pinotage.)

Read more: What wine to pair with curry - my top 5 picks

Ice creams and sorbets
The problem
Again they numb the palate and can have the effect of making most dessert wines taste thin and sharp
The solution
Serve them with more wine-friendly ingredients - a slice of fruit tart, a crumble or some accompanying fresh fruit that is less sweet than the wine you pick to accompany the dessert. Of course it depends partly on the ice cream. Rich vanilla, coffee or chocolate ice creams can be sensational on their own with sweet (e.g. PX) sherry or madeira, other sweet fortified wines like Malaga or Australian liqueur muscat.

Stinky cheeses (like Epoisses)
The problem
The bitterness and ammoniac flavours of the cheese and, particularly, the rind completely alters the tastes of most reds, especially oak aged ones (though the French, who frequently recommend red burgundy with Epoisses) disagree
The solution:
Personally I favour a Marc de Bourgogne but if you do want to stick to wine choose an aromatic, unoaked white such as Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer (the traditional pairing with Munster) which will allow the flavour of the cheese and the wine to remain intact. Or, alternatively, don’t allow your cheese to run away with you.

Read more: Can any wine stand up to Stinking Bishop?

Tarte au Citron
The problem
Seemingly innocuous but in practice the intense sweetness and acidity of the sweet lemon filling tends to knock the stuffing out of dessert wines that have a similarly citrussy flavour profile.
The solution
Serve some creme fraiche with the tart to offset the sweetness then serve a supersweet Beerenauslese, botrytis riesling or ice wine. You could also add some tart fruit to the plate such as fresh raspberries or blueberries.

Herrings and other pickled or salted fish and vegetables
The problem
Vinegar just doesn’t like fine wine. Add oily fish and you’ve got trouble.
The solution
Another food where beer (especially pilsner) has the edge but there are ways to alleviate the problems of the match by serving some boiled potatoes or light rye bread alongside. The wines that will work best are high acid whites like Muscadet Picpoul de Pinet or seafood whites like Albarino. Hot (as in spicy) pickles like kimchi are bad news though.

Salade verte
The problem
It’s not so much the leaves that are the problem as the vinaigrette, particularly with red wines if you’re serving it after the main course, French-style.
The solution
Soften the acidity in the dressing by using a proportion of balsamic vinegar, cream or, even chicken stock and don’t include raw onion or garlic. It’s also better to use a milder fruity oil at this stage of the meal rather than a pungent, grassy one which can throw a serious red off course. A few walnuts, slivers of parmesan or air dried ham or pieces of crispy bacon will also make a salad more red wine-friendly, especially if it contains bitter greens.

Read more: Which wine pairs best with salad?

The problem
One liquid with another is sometimes one liquid too many, particularly with finer-textured soups
The solution
Introduce a little texture to the soup - a few noodles or a raviolo to a consomme, a little cream to a smooth vegetable soup or some chunkier ingredients to make your soup more like a stew. An oaked white will also provide more texture to the combination than an unoaked one.

Read more: Matching wine and soup

Mint flavoured desserts
The problem
A subscriber to my website drew my attention to this which apparently stumped a sommelier at a restaurant he was dining in. And it’s true, menthol and wine aren’t the happiest of bedfellows
The solution
Back to botrytised riesling again. You need sweetness and piercing acidity. Austrian wines of Ausbruch quality tend to have the requisite power too.

And the 5 foods whose problems are overstated

Held to be a similar villain of the piece to artichokes but considerably easier. You can even drink a light red wine with asparagus if you chargrill it and serve it with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some shaved parmesan. See my list of asparagus pairings here.

Cold dark chocolate desserts rarely cause the same problems as hot ones and can be paired with similar wines to those suggested above. With lighter milk chocolate and white chocolate desserts, especially if partnered with fruit, you can serve more conventional dessert wines.

Virtually no way of serving them that can’t be dealt with by champagne, smooth dry unoaked whites like pinot blanc or inexpensive white burgundies.

Blue cheese
There are so many big, porty reds now that you don’t have to stick to port. Amarone, Zinfandel and other very ripe sweet new world reds will all do the job perfectly well, especially with more mellow blue cheeses such as Fourme d’Ambert. Serve a nutty bread alongside.

Milder curries
With the subtly spiced Indian food you find at such fine dining establishments as Cinnamon Club and Rasoi Vineet Bhatia you can pair almost any conventional wine. And all these big fruity new rosés that are hitting the shelves are good too.

This article was first published in the May 2007 issue of Decanter.

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Comments: 9 (Add)

Steven on August 29 2023 at 17:19

For the curries or other spicy food: orange wine often does the trick... on April 16 2020 at 23:34

You obviously haven't discovered gruner veltliner. Could solve ALL you problems.

kr on March 5 2015 at 10:18

I do think the answer to a lot of these are just wait till you finished the food! Wine with soup or with mint desserts is just a waste really

Fiona Beckett on January 30 2013 at 14:25

Not quite so difficult I think otherwise you wouldn't be able to drink wine with a lot of Italian dishes. Raw tomato more difficult than cooked, admittedly . . .

steve on January 30 2013 at 14:12

what about tomato based sauces?

Fiona Beckett on December 15 2012 at 10:35

Yes, VERY hard to find but good call!

Emma on December 15 2012 at 10:15

The solution to chocolate fondant is Rasteau VDN. Has a very slight cherry note, plus enough acidity to cut it. Scrummy. The only problem being that it's a 'mare to get hold of!

Fiona Beckett on November 6 2012 at 10:35

Interesting! Would be good to explore that further.

NL on November 6 2012 at 10:26

Interesting Fiona, some of these may have solutions with tea pairs: Artichokes and Asparagus (Umami - perhaps sencha)
Spicy Dishes (neutralised and calmed by a cool sweet tea - try LaKyrsiew Spring Reserve 2011)
Salted meats (a good Darjeeling 1st Flush - especially Gopaldhara's 2012)
Certain cheeses exceptional pairs

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