News and views | Which foods pair best with high alcohol red wines?

News and views

Which foods pair best with high alcohol red wines?

Despite the growing concern about alcohol levels in wine many reds still clock in at 14.5% or more, a level at which they can become an unbalanced pairing for traditional European food. Many traditionalist would say that they are therefore not ‘food wines’ but as with other types of wine it depends how well they’re made and whether overall the wine is in balance. Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe for example rarely hits the shelves at under 14% but wears its alcohol lightly.

In general wines of this power benefit from at least a couple of years bottle ageing - it’s the combination of high alcohol and aggressive tannins that can overwhelm the food you’re eating. I’ve drunk many an Australian Shiraz of 7 to 8 years old that has behaved like a pussycat with food.

The best type of dishes in my view to drink with big reds are:

  • Rare meat especially beef - e.g. a chargrilled steak (rare meat softens the effect of big tannins)
  • Slow cooked but not heavily sauced meat (lamb and pork as well as beef) Not heavily sauced because if you have an intense reduction and a full-bodied red you can barely taste the meat you’re eating
  • Meat cooked with a sweet marinade or baste - e.g. barbecued ribs Sweetness will enhance the acidity in the wine, making it taste fresher.
  • Meat or ‘meaty’ fish like tuna cooked with a spicy rub or crust. A touch of spice offsets a big fruity red nicely though not a hot ‘wet’ curry with a lot of spicy sauce which will just create an sense of overload on the palate.
  • Haggis! (Yes, really . . . )
  • Strongly flavoured vegetarian dishes based on dark Portabella mushrooms or roast or baked aubergines
  • Well matured hard cheeses or sheep's cheeses. Cheese can be a minefield for red wine as regular visitors to this site will know. A full bodied red will overwhelm delicate goats’ cheeses and are likely to clash horribly with a well-matured ‘stinky’ washed rind cheese or a punchy blue but should be OK with a dry, clean tasting hard cheese, especially a sheep's cheese (the easiest cheese to pair with red wine)
  • Dark chocolate. A controversial pairing but many swear by big jammy reds and dark, not oversweet chocolate. Not for me but try it!

And the dishes that don’t match full-bodied reds?

Lighter fish and vegetable-based dishes, lighter meats like chicken and veal, milder cheeses and dishes with light creamy sauces.

Image © Christian Delbert -

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