Pairing food and wine has become a popular pastime among
food lovers. Charmian Smith looks at some of the principles
behind the pursuit of enhancing the dining experience with
matches made in sybaritic heaven.
Dining out is a great opportunity to play the wine and food
pairing game and to discover new flavours and combinations.
A restaurant that takes its wine and food seriously will have
a good selection of wines available by the glass which have
been paired with its dishes. You may have to ask, as they may
not print the suggestions on their menus.
Grant Cockcroft, of Two Chefs Bistro in Dunedin, says when
his partner, chef Helen Mason, creates a dish they pair it
with one of the 15-20 wines they have by the glass and
explain the match to their front-of-house staff, who can then
suggest it to customers who are interested.
However, he says, about half his guests don't even think
about wine and food pairing.
They just order a wine they like and drink it through the
Others will have read about a wine and take the opportunity
to try it or something similar, and tourists, in particular,
enjoy the plat du jour two-course set menu which comes with a
sauvignon blanc matched with fish or a pinot noir with steak.
Nevertheless, people are more knowledgeable about food and
wine than they used to be and realise that a good match can
enhance the dining experience, says Monique Smith, of the
award-winning Riverstone Kitchen she and her husband Bevan
established in North Otago.
They offer a special degustation menu of five small courses,
each matched with a wine. She's a fan of 75ml pours, which
means people can try three different wines and still be OK to
drive after a meal, she said.
Steve Hannagan, who has run Bacchus Wine Bar and Restaurant
in Dunedin's Octagon for more than two decades, thinks the
growing knowledge of and interest in wine and food may have
something to do with the popularity of television cooking
People know good food and wine these days and think a lot
more about what they are going to drink with it, he says.
"It's about engaging with the customers and talking about
what sorts of wines and foods they like, but most of them are
open to whatever styles, and it's fun to see if you can
execute the matches well."
Like the others I talked to, he considers the intensity and
flavours of the food and tries to match them with the
intensity of the wine.Chef Michael Coughlin of Pier 24 at St
Clair, Dunedin, who has created many successful menus to
match unusual wines and other beverages, such as tea, takes a
slightly different approach.
"When I taste a wine, I can decode it back to a food flavour
or series of flavours and almost have a memory of its flavour
palate. My approach is not to emulate the keynotes in the
wine. I tend to find out what I like in the wine and what I
believe is worth trying to bring out, to balance and
He believes in taking a three-dimensional approach to
"It's not just the wine's flavours, but the texture and
weight and length and how it sits on the tongue and how the
flavours linger on the front or back palate. Some flavours
hit the palate instantly and others linger until later on,"
Although he tends to work instinctively now, he says he picks
out the keynotes of a dish or wine and looks for what is
missing or would contrast. If you have a creamy dish you
might want a wine with a clean acidity that will cut through
the creaminess, and vice versa, he says.
"If you have a 100% malolactic chardonnay that is so rich you
could almost spread it on bread, I need to make sure the food
doesn't dominate. I play down the food a bit, but it's still
got to support that wine, to help that creaminess. There has
to be some richness in there, a bit of sweetness and acid to
cut through the butteriness."
Suggestions for wine and food
•Monique Smith, Riverstone Kitchen
"If you have a green chicken curry with lots of beautiful
Thai flavours - coriander, garlic, ginger - think about a
"A subtle dish with saffron is best served with something
like a light chardonnay, but a heavier chardonnay would go
with something like salmon or oily fish."
If a risotto is finished with a particular wine, she will
serve that wine with it.
• Michael Coughlin, Pier 24 at St Clair
"If wine hints of damp forest floor like a mature pinot noir,
it makes sense that earthy types of food - beetroot,
mushrooms, especially porcini mushrooms - will work well.
"A wine that appears too austere or tannic by itself may be
delicious with the right food."
• Steve Hannagan, Bacchus Wine Bar and Restaurant
"Pork with a sweeter kumara mash - a pinot gris or other
aromatic wine goes well.
"A citrusy chardonnay can go well with grilled chicken and a
rosé with fresh elephant tuna.
"Fish with passionfruit and lime glaze - Marlborough
sauvignon blanc is right on the button."
• Grant Cockcroft, Two Chefs Bistro
"Duck with creamy potatoes, apple, onion and Calvados braised
for a long time goes with a chardonnay, but if you had duck
with tomato and onion you might put it with a pinot noir."