wine pairing

This goes with that—how to sell food and wine pairing like a pro. By Ben Canaider

The zenith of human civilisation is nowadays on the lips and the tips of the tongues of nearly every Australian—food and wine matching. It is easy to understand why. As more and more of your customers know more and more about wine, they are also now dabbling with the strange science that is the successful marriage between wine and food. Apparently one can get this right, and one can get it wrong.

How to use food and wine matching as an avenue to increased sales—and to upselling wine and even menu items—calls for a two-pronged attack. One involves observing the more general guidelines about worthwhile and enjoyable food and wine pairings; the other involves calling on the classic food and wine marriages.

Your menu, your wine list, and your specials boards should all be used to highlight and recommend food and wine matching suggestions; and your staff may need a touch of priming when it comes to any food and wine pairings your customers may ask about. And on that last point, that’s the only direction verbal food and wine matching suggestions should flow. From the customer to you or your staff. Never the other way around.

General guidelines wine pairing

White meat/white wine; red meat/red wine. Okay, this is safe, but try telling a Spaniard she can’t eat fish with Rioja. And this is where the problems start.

It is not so much white wine/white meat, but the flavourings that are cooked with the food—in the sauces, the braises, and the dressings—that affect the wine choice. Cook some dory in a pan with a light lemon juice sauce and you want good chardonnay or semillon. But cook some kingfish with haricot beans, chorizo, garlic, and paprika and you need—you must have—some tempranillo, or grenache, or maybe even mencia.

The general guidelines about wine and food matching are more about nuance and about flavourings than about one key ingredient.

So think about the general effect of your dish rather than its key ingredient, and then you can sort out the appropriate wine. Fresh, bright, pert, alive and uncooked foods—whether they include meats or not—are always going to be happier with younger, livelier white wines. Such fresh dishes when they have a spanking of any Asian heat or spice or condiment need fresh wines that cannot be out-shouted: sauvignon blanc, for instance.

Your menu, your wine list, and your specials boards should all be used to highlight and recommend food and wine matching suggestions.”

Do you have a menu focused on fish? Any deep-fried fish is instantly rosé wine territory—that great crossover pink drink that’s now so loved by your customers. Once again, this is an example about the influence of the cooking on the key ingredient that sets the tone for the accompanying wine. Steam a piece of white fish and you need white wine; deep-fry it and the game changes.

Richer food flavours—whether they be fish or vegetables or pulses or red meat—also help you usher in both white and red wines that have some bottle age. Drink a good chardonnay with three or four years bottle age with some scallops cooked with a rich sauce, and the wine sings.

Red wines that in most restaurants are current release and have unabashed oak and tannin require much more care. Red wine tannins and oak need fats. Meat fats such as you find in lamb, pork, sausages and the rougher cuts of beef. This is because tannins are the gruff, drying taste that red wines such as cabernet introduce to your mouth. The fats in the accompanying food help assuage those tannins. Balance and happiness ensues.

With Australia’s very macro, global food embrace, we are, of course, adoptive to many global flavours: from Asia to Spain, to France and to the Pacific. Such foods are often flavoured heavily, and with spice and chilli heat. Fortunately God made South Australia and in it there is a red wine that deals with any heavily spiced dish you make: grenache. Its ripe, tutti frutti flavours love curry and chilli and fish sauce and spices and herbs.

If you want to set a more determined signal to your customers, however, try some of the classic pairings, as announced on the menu. These combinations are tried and tested; they are automatic.

Chablis and oysters. Tempranillo and paella. Riesling and charcuterie. Nebbiolo and truffle risotto. Pinot noir and duck. Cabernet sauvignon and roast lamb. An Australian shiraz/cabernet blend with a T-bone steak.

Methods of getting any or all of these food and wine pairings into the brains of your customers can be suggested via wine flights or degustation menus, where the wines in the flight or the dishes in the degustation come with appropriate food and wine matchings. Wine by the glass is also a great boon. The days of a table of four sharing one bottle of white and then a bottle of red could lead to some pretty average wine and food combinations for one or two of the diners. A wine list that suggest a food matching for each wine and a menu that does ditto helps guide, entertain, educate and make happy your customers.

Finally, it is perhaps always worth bearing in mind that if a customer orders the ‘wrong’ wine with the wrong food (the cabernet with the curry, for instance), the customer’s head will not explode. As everyone’s favourite wine expert, Ernest Hemingway, once said of his time in Paris in the 1920s: “Wine is the most civilised thing in the world. In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and wellbeing and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”


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