How to pair wine and food

Here are some tips to help you make sure your wine draws out extra flavours in your food

Three possible scenarios occur when you pair wine with food.

The first is an accident.

Food and wine collide and bounce off each other. They don't get along because they have been mismatched - like a bad date. If you pair raw oysters or fatty tuna belly sashimi with a full-bodied Barossa Valley Shiraz or Chateauneuf-du-Pape red, you will get a horrible metallic, fishy taste.

Pair a frisky, zippy, high-acid white wine or Champagne with a piece of steak or Cantonese roast duck and the fowl will cry foul. Such accidents in winefood pairing are to be avoided.

The second scenario is what I call a "happy co-existence".

The wine tastes the same when paired with the food and the food remains as it was before being matched up with the wine. Nothing changes - but nothing is gained.

This may be better than an accident but is essentially a neutral situation.

Here is a crucial thing to remember about wine-food pairing - taste the wine first and remember the aroma, flavours and sensation.

This way, when you taste the wine with the food, you will discover how the wine changes, whether for the worse or better.

The third possibility in winefood pairing is the ideal.


This is where the wine draws out extra flavours from the food that were absent when the food was consumed on its own.

The food returns the favour by coaxing out nuances in the wine that were below the surface. Wine and food discover chemistry. They connect and embrace. It is a blissful marriage where the two wrap around each other like long-lost lovers.

The single most important consideration in pairing red wine with food is the state or condition of its tannins. Tannins are responsible for the dryness, bitterness and astringency of wine.

Young, angry, fierce, raging tannins do nothing for food. For a dish to pair well with wine, the tannins need to be resolved and evolved.

The tannins need to calm down and be soft and smooth, melding with the fruit of the wine.

If the tannins are edgy and roaring, it is not just an accident but a battle between the wine and food.

Although wine/food pairing is not an exact science, there are certain guidelines.

There may be the odd person who truly enjoys raw oysters or fatty tuna belly sashimi with a full-bodied red, but most of us would recoil at the idea.

Having said that, wine-food pairings can be fascinating discoveries. As with all discoveries, the journey is as exciting as the destination.

Do not stop discovering.

The writer, a lawyer by training, is wine consultant to FairPrice. He is also a regional-chairman of Decanter World Wine Awards, vice-chairman of Decanter Asia Wine Awards and a columnist for the World of Fine Wine magazine in Britain.

Our recommendations


Bright straw. The delicate flavours are of grapefruit/green citrus and Nashi pear. Medium-bodied, there is a lot of freshness and vitality. Delicious on its own and with deep-fried foods including dim sum, tempura and pakora.


Tesco is the United Kingdom's largest supermarket chain, with nearly 30 per cent of market share. It is also reputedly the leader in Ireland, Hungary, and Thailand and is spreading across Asia. Founded in 1919 by Jack Cohen as a group of market stalls, the Tesco name first appeared in 1924 after Cohen bought a shipment of tea from T. E. Stockwell and combined those initials and that of his surname. Bright pale straw. Apples and ripe citrus. The palate is fruity, fresh, and with a soft sweetness on the finish. Medium-bodied, this Rhine Riesling is very balanced and outstanding on its own and with deep-fried foods and lightly spicy dishes whether Sichuan, Thai or Indian.


Family-owned and family-managed winery that had, prior to converting to grapes, grew apples on the same land. The vineyard is in the much touted Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago. Other more famous estates here include Felton Road and Mount Difficulty. Central Otago Pinot Noirs tend to be considerably fruitier than those from Burgundy. Some are almost sweet. More restrained although still fruity, the personality is between a typical Central Otago Pinot and that from Burgundy's famed Cote de Nuits. Light red/ruby, the lively raspberry fruit also has hints of cherries. The tannins are ripe and smooth. Medium-plus-ish bodied, there's the hallmark freshness that makes Pinot Noir such an enjoyable, engaging wine on its own and with food including pork, chicken, duck and lamb. Trophy winner at London's International Wine & Spirit Competition 2015.


This Bordeaux estate produces a red, dry white and a sweet wine. The red goes by the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation while the sweet wine takes the commune name of Loupiac. Chateau de Ricaud actually has a chateau on the grounds that resembles a fairy-tale castle. Very approachable now, the fruit is of cherries - both red and dark - with a tobacco/autumn leaf aspect. Medium-bodied, this Bordeaux red is excellent with chicken, duck, lamb and beef.


Bright light gold. Whiff of pineapples, honey and apricot. The sweetness of this Loupiac is lighter than that of Sauternes. But it is very balanced and with lots of freshness on the finish. Irresistible on its own and with spiced and curry dishes including Sichuan, Thai and Indian. An open bottle can easily last three to four weeks in the fridge.

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