Jim Harre, Chair of Judges for the New World Wine Awards, takes us on a journey through different foods which complement our best known wine varietals.
I was fortunate in growing up on Auckland’s West Coast beaches and being able to access its kaimoana. One of my most memorable meals was shared with a group of friends and consisted of fresh green-lipped mussels straight from the sea, grilled over a fire on a bed of seaweed and matched with a lightly chilled Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I still have a vivid memory of the taste of the mussels and the wine, but it’s the memory of the occasion that is strongest. A meal of fresh green-lipped mussels in a restaurant with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc will still be a great match, but without a defining occasion it will never reach the heights of a most memorable meal.
Food and wine was always subject to a complicated set of rules: white wine with white meats and fish; red wine with red meats; young wines served before old; white wines chilled and red wine at room temperature.
Time and our own personal exploration has shown us that these are at best just guidelines, as Chardonnay is great with grilled lamb cutlets and Pinot Noir is marvellous with roast salmon. Most white wine is best served very slightly chilled, really just cooled, and in summer a slightly chilled glass of Italian Sangiovese (red) is perfect with a tomato pasta dish.
While adding a great occasion and family and friends to the mix will always lift the success of food and wine matches, there are some matches that always seems to work:
- Mussels and Sauvignon Blanc - great acidity balances the soft, slightly fat, floury texture of mussels.
- Cold smoked salmon and Chardonnay- tannins and acid of Chardonnay off-sets the natural oiliness of the fish.
- Duck and Pinot Noir - the cherry fruit and savoury mushroom character of the Pinot Noir complements the earthy character of the duck.
- Pepper steak and New Zealand Syrah- the black pepper notes of the Syrah match the pepper sauce and the tannins in the wine balance the steak’s natural fat.
- Raw oysters and Sparkling wine- the high acid of the wine and its cold temperature accent the briny character and fatty texture of the oysters.
- Of course bitter chocolate and Australian Shiraz - because it does.
Here are some guidelines to get you started, remember these are generalisations so don’t get too hung up on them, they are designed to be broad brush strokes.
- Balance between the body or weight of a wine with a similar body or weight of food.
- Try and find equal partners between the wine and foods (a delicate fish like flounder with a lighter style dry Riesling).
- Match to the most prominent element of the dish. This is often a sauce, so for example the wine that would be a great match for grilled chicken with a fresh tomato salsa (match with a Viognier) would not necessarily work with a Thai chicken curry (match with a Gewurztraminer).
Drink and eat what you like – only you know what wines you like and what foods you like. A great combination of a wine and food won’t work if you particularly dislike either that food or wine style.
So be adventurous, try new producers of the varieties you love and surprise yourself by discovering how good varieties you have never tasted before can be.
The fresh pungent flavours and crisp zingy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc are the perfect foil for fresh Thai or Japanese dishes.
When served with Sauvignon Blanc, the heat of a vegetable green curry compliments the wine’s acidity; the fragrance of lemongrass enhances the wine’s citrus notes; the crunch and freshness of fresh summer rolls move to a new level; whole fish steamed with ginger, spring onions and soy develops a new harmony.
If I was stuck on a desert island with only Chardonnay to drink, my next request would be salmon and lots of it! Smoked, cold, hot, gravlax, it’s all a great match.
A quick and easy idea for Chardonnay is to place a large piece of hot smoked salmon and thin slices of cold smoked salmon on a platter. Add a pile of warm blinis and a dip made from finely chopped capers, lemon zest, horseradish, chives and black pepper all mixed into cream cheese. Spread the dip on the blinis and top with salmon – remember to serve with lemon wedges for extra zing.
Japanese food with its concepts of texture, spice, sweetness balanced by acid, raw and cooked, cold and hot is an outstanding match for the peach, quince, pear, ginger notes and crisp acidity of New Zealand Pinot Gris.
While it’s a big ask for Pinot Gris to match teriyaki steak, it’s brilliant with sushi. Particularly salmon, tuna, egg roll and California rolls as well as sashimi, soba noodles, chicken yakatori, sesame seaweed salad, tempura, miso soup and Okonomiyaki, Japan’s national pancake. Serve Pinot Gris with sushi and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
When we look at different cuisines the spices and herbs used dramatically influence the dish and they become the principle flavour. The broad term ‘aromatic wines’ covers a multitude of styles, flavours, textures and sweetness levels that are wonderful complements to the exotic foods and flavours of the North African region.
Riesling is marvellous with orange and rosewater, preserved lemons, dates, figs, apricots and the Tagine dishes they are used in. Gewurztraminer can be stunning when drunk with dishes containing saffron, nutmeg, cumin, cinnamon and paprika. This is where being adventurous can create a sublime dining experience.
New Zealand sparkling wines are spectacular and what better way to celebrate than as an accompaniment to the flavours of the Pacific Islands.
On a large platter arrange spears of pineapple, rock melon, watermelon and mango, add Southern style chicken nibbles, an avocado dip with finely diced tomato and a splash of Tabasco and plenty of Taro chips – you’re ready for a taste of Pacifica.
Pinot Noir loves cheese, it’s that simple. So when serving a Gold medal Pinot to a group of good friends create a platter with Kapiti Ramara washed rind cheese, aged gouda, Dutch edam, chevre mild goat’s cheese and nutty gruyere, all of which are amazing with the wine. Then add some red peppers stuffed with feta, marinated mushrooms and a jar of chutney, then suddenly you have an occasion. Don’t forget the warm crusty bread!
For those lovers of South African meat BBQ’s and the meat lovers pizza, you will be familiar with the balance that Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Malbec bring to the proteins and fat in meat so they all taste a little better together.
Next time you’re serving one of these wines, put together a selection of cold roast beef, spicy cooked bierstick, Spanish chorizo, beef pastrami, hot pork and thinly sliced salami on a platter. Add mustard, spicy tomato chutney, olives and a soft blue cheese like gorgonzola along with lots of sliced ciabatta.
It’s no accident that the flavours of ripe Australian Shiraz go so well with the local food, as both share strong influences of the Mediterranean.
The Shiraz grape can trace its origins back to the Rhone valley and even further back to Persia, while the Greek and Italian immigrants to Australia brought their love of olives, sun dried tomatoes, cured salamis, feta cheese and rich dishes of beef lasagne, moussaka and souvlaki. Shiraz matches them all in perfect harmony.
The New World Wine Awards judges get to taste a wonderful array of wines and have their personal favourites when it comes to food matches. Here are some ideas you might like to try…
Botrytis Semillon with pâté as entree; blue cheese and honey; stonefruit tart; fresh apricots and peaches (Jane Boyle)
Blanc de Blanc and fish and chips, served with lemon, on the beach (Ben Glover)
Champagne and Christmas (Sarah-Kate Dineen)
Chardonnay is great with classic chicken dishes; pork; duck; even beef if you want to be bold! (Kate Radburnd)
Chardonnay with cold smoked salmon (Jim Harré)
Chardonnay and roast chicken (Michael Ivicevich and James Rowan)
Chardonnay and Hawke’s Bay crayfish (Barry Riwai)
Dessert wine served with blue cheese, gingerbread and caramelised figs (Jane Boyle)
Fino Sherry and olives (James Rowan)
Gewurztraminer with Asian Pork Belly; this dish also goes well with an off dry Riesling (Oliver Masters)
Gewurztraminer with spicy Asian food (Jane Boyle)
Gewurztraminer, especially off dry, served with gingerbread and mild blue cheese, with a little quince jelly or paste. Gewurz is good with a cheeseboard of the sweeter, nuttier mild cheeses – maasdaam, gruyere, etc (Simon Waghorn)
Gruner Veltliner – originally an Austrian wine which matches well with Schnitzel; it also works with harder to match foods artichoke and asparagus (Jane Boyle)
Muscat or Tokay cosied up in front of the fire on a cold winter night after a hard day skiing (Sarah-Kate Dineen)
Pinot Gris is remarkably versatile and can match with chicken; tomato based sauces; creamy sauces; duck; even lean red meat (Cath Oates)
Pinot Noir with wild game; venison; rabbit (Oliver Masters)
Pinot Noir and duck (James Rowan, Kate Bennett and Jim Harré)
Pinot Noir and wild mushroom risotto (Terry Copeland)
Pinot Noir with lamb rack (Michael Ivicevich)
Pinot Noir with wild pork ravioli in a Pinot Noir reduction (Dr Alastair Leggat)
Pinot Noir and Cassoulet with confit duck & pork sausage (Sarah-Kate Dineen)
Riesling - dry Riesling and whitebait patties; weightier and slightly sweeter Rieslings with Thai salads with chilli & lime dressing (Anna Flowerday)
Riesling – sweeter style at the start of a dinner party (Sarah-Kate Dineen)
Riesling and seafood (James Rowan)
Riesling (particularly a dry Waipara Riesling) and panfied skin-on Great Barrier snapper with Okiwi cockles in beurre blanc sauce and wilted greens (Dr Alastair Leggat)
Riesling and freshly shucked oysters (Simon Nunns)
Riesling and scallops, pan seared with ginger, chilli, lemongrass and drizzled with lemons or limes (Ben Glover)
Sangiovese – originally an Italian grape which goes well with rich, fatty dishes like Italian pizza; pasta in rich sauce; dried meats and salami (Sam Kim)
Sauternes and foie gras (Simon Nunns)
Sauvignon Blanc with seafood; white fish; oysters, particularly Bluff oysters; mussels; summer rocket salads (Simon Waghorn)
Sauvignon Blanc with steamed freshly gathered New Zealand green lipped mussels from the West coast (Jim Harré and Michael Ivicevich)
Sauvignon Blanc and whitebait (Kate Bennett)
Tempranillo – this Spanish grape matches flavoursome rich slow cooked dishes; vegetable ratatouille (Sam Kim)
Shiraz with bitter dark chocolate (Jim Harré)
Shiraz and BBQ’ed steak (Jeff Clarke)
Shiraz with a good wedge of the finest parmigiano reggiano (Sarah-Kate Dineen)
Syrah with beef and especially pepper steak; Singapore chilli crab (John Hancock)
Sparkling wine with raw oysters (Jim Harré, Oliver Masters and Kate Bennett)