An expert’s guide to pairing food and wine

Savour dinner party success with sommelier-approved wine pairing tips.
Savour dinner party success with sommelier-approved wine pairing tips. Photo: Getty

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Most folk can cook a decent enough meal. Where many of us tend to stumble is pairing the wine with whatever we're cooking.

Thank Bacchus, then, for Stano Koren, sommelier at Ormeggio at The Spit and Chiosco by Ormeggio. Here, he gives us his top tips for how to pair wine with food, so you never have to stress yourself over it again. Can you imagine how fancy your dinner parties are going to be now?

Weigh it up

"When you are trying to find the right match, you always have to look at the so-called 'weight' of the food and the 'weight' of your wine," says Koren. "Generally speaking, it's heavy food with heavy wines, and light dishes with light wines."

Light foods pair perfectly with light wines.

Light foods pair perfectly with light wines. Photo: Getty

The bare essentials

"Think about if the food is sweet, spicy, fatty or savoury-driven. Pair sweet with sweet or sweeter wines. Spicy food requires a sweeter wine, with spicy characters. Fatty foods are best with tannic wines, and savoury foods are best with savoury wines."

Get saucy

As if we needed another excuse to prioritise rich, delicious sauces: "Always pair the wine with the sauce of your dish. If there is no sauce, then focus on the protein."

A tale of two colours

White wine is the obvious choice for seafood, "Ormeggio is a seafood restaurant where I try to convince guests to match our delicate food with mostly white wines or acidic roses," says Koren.

But that's not the end of the story, "If guests don't drink white wine, I recommend lighter reds, or reds with low tannins. Great examples are pinot noirs, dolcettos or the fantastic Etna rosso style of wine. There is always the option to find the right colour of wine for your guests."

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Sweets for my sweet

"With sweet dishes you always need a sweeter style of wine, otherwise it will be overwhelmed – wine needs to be at least as sweet as the dish.

"I learned that many, many years ago when for the first time I tried foie gras with Sauternes in France – even if they serve it as an entrée, they will match it with sweet dessert wine to complement the dish."

Pairing with pud

"You always have to find a balance between the sweetness of your dessert and dessert wine," says Koren. "You have to look at how rich, fruity or creamy your dessert is to find right dessert wine.

"If it's rich I would recommend something with a higher sugar content like the passito style of dessert wine. If it's fruity and tangy, probably late harvest riesling. With creamy and chocolate desserts try fortified wines and sweet sherries like Pedro Ximénez."

Balance is key when it comes to dessert wine.

Balance is key when it comes to dessert wine. Photo: Getty

The ultimate no-nos

"The most important thing to me when it comes to pairing is acidity. Acid holds the wine and helps to cut through dishes ­– it makes you enjoy your food and wine even more," he says.

"For me, acid goes with acid. High-acid food should never be matched with low-acid wines – you would have the feeling that your wine is flat and unpleasant. I would never recommend oysters or raw fish dishes with big reds – I find it very unpleasant on the palate. And it's a very similar story with Champagne and heavy desserts."

Learn from the best

If you want to learn how to pair wine with food at the highest level, treat yourself to dinner out and ask your sommelier to explain their choice of wine matches.

"Ormeggio has a very delicate seafood menu, and follows seasonal produce too. On our degustation menu we match our food with Italian wines and with unusual grape varieties for Australia," explains Koren.

"Guests have an opportunity to try something different, especially grape varieties native to Italy. Think poached fish with very dry grillo (a grape native to Sicily), or creamy black marron risotto with fantastic pecorino (not the cheese!). The Ormeggio wine list is mostly wines that are organic, biodynamic and natural, with many skin contact (orange) wines as well."

The seven golden rules

"The weight of the food. What the protein is. How fatty the food is. How sweet, spicy or savoury the dish is. And most importantly, acidity."

Get out

"Everyone's palate is unique, so it's worth exploring which combinations are best for you. Don't be scared of experimenting. When you are trying something new there is always the chance that you find something you were looking for all your life."

Dining out is made even more appealing for Citi customers, who can take advantage of the Citi Dining Program and receive a free bottle of wine every time they dine and pay with their Citi card. This offer is available at selected partner restaurants, including all restaurants mentioned in this article.