Food and wine pairings: How to choose a dish to serve with a very fine wine

How to fair fine wine with food

Food and wine pairings can work in two ways. Either you have a recipe idea and are wondering what wine would complement it, or you are looking for a dish to go with a specific bottle. The question becomes all the more pressing when you are dealing with THAT very special bottle from your cellar.

The pressure is on. You have invited two wine aficionados couples and have decided to serve a very special wine from your cellar. For the red wine, you are hesitating between a Latour 1990, an Ausone 1995, a Clos Vougeot from Domaine Leroy 1995, a Rayas 1990 or a Clos Rougeard 1989. For the white, you have a more limited selection in your cellar: a Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne 2002 or a Domaine Chave Hermitage 2005. In short, some big hitters! Since you are also doing the cooking, you haven’t slept a wink for two days. What on earth can you cook to do justice to these wines?


Beware of falling into the trap of going over the top! Here’s why.
Let’s digress for a moment and take a look at top chefs and multi-starred restaurants. At one time, prestigious French restaurants baulked slightly at the idea of putting fine wines on their lists, simply because certain chefs with overdeveloped egos thought that premium wines might overshadow their inspired cuisine. Nowadays, this idea would probably give rise to murmurs of disapproval among lovers of fine food and fine wines. However, experience shows that pairing gourmet cuisine with iconic wines is not actually so straightforward.

Let’s get back to your dinner party. Your head is buzzing with elaborate recipes: Senator Couteaux’s hare “à la royale” (inspired by French chef, Bocuse), duck and foie gras pie (again a Bocuse recipe), sea bass in pastry with choron sauce (Bocuse), crab stew with fresh broad beans and nettle butter (a dish from French chef, Loiseau), porchetta-style stuffed gigotin (a recipe from Monégasque chef Ducasse) – you just don’t know which book to consult.

Take a tip from us and don’t rack your brains. To begin with, unless you have the makings of a professional chef you run the risk of not pulling off these complicated recipes designed for the kitchen brigade of a top restaurant rather than an amateur in a modest kitchen! Our advice for showing off a fine wine to best advantage is to choose a relatively simple recipe without too many different flavours and to make it with first-rate ingredients. There are a few quintessential classics which will let your special wine enjoy the limelight and complement it perfectly.

 Red wine suggestions

  • Roast beef. The secret of success: a trusted butcher, finely-calibrated cooking times, a few minutes resting time (for the juices to permeate the meat) and a simple but flavoursome sauce such as shallots and red wine enhanced with veal bone marrow or even grated truffle (it is a dinner party after all). In the same vein, you could also opt for duck fillet (with a similar sauce). Either way, choose an accompaniment that is not too highly flavoured: potatoes in any shape or form (mashed, au gratin, sautéed, grated and fried like a pancake), seasonal mushrooms (ceps, chanterelle), little rectangles of fried polenta, etc. Avoid overly green vegetables as their plant flavours will detract from the wine. All red wines, from powerful, tannic clarets to more delicate Burgundies, will work well with this type of dish.Fotolia_84218302_S
  • Roast leg of lamb. The same rules apply in terms of meat quality and cooking. Avoid garlic as it is too strongly flavoured for a fine, mature red wine. The best option is to serve the meat in its own juices without any special sauce. We recommend the same accompaniments as for beef, but you could add traditional dried flageolet beans or fresh haricot beans if they are in season (coco de Paimpol variety) as their delicate flavour and texture will work well with red wine. Fine Bordeaux wines and northern or southern Rhône wines will sit better with this dish than Burgundy or Loire wines.
  • Partridge, pheasant, pigeon or guinea fowl. Fine red wines are often too high in tannin and too powerful for traditional poultry such as chicken. By contrast, they work well with more strongly flavoured poultry, but once again avoid over-elaborate recipes which add layer upon layer of flavours such as currants and berries or bilberries. The flesh of these birds is sufficiently flavoursome to stand alone. Do not serve overly tannic or powerful wines with this type of game bird or poultry. Burgundies and Loire wines will work a treat. While Bordeaux and Rhône wines are possible, make sure you serve a wine that is at least twenty years old so that the tannins have mellowed.

White wine suggestions

  • Fish (and seafood). It is very important to give a wide berth to overly strong flavours which could kill a fine white wine. All seafood and smoked salmon are best avoided. Also steer clear of very highly flavoured oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and obviously sardines and mackerel. You should, of course reject sauces flavoured with dill, pink peppercorns, fennel etc. The same rules apply to accompaniments, which should not be too aromatic. Rice is perfect, and mashed potato with a hint of celery can also be interesting. On the subject of rice, langoustine risotto is also a very good match for a fine white wine.
  • Chicken in cream sauce. A Bresse chicken will work very well with a fine bottle of Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet. As an accompaniment, you can add morel or chanterelle mushrooms, which are guaranteed to add a touch of interest to the pairing!

We hope we have set your mind at rest. You can make a special dinner with relatively simple recipes to show off an exceptional bottle to best advantage. To emphasise the dinner party aspect of the meal, pay close attention to the table setting: fine china, elegant cutlery and a beautiful tablecloth. This adds cachet and will be more impressive than a complicated and poorly executed recipe!

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dessie Paleo

    Thanks for sharing

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