The first rule of food and wine matching is: do you like it? There's a world of nonsense surrounding this topic, just as there are some hard facts to help you make the best choices and get extra enjoyment for free whether you're at home or in a restaurant. But the most important thing to understand is that your palate behaves uniquely. You will naturally prefer certain flavours to others and also your palate will interact with different flavours according to what else you've been nibbling or sipping. Ever tried sipping orange juice after brushing your teeth? Not great. The way that flavours interact with wine is like a story that builds with each new chapter, and the effect is cumulative. This is the reason for starting with milder flavours such as juicy mozzarella cheese paired with Prosecco and finishing up with more powerful flavours such as vintage Port with a dark chocolate pudding. Your palate starts fresh and by the end of the meal needs increasing intensity of flavour to keep building the story to a satisfying conclusion. But how can you tell which wines pair with what food? Here are my top five tips.
1) Always pick the biggest flavour on the plate to match your wine to. Steamed chicken breast will be a very different match to chicken cooked in a spicy curry sauce.
2) Spice in food makes wine taste sharper so always pick a fruity example such as Pinot Gris from Alsace or try Tabali Viognier from Chile on the Hotel du Vin's list. Delish!
3) Salty foods pair brilliantly with sharp wines - it's the same principle as putting salt and vinegar on your fish and chips. Smoked salmon with Champagne or fresh oysters with Chablis are both top examples.
4) With dessert, always make sure your wine is sweeter than your pudding or you risk a clash. At my Hotel Du Vin dinner in Bristol on 16th March I'll be matching a luscious glass of chilled Hungarian Tokaji with a delicious Blood Orange and Chocolate Tart. Scrumptious!
5) Don't be afraid to experiment beyond the 'white with fish, red with meat idea'. Meaty fish such as tuna steaks pair sensationally with a chilled glass of red Pinot Noir and similarly richer whites such as oaked Chardonnay pair splendidly with lighter meats such as pork.
Finally, a quick word about texture - the chunkier the food, the bigger you can go with your wine. Texture plays a big role in food and wine matching, so save your massive reds for sirloin steak and avoid swamping more delicate dishes with heavier wines.
Of course, it's not just the food that you can match wine to, but the occasion too. With Valentine's Day coming up, you could think pink at the Hotel du Vin with a classy glass of Château Bauduc Rosé from Bordeaux or dive into a full blown romantic meal and chose the wines first, then pick the food to match. For an absolute treat, Mas de Daumus Gassac is a bottle of red beauty to pair with all things meaty, and if you're going for lighter dishes such as fish, Pieropan's Soave Classico is a peachy bright Italian white to set the scene for romance.