RICHARD ESLING: Don’t forget the sauce when it comes to food and wine pairing

Wines for the Arundel Wine Society annual tasting dinner
Wines for the Arundel Wine Society annual tasting dinner

When it comes to food and wine pairing, one piece of advice given in the course booklets of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, which runs professional exams all around the world, is ‘Don’t be ruled by Rules’.

This could also be interpreted as ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’. Individual tastes are very different, both for food and for wine, which is wonderful. If we all liked the same things, life would become very dull and un-interesting. So, if you like sweet white wine with your rare roast sirloin, or dry fino sherry with your Christmas pudding, so be it. Neither is wrong if that’s what the person enjoys.

But if your tastes are not quite so extreme, and you wish to pair wines and food so that the flavours and enjoyment of both are enhanced – the principle behind food matching – then there are some guidelines which are worth considering. As a consultant and advisor, I am often asked for advice as to what wine to go with what food, and the wine trade exams now test this knowledge in terms of broad principles. In essence, salty and acidic components of foods can have a positive effect on the taste of wine, whereas sweet and highly savoury flavours can have a negative impact.

The salty or acidic elements can make a dry white wine taste more fruity and less acidic, whilst sweet flavours can have the opposite effect. This is one reason why sweet wines are served with the dessert course, in order to balance the flavours so that one does not detract from the other. When it comes to red wines, components in the food can have a positive or negative effect on both fruit and tannins, with sweet and highly savoury foods making the tannins seem harsh and un-balanced.

Another point to remember, is that often most of the flavour of a food dish is in the sauce rather than the main ingredient and it is these flavours which need to be considered when pairing a suitable wine. The Arundel Wine Society annual dinner took place last week at the Bay Tree Restaurant in Tarrant Street, Arundel. The evening was built around the principles of food and wine pairing, with a different wine paired with each course of a 4-course menu, the wine supplier being Hennings of Pulborough.

The meal started with a glass of Champagne Autreau Roualet for the aperitif, a fresh, youthful style of champagne with minimal ageing to stimulate the taste buds with its fruity acidity. The starter of fillet of seabass on a bed of creamy pea risotto, I paired with a dry Italian white from the Veneto region, made by the Appassimento method. The grapes are partially dried prior to cold fermentation, so as to give greater intensity and complexity of flavour, whilst preserving the aromatics. A perfect match for the flavours from the risotto.

The main course was a Bay Tree speciality of slow roasted belly of pork, with caramelised apple puree, sea-salt crackling and red wine jus. The Cotes du Rhone villages 2012 matched the salty, peppery, fruity flavours admirably. The wine is a combination of Syrah and Grenache grape varieties, Grenache giving fruit and the Syrah having a spicy, black pepper character. A soft, young, ripe, plummy Merlot from the Languedoc then matched the English cheese selection, including Brighton blue, followed by a sweet wine from Northern Italy to go with the pudding. This was a Moscato Passito made from sun-dried Muscat grapes which stood-up to the rich, sweet flavours of the Sticky Toffee Pudding with its toffee sauce.

Unsurprisingly, the event was a sell-out and there was a waiting list!

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit

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