The cheat’s guide to wine pairing for your dinner party

When I was in New Zealand earlier this year, Tim Hanni, a Master of Wine who was speaking at the Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in Marlborough, said that when it comes to food and wine pairing, the perfect pairing doesn’t exist. While this may sound a bit controversial, in a totally first world-problem sort of way, his main point was that there’s a certain arrogance around what’s right and what’s wrong.

He criticised wine snobs for looking down their carefully honed noses at entry-level wines, when the first thing they should be thinking about is keeping their customers happy, not making them feel stupid. He says that we should celebrate the diversity of consumers, and if someone fancies a glass of nicely chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with their steak, why not?

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The most important thing is that you enjoy what’s in your glass. But I also find that many people are interested in trying something new when it comes to food. Let’s start with fish. For this, I suggest you take your mind back to when you were on holidays, and think of what you might have sipped as you sat outside in the sun in Spain, France, Italy or Portugal… the list goes on. Really crisp whites are great with fish, so look for Muscadet, Soave, Vermentino, Albarino, Picpoul de Pinet, Chablis and Portuguese whites from the Duoro.

For chicken dishes, you’re probably looking for something with a little bit more weight, like Chardonnay, slightly oaked whites from Bordeaux and whites from the Rhône in France.

Does red wine go with fish and chicken? Most certainly, but rather than a big, full-bodied red that’s chock-full of tannins, look for something lighter that can be slightly chilled, like Gamay from Beaujolais, Mencia from Ribeira Sacra, Zweigelt from Austria, Barbera from Piedmont, or a light Pinot Noir from the New World.

Chilled red wines are also beautiful with most vegetarian dishes, so if you’re tasking yourself with making some of Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful salads, these are your friend. Most people are familiar with the reds that partner so well with meat. Trusted faithfuls include Malbec from Argentina, Cabernet Sauvignon from just about anywhere, and reds from Rioja, Ribeira del Duero, the Rhone, the Languedoc, Tuscany and the south of Italy. As a general rule, the heftier the dish, the more powerful the wine; and wines with high tannins work particularly well with steak and beef dishes.

Then, of course, there’s the question of more heavily spiced food – Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisine. What might surprise you is, the Chinese never pair wine with food. As it is served banquet style, there are too many dishes to go with one particular style, apart from the fact that they generally have a warm, not a cold drink with their meal.

For highly spiced dishes, I find beer works wonderfully, but if you would prefer to have wine, look for one of the more aromatic varieties, like Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Marsanne or Roussanne.


The Big Alsace Tasting is happening at Ely Bar & Grill, St George’s Dock on May 22, perfect for Riesling fans. Tickets €20, details at In Galway, sommelier Fanny Wennerstrom is doing a natural wine tour combined with contemporary Irish cuisine in Galway, starting at Ard Bia, followed by Merrow at Pálás and finishing at Kai Restaurant, home to award-winning chef Jess Murphy. Email: [email protected] or call Gosia on 0876444678.

Exquisite Collection Marsanne 2018

€8.99, 13pc, from Aldi

Made by Jean-Claude Mas, a highly regarded winemaker in the Languedoc region, this is gently aromatic with restrained floral aromas and soft creamy flavours of peach, pear, honey and a touch of spice. Great with roast chicken, pork and spicy food.

Rapaura Springs Pinot Noir 2017

€17, 13pc, from Dunnes

From Marlborough in New Zealand, this has an inviting, sappy nose with a beautiful wash of juicy raspberry, red and black cherry, and a touch of spice. Chill slightly and have with seared tuna, roast vegetables or barbecued chicken.

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