Ten golden rules for matching dishes with wines

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Text: Chandra Kurt Photos: Gian Vaitl

Chandra's cooking with wine 

The main obstacle to a harmonious pairing of dishes and wines is purely a question of numbers: there are countless possibilities for combination. Which explains why there are also many exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, I will give you a few basic principles, which have helped me a lot in my wine tasting career to date.

When I wrote my last book "Whisky & Food" (, I soon noticed that it was easier to combine food with whisky than with wine. In fact, wine has tannins and an acidity which can have a negative effect on the balance of the meal. On the other hand, there's nothing more wonderful than a harmonious match between dishes and wines. For the magic to work, I recommend you follow the following ten golden rules.


  1. Salty dishes require wines with a high level of natural acidity. In Spain, for example, Xeres is served with all tapas, which are generally very salty. Salt neutralises the acidity of the wine, bringing out the fruity side more. This means that vintages with a high natural acidity such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio are a good match for salty food.
  2. Serve a light red wine with fish. A Pinot Noir or a Gamay for example go very well with a tuna steak. It is important that the wine doesn't have too many tannins, otherwise the fish will tend to develop a metallic taste.
  3. Fatty foods call for wines that are acidic or have plenty of tannins. When foods are fatty, they are generally also quite heavy and rich. This richness is perfectly suited to vintages with tannins such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo, or those with strong acidity such as Syrah, all of which leave you with a clean palate.
  4. Smoked dishes can overwhelm the toasted nuances of certain wines. Try to avoid serving them together. Smoked dishes are best served with a vintage that is not aged in a barrel.
  5. Serve full-bodied wines with rich food. An aromatic wine is the perfect companion to a dish which is also aromatic.
  6. Exotic specialities require fresh wines. Riesling and Gewürztraminer, even Sauvignon Blanc, go marvellously with many such dishes. Matching curry and wine is difficult because there are so many different kinds of curry. Sometimes it's better to simply give up on wine and go for a beer.
  7. Try a strong white or a light red wine with white meat. In aromatic terms, white meat is generally less tasty than red meat. It should not be eaten with a full-bodied red wine. Personally, I recommend a Chardonnay, Viognier, even a Pinot Noir or Gamay if you prefer red.
  8. Red meat (lamb cutlets, ribs, roasts, game) and red wines high in tannins (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Nebbiolo) are often a wonderful pairing.
  9. For dishes with sauce, you should choose your dish/wine combinations based on the sauce and not on the meat, because the sauce usually dominates the taste. For example, try a fresh Sauvignon Blanc that has good acidity with a lemon escalope, or a rich Chardonnay, even a light Pinot Noir, with a veal cutlet in morel sauce.
  10. Choose liqueur wines based on the sweetness of the dessert. Don't think that any old dessert wine will do. The important thing is that the wine should have the same intensity as the dessert. A rather sweet rosé or red wine will perfectly highlight a bowl of strawberries, while a white liqueur wine will bring out the best in patisserie.