Some friends are coming for dinner and you have absolutely no idea what to cook. Drinks are not a problem, seeing as you have quite a wine collection from all the tasting trips you enjoyed along the Western Cape Wine Route last summer. The problem is that superb wine can easily be spoiled if it isn’t complemented by the right meal.

According to acclaimed wine estate Morgans Wine's,  the three basic principles to keep in mind are:

  • Red wine with red meat
  • Dry white wine with fish and white meat
  • Sweet wine with dessert

Using this as a basic guideline, there are other elements you should consider, such as:

Intensity:        Powerfully-flavoured food should be accompanied by a wine with a powerful flavour.

Acidity:            Food that contains citrus or other ingredients high in acidity, should be matched with wine with acidity to match.

Salty foods:     Should be partnered with wine that has a touch of sweetness.

Tannin:             A robust red wine tends to turn tinny when served with fish and bitter with salt.

Difficult matches

Although food and wine go great together, there are certain culprits that could spoil that ridiciously expensive shiraz. These include:

1.       Soft-yolked egg. It coats the mouth and blocks the taste of the wine.

2.       Vinegar makes one taste acidic.

3.       Oily fish distort wine flavours.

4.       As chilli numbs the taste buds, you don’t get the true taste of the wine.

A helpful tip is to start by thinking about the dish or meal as a whole. What are its dominant characteristics?

  •  Is it mild or flavorful?
  • Is it fatty or lean?
  • Is it rich or acidic?

Above: Beef needs a wine that can keep up with the flavour. Photo: Jack017

The following dishes go perfectly with the right wine. has created a food and wine pairing board which provides a simple summary of the do’s and don’ts of wine pairing, such as:

1.       Beef

When it comes to beef dishes, your choices are limitless. The basic rule is too choose a wine that is full enough to keep up with the beef’s flavour and has enough *tannin to balance out the fats in the meat.  Your choices here are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, red Bordeaux, Shiraz and Zinfandel.

2.       Fish

When you opt for rich fish, such as tuna, or any kind of fish with a rich, buttery sauce, the best way to go is a Chardonnay. Salmon is, however, an exception to this rule as it has a more distinct flavour and needs a richer, more developed flavour to go with it.

3.       Shellfish

Lobster goes with Chardonnay, oysters go with Sauvignon Balanc or champagne. With shrimp you make the choices based on the other ingredients on your plate and with scallops you may opt for a clean, rich Chardonnay.

4.       Poultry

If it’s in a cream sauce, you’ll need a Chardonnay to bring out the flavour. Fried chicken is a heavy dish and would respond best to a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. While you would think that Cabernet Sauvignon and chicken wouldn’t work together, FoodandWine found to their surprise that it actually goes very well with spicy chicken dishes.

5.        Chocolate

While pairing wine with chocolate takes a bit of experimenting, it can be done.  Pair lighter chocolates with lighter wines and darker chocolate with darker wines. Go from light to dark in your tasting session, starting with milk or lower percentage cacao chocolates and their corresponding wines. Dark, Bittersweet and Semisweet chocolate should go with full bodied reds such as Zinfandel. Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc go well with milk chocolate.

6.        Cheese

While Blue cheese is dessert wine territory, you might want to go for full tannic wines such as a Cabernet Sauvignon when enjoying hard, flavourful cheese. According to the experts at, a soft, rich, cheese requires a wine with some structure. Brie needs a medium-bodied Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc while a Pinor Noir will also do the trick.

Above: The tannin in wine comes from the grapes as well as the wood barrels the wine has aged in. Photo by: Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

What is tannin?

*Tannin is similiar to what you taste when you drink from a cup of tea which has had a teabag that was sitting in it too long. According to, a website compiled by wine lovers, that mouth-puckering flavour comes from both the grapes and the wood barrels the wine has aged in. When tannin is provided in balance, it gives a great taste and helps to clean the palate. Most tannins are extracted from grape pips and stalks during fermentation and more is added in the wood barrels.

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