Going out for dinner is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Being waited on, leisurely reading through a menu, deciding on a dish that takes your fancy – what’s not to love? But then can come a moment, when presented with the wine list, that strikes fear into your heart.
Which wine to choose?
Fear not, fellow diners, because we recently sat down and chatted with young New Zealand winemaker Greg Rowdon, who makes his Fickle Mistress in the Central Otago region. He gave us some excellent pointers on how to choose the best winter reds to match what’s on your plate.
“My theory on [wine and food] matching is that the wine shouldn’t dominate the food. Wine should support the food,” explains Rowdon. He points out that when in a restaurant, it’s best to look at the wine list and menu at the same time, and he recommends making your wine choice after you’ve decided what you’re going to eat.
The next step is grabbing the sommelier or waiter and getting vocal. “I’m a huge believer in asking! Sommeliers and wait staff know about the food they’re serving and should know what to recommend,” says Rowdon matter-of-factly.
Big, bold reds can be tricky to match with foods. Rowdon suggests you should, “steer clear of jammy, robust wines, like Australian Shiraz,” as they can easily dominate your dinner.
So which reds should you go for? Unsurprisingly, Pinot Noir is his first choice. “Pinot is awesome for matching to food because it’s more subtle. It’s not an in-your-face wine. The subtlety and texture makes it so easy to match to food.”
So, a light-bodied red like Pinot Noir gets a tick of approval, but what else should we consider?
Rowdon also suggests trying a cool climate Syrah, such as one from New Zealand, as it has great depth but is very different to Australian Shiraz. “Cool climate Syrah has a fantastic complexity and complements food without dominating,” he says.
Based on that advice, it’s worth considering a drop produced in some of the Old World wine regions like Austria, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Rowdon explains: “Old world wines are designed to match with food. They’re more textural, better on the palate. More subtlety makes for a better match with food.”
And what should you order when you’re enjoying, for instance, a Middle Eastern dish? Rowdon recommends keeping it close to home. “If I went to a Lebanese restaurant, I would order Lebanese wine. I love that simplicity.”
Red meat and red wine have always been a natural pairing, but Rowdon suggests that you don’t necessarily have to order the steak. “Harpuka and other deep sea fishes can go really well with a light-bodied red, too,” he points out.
And if you’re browsing in a bottle shop and tempted to purchase something you know and love, Rowdon reckons the best thing you can do is ask for advice. “Staff at wine shops in Melbourne and Sydney have great wine knowledge…a great appreciation for wine.”
Final words of advice for people who want to steer away from what they know but are scared to take the risk? “Just ask! I hate the mystique around wine…it‘s made to be drunk. You’ll have such a better time if you ask, throw yourself out there. It’s frustrating to see people choosing the same thing. Take a bit of a risk and you’ll be rewarded.”