Valentine’s Day is going to look quite different for a lot of couples this year. The ongoing pandemic means that an evening at your favourite restaurant is out of the question, so celebrating the occasion will likely see you flying solo in the kitchen and choosing an accompanying wine without the help of a hovering sommelier.
But there’s no need to overthink it. Whatever you plan on cooking (or ordering in – we won’t tell), there’s a no-fuss, failsafe wine to match.
If you’re cooking red meat
A good rule of thumb for pairing red meat and wine: the leaner the meat, the lighter the wine. This usually corresponds to flavour intensity – if a meat dish is strong in flavour, it’ll need a powerful wine to stand up to it.
Steak and beef
Steak pairs well with an Argentinian Malbec or California Cabernet Sauvignon, while beef-based dishes and stews need a rich wine, such as a Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, or a Spanish Rioja. If you’re working with a particularly fatty cut, choose a wine with higher tannins, which act as a palate cleansing astringent – Barolo and Napa Cabernet are good examples.
Venison can be gamey and lean, but also rich, so avoid anything too tannic and opt for wines that match its earthy flavours. Grenache from Cotes du Rhone or a new world Pinot Noir will pair nicely, or if you prefer a bit more intensity, go for a full-bodied Shiraz.
Pork pairs well with a low-tannin red or white wine with some fruit and acidity to match the flavour. A fruity California Merlot works with baked ham, while a Grenache-based red from France works with dried ham. A roast pork pairs well with a California Pinot Noir, or a red Burgundy from France. Prefer white wine? Try an acidic, fruit-driven Chenin Blanc or Riesling.
Lamb is lighter and more delicate in flavour than beef, so it typically requires a lighter accompanying wine. Choose a Pinot Noir, Merlot or Zinfandel.
If you’re cooking poultry
Traditional schools of thought would say that poultry, as a ‘white meat’, is best served with white wine, but that’s not always the case, largely because poultry can itself be separated into ‘white’ and ‘dark’ categories.
Chicken is one of the most versatile dishes when it comes to wine pairing, so in this instance it’s best to look at the overall flavours of the dish. Rich, creamy chicken dishes pair well with oaked Chardonnay, while chicken with herby flavours do well with Sauvignon Blancs. Spicy dishes, such as stir fry, need a touch of sweetness and acidity, so opt for an off-dry Riesling.
Seasoning and/or sauce should be a key factor in choosing a bottle, although generally speaking you should stick to light reds and bold whites to match the strong, earthy flavours of the meat. Pinot Noir and Gamay are good choices for reds, while Viognier, Chardonnay or Pinot Gris will do the trick for whites.
Duck, a so-called ‘dark meat’, is much fattier than poultry such as chicken or turkey and has a richer, gamier taste, so both white or red is an option here as long as the wine boasts a good acidity. For whites, go for unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or a sweeter German wine, such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer. For reds, a Pinot Noir, Gamay or Tempranillo will pair nicely.
If you’re cooking seafood
Generally speaking, white wines tend to pair best with fish and seafood, although lighter reds and sparkling wines can work well with some dishes. The more delicate the fish, the more elegant the wine should be, but it’s important to consider the most prominent element of the dish, which is usually the sauce.
Leaner, flakier fish such as sea bass and tilapia are delicate and mild, so need a light, refreshing white like a Pinot Grigio. More medium-textured fish like haddock and halibut tend to be thicker and more capable of withstanding more flavour-intense wine. Look for medium-bodied, aromatic white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Pink fish like salmon and trout is probably the most versatile fish dish to pair with. Go for a light-bodied red, such as a Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Sangiovese, or a medium-bodied white, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.
Shellfish – that is, squid, oysters, crab and shrimp – demands a counter-balance of light, fruit flavours and adequate acidity, meaning an acidic white tends to pair well. Try Muscadet, Pinot Grigio, Riesling or White Burgundy. Champagne and Cava also pair wonderfully and makes for a special extra touch.
If you’re cooking a pasta dish
Top wine pairings for pasta dishes all depend on the sauce. And as the old saying goes, ‘what grows together goes together’, so opt for an Italian wine if you can.
Creamy pasta sauces
Offset heavy dishes such as carbonara and fettucine alfredo with Soave, Pinot Bianco and lighter Chardonnays. Creamy pasta dishes that are heavy on the herbs do well with crisper Italian whites, such as Falanghina, Vermentino or Arneis. Mushroom dishes, meanwhile, pair well with Soave or Chardonnay, or a light Merlot or Pinot Noir if you prefer reds.
Crisp dry whites pair nicely here – think Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio – as do light Sicilian reds. Meatier tomato dishes need a bit more heft, so opt for Sangiovese, Rosso di Montalcino or Barbera.
For green pesto, go for dry whites such as Gavi, Soave or Verdicchio. For red pesto, opt for a medium-bodied red such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Sangiovese or Merlot.
If you’re cooking vegetarian food
On the face of it, it might seem a little trickier to pair wine with vegetarian food since you don’t have the obvious ‘jumping off’ point that meat provides. But as with pasta dishes, it all comes down to overall flavours, and the following are some quick, failsafe options.
Mushroom dishes: Pinot Noir
Vegetable stir fry: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Spicy Asian dishes: Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, rose
Garlic-heavy dishes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
Roast vegetable dishes: White Bordeaux, Pinot Noir
Salads: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, rose
Learn more about wine characteristics and food pairing here.