How to match wine to your favourite takeaway food
Pair with prowess with this basic guide to matching wine to your go-to takeaway foods.
We’ve all heard the rule that white wine goes with white meat and red wine goes with red meat. While this might work sometimes, it’s not always a foolproof way to finding the grapeist match. What you’re eating, how it’s prepared, the sauces it comes with and – above all – what you like to drink are all important factors to consider when you’re trying to pick a wine. So, whether your go-to is dumplings, pizza, pad Thai or even a cheeky chocolate sundae, here are a few simple tips to help you choose the perfect wine to drink with your favourite takeout.
Understanding the taste profile of your food is fundamental to choosing a wine to go with it.
When it comes to food and wine matching, there are two main pairing methodologies. You can choose a wine that will complement a dish, (contrast or complementary pairing) or you can choose a wine that will enhance a dish (congruent pairing).
- Complementary pairing: They say opposites attract and that goes for wine, too. That’s why rich, creamy carbonara works so well with crisp, zesty pinot grigio. The freshness and acidity of the wine help to cut through the fat and creaminess of the pasta. Complementary pairing works by balancing the contrasting elements of the food and wine. White wine, rosé and sparkling are often excellent options when it comes to complementary pairing.
- Congruent pairing: Like attracts like; ergo, food and wine having shared personality traits makes for a great pairing. This is why classic combos like steak and shiraz work. The peppery sauce (or seasoning) of the steak beautifully enhances the natural pepper flavours in shiraz, and the bitter tannins help to cut through the fatty meat. Congruent pairing is about enhancing the flavours of a dish, so reading the label can often give you a clue. If the description mentions tropical fruit, citrus or spice, and you’re having a fragrant Thai red curry with lychees, you’re probably onto a winner.
Whichever method you choose, understanding the taste profile of your food is fundamental to choosing a wine to go with it. In the world of wine, there are seven basic tastes – sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, fatty, acidic and umami – and, much like in cooking, finding your meal’s perfect wine match is about striking a balance between them.
- Sweet: Sweetness in food makes a wine taste less sweet so you want to make sure whatever you’re drinking is as sweet, if not sweeter, than what you’re eating. For desserts, fortified wines (such as sherries or ports), stickies, or sweeter wines with a little effervescence (sparkling shiraz, moscato, riesling) often work beautifully. For chocolate-based desserts, ports and sherries are often winners, while sweet white wines (like botrytis semillon or late-harvest riesling) are generally a safe bet for fruity desserts. And if you're in the mood for ice cream? Just add a little sparkle (like moscato or a spritzy riesling) and you're good to go.
- Salty: Salt is one of the easiest flavours to match, which is why combos like Champagne and potato crisps, or oysters and unoaked chardonnay work so darn well. Salt in food can enhance many aspects of a wine. Fresh drops that have enough acidity to stand up to it, or a hint of fruitiness or sweetness to balance it (wines from cool-climate regions such as Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula, Macedon, New Zealand or, if you’re aiming for something a little more exotic, northern France or Italy) are often winners, here.
- Spicy: Spicy foods can make the alcohol in wine stand out or, when it comes to chilli, can increase the burn. If you’re planning a spicy feast, look for wines with lower ABVs (less than 14%), or with a little sweetness to balance out the spice. Asian or Indian cuisines with complex or strong spices can be tricky to match with so try to pair spice with spice, such as gewurtztraminer, riesling or even prosecco.
- Bitter: Bitterness in food will enhance the bitterness (or tannin) in wine – and vice versa. So if your dinner is on the bitter side, try to avoid highly tannic wines. Look for soft, fruity reds or crisp whites (perhaps with a little sweetness).
- Fatty: Whether it’s a cheese platter, juicy burger or Friday night fish and chips, when it comes to fat, look for wines with enough acid to cut through (such as a sauvignon blanc) or with subtle tannin to strip it from your palate (such as sangiovese).
- Acid: This is one of the easiest things to match as acidity in food makes a wine seem fuller-bodied, sweeter and more fruity. As a general rule, young wines from cooler climates, such as the Mornington Peninsula, New Zealand or Tasmania, will likely be more fresh, vibrant and juicy than aged wines or wines from warmer climates (like the Hunter Valler or Barossa).
- Umami: This is a savoury taste often found in Japanese foods such as miso, but also frequently in Italian cuisine (mushroom risottos, tomato-based pastas, parmesan cheese etc). Umami is best matched with intensity and acid, so look for full-bodied white wines or fruity, light to medium-bodied reds. You could even add a touch of effervescence.
While the golden rule is always to forget the rules and drink what you like, there are a few things to think about when looking for the ideal sipping partner – especially if you’re trying to match it to a steaming hot saran-wrapped container of spicy curry or sweet and sour pork.
- Pair like with like: Foods and wines with similar flavour profiles often work together. For example, the citrus characteristics in sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio pair will with fried calamari and fresh lemon, while also reducing the sharp acidity in the wine. Similarly, buttered popcorn complements the richness of chardonnay, while also enhancing its nutty, toasty flavours.
- Keep food and wines in the same weight class: When pairing food and wine, it's always a good idea to keep them in the same weight class. Lighter foods (such as grilled fish or chicken) work well with delicate wines, while rich, heavy foods (like ragus or curries), work better with bold, fuller-bodied wines. Matching foods and wines with similar intensity of flavours is also key. In other words, a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon probably isn't the best match for a Vietnamese salad.
- Balance richness with tannin: Tannins are phenolic compounds found in grape skins and seeds, as well as the oak barrels in which wines are aged that help to provide structure and complexity to red (and orange) wines. If you've ever sucked on a walnut or finished off the dregs of a cup of tea, you've probably experienced their mouth-puckering effects. It's this astringency that makes tannic wines a brilliant match for rich foods - they bind saliva and proteins to help to cleanse the palate. They also help to soften the fats in red meat, which is why steak and shiraz, or lamb and cabernet sauvignon have long been a classic culinary pairings.
- Pair to the sauce not the protein: While we've long been taught to pair wine to the main protein in a dish, new wine rules suggest pairing to the predominant flavours in a dish can also yield delicious results. Sure, chicken works well with white wine, but cook it in a rich tomato-based sauce (such as a cacciatore) or crumbed and topped with cheese and napoli sauce, and it's crying out to be savoured with a glass of sangiovese or pinot noir.
- What grows together, goes together: Another simple place to start when choosing a bottle of wine is to pick something from the same region as the food with which you are drinking it. Jamon and fino (dry) sherry, boeuf bourguignon and Burgundy (pinot noir) and wiener schnitzel with riesling or gruner veltliner are all classic examples. For something a little closer to home, if you're eating Italian food, look for a bottle from a similar region (such as aglianico if you're having Neapolitan-style pizza), or assyrtiko if you're having a chicken souva.
- Spin the classics: When it doubt, nothing beats a classic. Chablis (unoaked chardonnay) and oysters, Sancerre (sauvignon blanc) and goat's cheese, duck and pinot noir, pork and rosé, chicken and chardonnay, Champagne and cheese, steak and shiraz, lamb and Rioja (tempranillo)... these pairings have stood the test of time for a reason: they just work.
Pizza and red wine is never a bad idea.
Still not sure what to drink? Try these fun food and wine pairings with your next dinner delivery.
- Pad Thai, cashew chicken: Try riesling, rosé or chenin blanc. Look for off-dry styles; German riesling often works beautifully. If you can find a bottle, Argentinian torrontes is a really interesting match. You can get a lovely local example from Victoria's St Ignatius Estate, the first to be grown and produced in Australia.
- Green curry: Try: albarino, pinot gris. Look for crisp wines with a hint of spice.
- Massaman beef: Try: syrah, malbec, tempranillo. Try to match intensity in food with intensity in wine, and add a little tannin to help break down the protein in the beef. If you prefer a white, try a classic chardonnay.
- Butter chicken: With creaminess and spice, a medium-bodied wine will work well here. Try a marsanne, chardonnay or New Zealand pinot gris. Or, if you prefer reds, a fruity grenache.
- Lamb korma: Smooth, rich and aromatic wines will work beautifully with this classic Indian dish. Try merlot, cabernet sauvignon with a bit of age or a viognier.
- Fried rice: Keep it fresh and light with a crisp riesling, off-dry rose or fruity prosecco
- Sweet and sour pork: Try gruner veltliner. This Austrian grape is having a moment right now, thanks to pioneering growers in the Adelaide Hills region – and it’s a great match with modern Asian cuisine.
- Peking duck: Duck and pinot noir is one of the all-time classic hits but, for something a little different, you could try pairing it with a local gamay.
- Dumplings: Champagne makes everything better – dumplings included. For local sparkling wine, Tasmania is producing some real stunners. Pinot gris, gewurtztraminer or even a sparkling pinot noir are also a great match.
- Pizza: Pretty much anything goes with this Aussie takeout staple. If you’ve got a white base, go for a prosecco, pinot grigio, vermentino or even a rosé; for a red base – pick up a Chianti, dolcetto, montepulciano or a juicy nero d’avola – there are some lovely styles from producers in the Riverina region and Adelaide Hills. Or, if you want to kick it old school, nothing beats a bottle of or Riccadonna or Lambrusco.
- Pasta, gnocchi, lasagne, risotto: This all depends on the sauces but for rich, tomato-based dishes and meaty ragus, you can’t go wrong with sangiovese, barbera, cabernet or nebbiolo. For creamy or cheesy pastas – such as pesto, carbonara or even mushroom risottos – whites including vermentino, viognier or pinot grigio. Lighter reds, such as pinot noir or valpolicella, are also a lovely choice. If in doubt, prosecco or Franciacorta (Italy's answer to Champagne) are always winners.
- Fried chicken: Whether it’s popcorn chicken, Japanese katsu or a cheeky chicken schnitty you’re ordering in, you can’t go wrong with a fresh riesling, spicy gruner veltliner, fruity pinot noir or a bubbly prosecco.
- Charcoal chicken: Chardonnay, pinot grigio, Sancerre or even a Hunter Valley semillon are a delicious match for this Friday night fave.
- Fish & Chips: Keep it classic with a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc or Victorian pinot grigio or go for something a little more exotic, such as a Spanish albarino.
- Burgers: There’s something so indulgent about burgers and wine. For meat-based or fried options, grenache, cabernet franc or a classic cabernet merlot work well. Or, if you want to branch out and try something a little more interesting, an orange wine would also work well.
- Ice cream: If you want a dessert pairing that’s sure to impress (but that is a cinch to nail) – you can’t go past chocolate or vanilla ice cream drizzled with PX (Pedro Ximenez) sherry.
- Apple pie: The honeyed, baked apple notes of late-harvest riesling are a delight with apple pie and baked apple crumble.
- Doughnuts: Try bubbly moscato, cava or prosecco with plain or custard-filled doughnuts, while fruity rosés are a delight with hot jam varieties.
- Sticky-date pudding: The rich chocolate and caramel notes in fortified wines, such as muscat or sweet sherry, make for a match made in heaven.
- Chocolate: Port, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot pair beautifully with bitter dark chocolate. Sweeter milk chocolates work best with lighter, fruitier reds or fortified wines with a little sweetness. Got a thing for white chocolate? Sip on sparkling wines with a hint of sweetness, Sauternes (or late-harvest sauvignon blanc), or moscato.