The holiday times and merry seasons are filled with good food and great wine. One wine and food paring can either make or break the party that you have been planning for the last two months. To help prevent these regrettable situations, here are a few tips to help you on your way to a delicious holiday season.

Let’s first tackle the way the food interacts with the wine:

Sweetness and Umami in food both can increase the perception of bitterness, astringency, acidity and the warming effect of alcohol in wine. It can decrease the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness in wine.

Acidity in food can decrease the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness in wine. It increases the perception of acidity in wine – have you ever eaten a lemon with a crisp sauvignon blanc?

Salt in food can increase the perception of body in the wine and decrease the perception of bitterness, astringency and the acidity in wine. It can also enhance fruitiness and soften the tannins of the wine.

Bitterness in food will obviously enhance the perception of bitterness in wine (no dark chocolate with fresh out of the barrel Shiraz)

If you live more on the wild side and are preparing a chilli dish it’s important to note that chilli heat in food increases the perception of bitterness, astringency, acidity and the effect of alcohol in wine and it can decrease the perception of body, richness, sweetness and fruitiness in wine.

There are some high risk foods that need to be paired with specific wine styles in order to ensure that the combination is palatable.

Dishes high in sugar should be paired with a wine that has at least as much sugar as the dish.

Umami in the food will emphasise the astringency and bitterness of the tannins and thus the wine needs to have the necessary components, such as concentrated fruit flavours to be able to cope with the change in the wine. High levels of umami in the wine can be balanced by the addition of acid or salt providing this keeps with the character of the dish.

Dishes high in bitterness will emphasise the bitterness in the wine.  White wines or low-tannin reds should be considered.

Dishes with high concentration of chilli heat should be paired with white wines or low-tannin reds, each with low levels or alcohol. A wines fruitiness and sweetness can also be reduced by chilli heat so consider wines with higher levels of fruitiness and sweetness to make the effect less severe.


If you haven’t gotten around to designing a menu for that holiday party coming up soon here are some good ideas for meals and wine pairings. Please note that the pairing is based on wine styles rather than a specific brand. It’s very important to work from light style wines and progress to the heavier reds and finish off with a desert wine.

Starter:  An impressive, easy to make and relatively pocket friendly idea is Parma ham and melon cube skewers.

Parma ham is relatively high in fat and thus an acidic white wine would be recommended, preferably a fruit driven Sauvignon blanc or Chenin blanc should be paired with this meal in order to cut through the richness of the fat and have the tropical fruit compliment the sweet melon.

Main: A classic and all around crowd pleaser is pot roast beef prepared with an assortment of roasted vegetables.

Most recipes already contain a dry red wine; a good pairing would also be a dry red wine with a lower acid that has smooth tannins and a lower astringency.  If you are partial to a Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon or a red blend an older vintage is recommend as the tannins would have mellowed out and the wine would have an overall smoother mouth feel as well as a beautiful spiciness that will pair well with the roast. A more pocket friendly idea would be a Merlot or a Pinotage that has been grown in a warmer region providing subtle winter spices with a beautiful fruitiness and smokiness that will pair well with the roast.

Desert: A traditional trifle containing jelly, custard, Swiss roll slices, a drizzle of brandy/sherry/fruit juice, peach slices, whipped cream on top with granadilla drizzled over for aesthetic appeal.

The trifle can be served with a natural sweet, late harvest or even noble late harvest.  It is important not to oversaturate the trifle with brandy or sherry to ensure that the fruit flavours pair well with the wine, in my opinion if a pairing is conducted, tropical fruit juice should be used instead. A honey and stone fruit driven style is recommended.