Now that spring has officially sprung, so the impulse to get outdoors and exploit the longer, sun-drenched days, heightens. And the bounty of fresh produce now in season – artichokes, asparagus, fennel, lamb, rhubarb and citrus fruits, to name a few – is one of the best excuses to catch up with friends while basking in the sun’s rays.
A more confounding element of the seasonal transition can be choosing what to drink. To help you prepare for every food-focused eventuality this summer, we’ve assembled a quick reference guide full of food and wine pairing inspiration for your next get-together.
Throw a barbecue
With barbecue season well and truly upon us, it’s time to dust off the tongs and pay a visit to the butcher. If you’re looking to stock up on some great all-rounders then fruit-forward varietals with soft tannins – such as Mediterranean red styles, and New World pinot noir and riesling – are a great place to start.
For those preparing a barbecue to mark a special occasion and wishing to pair each dish with a wine, consider the following: a medium-bodied cabernet sauvignon (five years) is the ultimate match for spring favourite lamb; barbecued chicken pairs well with a warmer climate chardonnay; and for grilled salmon opt for a light-bodied pinot noir or a gamay. Vegetarian hosts (or guests) can enjoy a rosé or a young riesling with cold salads and an aged riesling with chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables.
Don’t forget that red wines are best served at room temperature (13-18°C), so if the mercury hits 20°C they’ll need to be chilled in a wine fridge for around 30 minutes prior to serving. A cooled red is the perfect contrast to hot, flame-licked meats.
Host a dinner party
Organising a dinner party can prove a mammoth task, with many elements to consider, from settling on a menu, to catering to numerous dietary requirements, liaising with friends, cleaning the house and preparing the food. The last thing you need to worry about is what wines to serve.
Luckily there are a few classic multitasking wines that are sure to please a crowd. One such example is sparkling – a dinner party staple that never goes out of fashion and instantly shouts “celebration”. Bubbles also happen to pair well with hors d'oeuvres, cold crustaceans and oysters, all mainstays of the dinner party world. Another no-brainer to bookend a dinner party is dessert wine. Pick a young botrytised wine for cake and fresh fruit, an old muscat for something chocolate-based, or an old topaque for a creme brûlée.
Choosing a wine for the main course is more involved and highly dependent on the flavours that wind up on the plate. There are, however, some broad guidelines. Gewurztraminer, with its exotic aromas of lychee and rose petal, and its sweetness, tends to bring out the best in highly spiced cuisine, such as that of Asia and the Middle East. One of the most versatile varietals on the planet, chardonnay is a mighty match for subtly flavoured fish, shellfish and white meats, but beware richly oaky styles, which can clash rather than complement many dishes.
Organise a ‘wine and cheese’ night
With little preparation needed, an informal gathering around a cheese platter leaves the host with plenty of time to enjoy the evening. There’s also plenty of creative liberty when it comes to picking your cheeses and accoutrements, dialling up or down the extravagance factor as you please – perhaps figs, dried muscatels, dips and walnut bread make the cut, or simply quince paste, lavosh and your trusty Laguiole cheese knives.
The basic structure of a cheese plate revolves around four types: blue, soft, aged and firm. If you’re searching for one wine to rule them all then an off-dry riesling or a bottle of sparkling will work well. But for a more specialised approach, heed the following advice. A blue, such as gorgonzola or stilton, will match beautifully with a vintage port, Sauternes or a sweet sherry. A soft cheese, such as brie, camembert or d’Affinois, pairs well with Champagne, though a soft and fruit-forward red, such as a pinot noir, can offer a pleasing contrast to the mellowness of this type of cheese. An aged cheese, such as mature cheddar or a gruyere, needs a medium-bodied white, such as chardonnay or viognier, or even a merlot. While firm cheeses (manchego, pecorino or parmesan) are ideal with tannic reds, full-bodied whites and sweet wines – think vintage Champagne, red Burgundy and oloroso sherry.
Prepare a picnic
An undeniably drinkable drop that sings of summer, rosé is the most obvious choice for a picnic. An off-dry rosé pairs well with chilled fresh fruit, while a light and dry rosé will typically pair well with light salads, meats and almost anything can you throw at it.
Sparkling and riesling are two other picnic classics. A young, off-dry riesling works well with prosciutto and melon, while antipasto loves young semillon. For quiches, mature chardonnay is a good match, while light- to medium-bodied reds with higher acid work surprisingly well with a roasted chicken.