Red wine with meat, white wine with fish, zzzz. Today's fashionable multi-cultural cuisine leaves little hiding place for those old kitchen clichés. Suzy Atkins has our mark guide to pairing food and wine.

Doesn't it get right up your nose, when experts tell you which drinks you should match with which food? Like, you must have white wine with fish, and you must knock back the red with meat? Or you must have lager with vindaloo, and you simply must crack open Champagne with wedding cake. Bloody annoying.

As far as I'm concerned, if you want to drink Claret with lemon sorbet, or Asti with roast lamb, that is fine by me. If you find what you think is a delicious combination of food and wine, however bizarre it might seem, then get on with it and bugger the rules.

I can come up with lots of food and wine matches that break the rules, and work brilliantly. Ever tried the robust, full-flavoured bacalhau (salt cod) dishes of Portugal? They overpower all white wines and need full-on reds to do them justice. What about a barbecued steak or pork chop, with its almost sweet, smoky flavours, and a glass of toasty California Chardonnay? Yep, that's right: I'm talking about meat with white wine, and it's truly fab.

You see, most wine goes with most food reasonably well. It's just the occasional terrible clash that you want to avoid - and there are ways of doing just that. And then again there are some dazzling, orgasmic matches of great food and wine - marriages made to last. They seem to bring out the flavours and aromas of each other, a bit of mutual... ahem... which sometimes adds an extra magic dimension. These true-love stories are elusive - wine is a real-life drama sometimes - but there are some shortcuts to the altar.

So, no rules, I promise, just a few helpful guidelines about food and wine matching.

Use your noodle

The best way forward is to try and partner wines that seem compatible. By that I mean think a bit about the levels of acidity, sweetness and richness. Match dishes that have high acidity with crisp, tart wines like Muscadet, Sancerre or Champagne. Tomatoes, lemon juice, fresh fruits - these ingredients change a dish completely. Try an experiment to see how it works - grill a piece of fresh fish and serve it plain with a couple of wines. Then squeeze a quarter of lemon over the fish and try it with the same wines - the acidity will have changed the impact of the pairing. Dry sherry, incidentally, is a great partner for acidic dishes, like tomato soup.

The same goes for sweetness - try to balance the food and wine. Don't drink sweet wines with most savoury dishes, but do try medium-dry whites with sweetish creamy curries. Prawns, crab and some other seafood tastes slightly sweet, so try an off-dry wine. The sweet Sauternes goes well with rich pâté, partly because pâté, is on the sweet side too. Match the lighter dessert wines (French and Spanish muscats, for example) with light fresh-fruit puds, but bring out the really sticky, unctuous pudding wines (Aussie liqueur muscats, say) with chocolate mousse or treacle tart. Easy.

As for richness, it stands to reason that a heavy, full-bodied red (top Rhône) is great with the heartiest of red meat casseroles, while a soft Beaujolais is better suited to cold ham and salad. Wines with rich, firm tannins (think of the texture of stewed tea, or pencil shavings) are not very tasty on their own or with light food, but those tannins soften when paired with protein, so cook some steak for a great combo. Quick tip: tannins clash with egg dishes and with cream.

Good sauce, good sense

Two further pointers: try and think of the sauce which goes well with a dish - redcurrant with lamb, for example, or lemon with fish - then pick wines that have similar character to the main ingredient: claret with lamb, and Sauvignon Blanc with fish both work. And don't forget to think about all the different components going into a complex dish. If you are serving prawns in a rich Thai curry of lemongrass, chilli and coconut milk, then you'll need a different wine than if you are eating cold prawns straight from the shell. I'd plump for an Alsace Riesling or Gewürztraminer with the Thai, and a young dry rosé with the cold prawns.

Much of this is common sense; but if you're still in doubt, go for the most food-friendly wines around. There are some wines which were made for matching with food, and which rarely create a clash. Among these are: good Beaujolais; light, unoaked Chardonnay; Alsace Pinot Blanc; Spanish Albariño; soft, youngish Pinot Noir; dry rosé; dry fino or manzanilla sherry (with starters) and tawny Port (with pudding and cheeses). A cop-out? Only a wee bit.

In the future I'll up the stakes, with further ideas on how to fix some particularly fantastic matches of food and wine. In the meantime, get stuck in.

Christmas Fayre

So what about the big day itself. What should you be drinking with the roast parsnips and mince pies, or canapés and stilton? Well there's really nothing better to start off Christmas Day than Champagne. A glass or two really gets you in the party mood quickly, the bubbles get the alcohol absorbed into the blood stream much quicker than still wine. Beware though, try and not OD on sparkling wine, as it'll contribute much more to any hangover on Boxing Day.
Bollinger is always an OutUK favourite, you really can taste the difference, but it can be quite pricy. A good Spanish Cava which is made by almost the same process as Champagne, but in Spain not France, is always a good bet, and Freixenet is by far the best. Look out for the distinctive black bottle.

White wines go well with canapés and starters, and we'd always recommend a quality French wine of which the best is undoubtedly a Chablis Premier Cru. Ordinary Chablis is a great wine, and fit to drink at anytime, particularly if you are on a budget. Lots of choices here, found in most supermarkets or wine shops for around £7-11 a bottle. Premier Cru on the other hand costs between £15-20 but you could pay something like twice that if you really wanted to. The taste of a Premier Cru though is something else, so it's definitely a wine to sip gently, and not something that you should down in one.

By the time the main course arrives, whether it's traditional turkey, exotic game or a vegetarian alternative you might like to switch to red. Merlot always slips down well, and it isn't too heavy to deal with. It goes well with rich food as it's flavour really stands up. Beware once again though, too much switching of wine really can set you back in the hangover stakes, so take it easy. This is particularly true if you decide to end the meal with a port wine as the cheese is getting served. Port is sweet and strong, and so it does round off a meal with style, but it sits heavy on the stomach and hangs around for sometime. Vintage ports would always be the first choice, they have a much more delicate flavour.





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