Your Guide To BYO!

Got an occasion that you need to BYO wine? Wine writer Phil Parker takes the pain out of pairing wine with food.

If there are any rules about food and wine pairings, the first one is to enjoy ‘the wine you enjoy drinking it with’. But there are some food and wine matches where the final experience seems far more than the sum of its parts.

If you like chugging lager with your rare venison steak, then fine – go for it. Many food and wine writers are so rigid about the right wine to have with a particular food, that it all gets a bit fraught - with the result that dinner party guests and hosts are chewing their nails over the possibility of making the wrong wine match.

Relax. It’s fairly simple. The aim is to match the intensity of flavour of your wine with that of your food. For example,
a blockbuster 16% alcohol cabernet is going to overwhelm the subtle flavours of poached chicken. Conversely, a delicate floral pinot gris won’t stand up to a rich venison casserole. Each wine has its own floral, fruit, savoury, spicy, and other characters which can lead to a foodie marriage made in heaven.

Summer Picnic

Picnic food needs to be portable and kept chilled if you’re moving further than your front lawn. Likewise with your wine. Picnic fare is likely to include bread, meats, cheese, salads, fruits and maybe a cake or cookies. These are mainly light, fresh foods served on a sunny day, so ideal match would be a chilled sparkling wine or a rosé. 

These two are crowd pleasers and match well with any lighter foods including seafood. Anything from a fancy bottle-fermented Champagne style to a bargain fruity low-alcohol prosecco or fun sparkling rosé – your choice. And if you really want a red to accompany your outdoor meal, then a light, fruity pinot noir kept at about 16°C will pretty well go with anything.

Barbecue Time

When the sun sets, let’s fire up the barbie and throw on some chicken, steak, and snarlers. Marinades, BBQ smoke and spices will add an extra oomph to the flavour of these meats, so the wines will need to step up a notch. My favourite match for barbecues is syrah (also known as shiraz when made in Australia). The natural peppery flavour compounds in syrah are a good match with spice and smoke. At the lighter end of the spectrum, I’d suggest a softer syrah from Hawke’s Bay. But for more intensely flavoured meat dishes, a hearty Aussie shiraz will deliver the goods. Alternative reds if you’re not such a fan of shiraz – malbec or cabernet sauvignon. And for BBQ fish, a nice crisp sauvignon blanc or fruity chardonnay is a good match. 

Formal Dining

Let’s say you’re hosting or attending a dinner party or a potluck meal. Shellfish and fish in general have subtle flavours that don’t need to be overpowered by spices and strong flavours. So, as a rule, crisp, fresh flavoured white wines are the way to go because they add citrus flavours and a hint of salinity. Sauvignon blanc and albariño are a perfect match. Stronger flavoured seafood and dishes such as paella or marinated raw fish will match nicely with a fruit forward off-dry pinot gris or a riesling. Or if you a red fan – try a delicate rosé. 

From a simple roast chicken to a savoury baked dish, chardonnay is a good match, adding creaminess and crispness to compliment that glorious chicken fat. Duck goes well with pinot noir, or if it’s in a rich sauce, syrah/shiraz. Pork has a natural sweetness and fattiness which matches well with gewürztraminer or a medium sweet pinot gris. (Gewürztraminer, pronounced gah-verts-trah-meaner, is a minority wine variety but well worth searching out for its floral, spicy flavours that match so well with pork or mildly spicy Asian cuisine).

Red meat and red wine are a natural pairing. And again, it’s all about matching flavours. For lean meats, pinot noir. The more fat content and condiments added to red meat dishes, then a more robust red such as syrah/shiraz or a 100% cabernet or cabernet blend will do the job admirably.


By Phil Parker, learn more about Phil here.