It's their profession, but even sommeliers struggle sometimes. We find out some of their toughest food and wine pairings...

Sommeliers’ toughest food and wine matches

Even sommeliers can struggle to find the best wine pairing for a dish. We’ve raided our archive of Confessions of a Sommelier from Decanter magazine to find out some of their most difficult pairings – and some advice for pairing wine with food.

Common challenges

‘The most common challenge is when diners want to drink sweet wines like Sauternes with dessert, especially with cold elements like ice cream,’ said  Arvid Rosengren, speaking to Decanter when wine director at Copenhagen Concepts restaurant group. ‘It’s rarely a good idea and I try to persuade them to go the route of fresher wines with less dry extract like Beerenauslese.’

Rosengren was named best sommelier in the world in 2016 and is wine director at Charlie Bird in New York.

‘Spicy dishes are always the hardest to pair when you are looking for balance,’ said David Vareille, speaking when he was sommelier at Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental, London. He is now head sommelier at the Arts Club, London.

‘[At Bar Boulud] our dish Boudin Noir au piment d’espelette (black pudding with hot chilli) was difficult – but I like serving Egon Müller’s Riesling Kabinett: the residual sugar softens the chilli without altering the taste of the sausage.’


See also: What wines to serve with curry


‘When I first started to work at Coya I found it a challenge to match wines with ceviche, the classic Peruvian dish, but I found it – Grüner Veltliner with a bit of age is a marriage made in heaven!’ Maria Wallèn, head sommelier at London’s Coya.

‘Asparagus is tricky. But a reliable match is Domaine Colin’s Pierre à Feu Chenin Blanc 2012 from Côteaux du Vendômois,’ said Stéphane Morand, sommelier at Le Cercle à Bourges.

Chinese food and wine matching

Chinese food and wine matching can be a complicated affair.


See also: Worst customer habits in restaurants – from the sommeliers


Difficult dishes

‘A fillet of halibut with a beetroot reduction. I chose a Spätburgunder from Weingut Huber in Baden,’ said Mathieu Ouvrard, speaking to Decanter when the head sommelier at Gleneagles Hotel.

‘Blue lobster ravioli. I chose white Châteauneuf-du-Pape: very elegant, to marry the power of the lobster,’ said  Stefano Petta, who was working at Hotel Schweizerhof Bern in Switzerland.


See also: Wine list or menu – what comes first?


‘Roast saddle of roe deer in a cocoa bean and juniper berry crust with Jerusalem artichoke and Brussels sprouts. Eventually I was happy with pairing a Malbec-based blend from Mendoza: Dominio del Plata’s Ben Marco Expresivo 2009.’  Richard Bernard, head sommelier at Le Saint-James, Bouliac.

‘Langoustine with truffle, sea kale and Jerusalem artichoke. I paired this tricky dish with Domaine Huet’s Clos de Bourg Demi-Sec Vouvray 1957.’ Emanuel Pesqueira, speaking when head sommelier at The Milestone Hotel & Apartments. He is now food and beverage manager at Oxford and Cambridge Club.

red meat with white wine, cordon bleu

Credit: Le Cordon Bleu London


See also: What to eat with sparkling wines – summer pairing ideas


The sommeliers’ advice

‘The simple rule is that there are only two types of pairings,’ said Richard Bernard, head sommelier at Le Saint-James, Bouliac.

‘Those of harmony (where acidities, sugars and weight in the food and wine are equal) and those of opposition (where a wine of high acidity cuts though fatty meat or an off-dry wine goes with spicy food).’

Christian Thorsholt Jacobsen, speaking when head sommelier at MASH in London, said ‘If you pay a bit more attention to the structure of the food and wine and a bit less attention to flavours it’s often not a very difficult task.’

‘As long as you don’t limit your way of thinking, anything can be possible.’ said Wallen.

These answers were part of Confessions of a Sommelier in Decanter magazine, between 2013 and 2015.


READ MORE: The 10 commandments of food and wine pairing


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