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Versatile wines that can pair with all sorts of meals

Nothing beats the magic of a brilliant pairing, but it’s always good to have a go-to wine that can adapt to all sorts of dining situations.

Versatile wines to consider

  • Riesling
  • Gamay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Barbera
  • Chenin Blanc

There’s a fine line between picking versatile wines to suit different tastes around the table or a range of meals, and just playing too safe.

Where that line lies is a personal matter, just as individual preference is a big part of food and wine pairing in general, but it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality.

Generally speaking, look toward wines that have bright fruit, good acidity and relatively low tannins, if you’re after something that can work with all sorts of dishes.

You don’t necessarily have to restrict yourself to grape varieties that traditional offer this combination. It’s possible to find fresher versions of wines once considered uniformly big and bold, such is the stylistic diversification in the wine world today.

Acidity is one of the most prized aspects of a wine when faced with many dishes on one table – such as Christmas dinner – because it can cut through the array of side-dishes and add lift to the whole meal.

Partly for this reason, it’s been commonly held for years that Riesling is a superb go-to food pairing wine for many sommeliers. It can also be produced in a range of styles, not least from dry to sweet, of course.

However, there are many other versatile wine styles out there.

Ronan Sayburn MS, head of wine at the 67 Pall Mall private wine club and restaurant, said, ‘A good allrounder wine for both fish and meat could be a fairly youthful Pinot Noir.

He suggested looking at Chile, New Zealand or South Africa for great value and quality, and said the wines ‘will work very well with lamb, beef or pork, as well as salmon and tuna and a variety of cheeses’.

He added, ‘For those who prefer a deeper wine, Argentine Malbec has been a great success story over the last 20 years, because it’s dark, fleshy and packed with flavour although soft in tannins.’

Will Hargrove, head of fine wine at Corney & Barrow, said Barbera’s combination of bright red fruit flavour, crunch and racy acidity means the wines have a lot to offer at the dinner table.

‘There are some very, very good Barberas in Piedmont,’ he said.

These wines are often a good choice for a group in a restaurant, ‘if people are having all sorts of food’, he added.

Sunny Hodge, founder of London-based wine bar and bottle shop Diogenes the Dog, told Decanter.com, ‘Good all-rounder wines are expected to be inoffensive, so avoid extremely high acidity whites, big tannic reds, and [anything] too dry or too sweet.’

He added, ‘Sugar, acidity, and tannins are usually the things that can destroy or work well with food. Good all-rounders will have to have these three factors, muted and in balance.‘

But that doesn’t mean you have to play too safe.

‘For whites, think very softly oaked [wines] to take an acidic edge off matters,’ said Hodge, who suggested a Czech biodynamic wine called Milerka from his bar’s list.

‘It’s a Müller-Thurgau and Neuburger blend in a little oak and acacia. It’s round and fruit forward without being too oaky.’

For reds, he advised avoiding oak so as not to over-emphasise tannin. ‘For softer all-rounders, think colder climate juicier and lighter wines.’

He highlighted Gamay. ‘Your Beaujolais style, [plus other] younger and fruit-led options would work to compliment a lot of dishes and palates out there.’

When it comes to French wines, Pierre Vila Palleja, sommelier-turned-owner at Le Petit Sommelier bistro in Paris, said that he would look to Chenin Blanc and Gamay.

‘It’s hard to find a course that doesn’t work with these two grape varieties,’ said Palleja, who previously worked as a sommelier at the Ritz.

‘Everybody is happy with a Beaujolais,’ he said, adding that both Beaujolais and Loire Valley Chenin wines can be great value.

This might be bending the rules of versatile wine slightly, but those looking to go slightly more in-depth with their pairings could consider stocking up on a couple of different styles – such is the flexibility offered by these grape varieties.

In Beaujolais, you can find more structured wines in some crus, such as Moulin-à-Vent, for example. In the Loire, a richer, oaky Chenin would suit creamier dishes, said Palleja.


See also: 

Great wines to drink with lamb this Easter

See all food and wine pairing articles


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