The Perfect Pair: What Food to Pair with Red Wine
Article written by wine writer, Mike Bennie.
Red wine of Western Australia is a kaleidoscopic palette to work from in the high stakes game of food and wine matching. In broad brushstrokes, you get access to every kind of light and shade, from Swan Valley’s rich, muscular warm country reds through to Margaret River’s stately, elegant cabernets. There’s those pitch-perfect medium bodied, spice-laden reds of Great Southern, and an array of compelling red grape wines from the verdant vines of Southern Forests complemented by lesser-known varieties found in Geographe. Something for everyone, something for every cuisine.
That being said, red wine comes with food and wine matching cliches. Red wine, red meat. That’s the slogan. It’s a tried and tested marriage that seems almost indelible in the greater scheme of culinary arts, but from where I sit, perhaps controversially, I see it as less black and white. Or black and red, perhaps.
Red wine is way more versatile and has way more personality than the monochromatic nature of red on red. Lighter, fresher styles work particularly well with white meats, seafood, the wealth of vegetables that great chefs champion seasonally. Medium bodied reds, particularly the sublime cabernets of Margaret River, the elegant syrahs and grenache of Great Southern and wines made from varieties like sangiovese in Geographe, all seem to be kindred with game meat, but also work surprisingly well with cooked seafood dishes and poultry, despite the urge to reach for white wine.
Foremost though, let’s deal with the benchmark standards. Some of my best moments have come with perfectly cooked cuts of beef and beautiful, seamless cabernet. Straight to mind is a dinner where a fancy chef mustered her skills to sear to perfect medium-rare a chunky prime rib from one of Outback Beef’s Pilbara cattle. The brilliant meat was set alongside a glass of Vasse Felix’s top red, Vasse Felix Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon – the svelte red, all cassis and bay leaf characters with fine tannin was an utterly sublime condiment for that flavoursome and beautifully cooked protein.
While it wasn’t lost on me that this was a near perfect synergy between glass and plate, my mind did wander to other combinations so potent from Western Australia. Arkady Lamb is phenomenal meat, rich, sweet, clean and takes the humble sheep to next level status. Putting something alongside this next level meat, I gravitate to Western Australia’s lesser sung varieties, and zinfandel, specifically from award winning, leading Margaret River producer Cape Mentelle.
Cape Mentelle are pioneers of the prestigious wine region and planted zinfandel on a hunch that the variety would thrive in the moderate, maritime climate. They nailed it. The ripe, berry fruit and kirsch-like richness and generosity of zinfandel is magnificent with lamb, elevating the inherent character of both wonderfully.
Stepping away from the tried and tested red-red combination, there’s solid ground to explore Western Australia’s multitude of lighter red wines in cahoots with food stuffs. I like chilled reds. There, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. With things from the nearby ocean, chilled reds are ideal, especially if in lighter and brighter styles. Producers like Brave New Wines from Great Southern, Dormilona/Yokel from Margaret River/Swan Valley and Chouette in Swan Valley, all seem to nail the brief with their fresh-feeling, lighter reds.
Grenache is the latent superstar too. Grenache is a kind of Swiss Army Knife of red wines, seemingly malleable with everything from crudo (like, say, raw beef or oily fish) right through to the heaviest of stews. It’s inherent tannin profile and bright acidity at modest alcohols means you have a wine that will dance with delicate dishes and cut through the denser ones. By my reckoning, Western Australia has some of the most refined, serious grenaches in the country, particularly led by the outstanding Swinney wines of Great Southern, though La Violetta and Express Winemakers, also from Great Southern, come readily to mind.
Writ large in this conversation is the breadth of scope to use red wines wherever you feel best suited. Like red wine with oysters? Go right ahead, I might not be joining you, but I’m not telling you how to have fun. I do like the idea that wine is seen as the final seasoning to a dish, so keep that in mind with red wine, and with lighter and medium bodied reds usually better pals with food than say, the heftier ones that are kind of a meal-in-a-glass on their own.