Basic Wine Styles & Food Pairing - Keep it Simple

Basic Wine Styles & Food Pairing - Keep it Simple

The Perfect Cheat Sheet from Brad

Choosing wines to serve and to marry with your food dishes can sometimes be quite intimidating and so here we try to simplify the main grape varietals as a cheat-sheet for you to better understand the different styles of grape varietals and the food-marrying process as wine is of course the perfect partner to food. We’re going from light to heavy wine styles in this list, so generally that would mean light to heavy foods for pairing.


RIESLING (Germany, South Australia)
Scents - floral, fragrant, perfumed, citrus
Flavours - green apple, pear, lemon, lime
Riesling is at its best when young however it ages beautifully and fits very well with Asian and spicy dishes. This is a cool climate grape varietal and so the acid retention in the grapes is high, thus offering a balance on the palate that marries with spicy food and a wonderful structure and backbone that lets the wine age and develop beautifully in the bottle. Aromatic and herbaceous Asian dishes are a match in heaven for this style of wine.

SAUVIGNON BLANC (Sancerre and Bordeaux, France / New Zealand)
Scents - vegetal, green apple, asparagus, capsicum
Flavours - grassy, lemongrass, gooseberry, passionfruit
Sauvignon Blancs (origins from Sancerre / Bordeaux) are quite different regionally and the style of the wine varies from grassy, linear and dry to aromatic and full of tropical fruits. Always drink them young, they don’t generally keep and lose their freshness - although there are some winemakers using secondary oak fermentation these days that helps with ageing potential or in Sauternes, they blend with Semillon for ageing; but the freshest and purest styles are the best for simple food pairing. Sauvignon Blanc fits very well with any Asian dishes, vegetable dishes, salads and fresh fish.

Scents - cucumber, apple, grapefruit, nectarine, peach
Flavours - fig, cashew, peach, honey melon
Chardonnay is an amazing grape and massively diverse. You can produce unoaked styles like Chablis or heavily oaked, buttery styles like Montrachet. Basically, if you want your Chardonnay fresh, young and clean, go for a simple Chablis (unoaked) style that is not too expensive and great with oysters and fresh seafood and then upgrade to lightly-oaked for your more complex dishes. Then take a more expensive, aged and barrel-fermented style for your rich and creamy dishes. Chardonnay is the white grape used in all Burgundian wines.

VIOGNIER (Condrieu, France / Australia)
Scents - lolly, boiled sweets, dried fruit, apricots
Flavours - apricot, melon, peach, cream
Viognier is the busty blonde of the white wine family, offering a curvaceous and almost full-figured character on the pallet, it has everything - fruit, acid and body. Mainly produced in Condrieu and often expensive, Viognier is a beautiful food wine and is often used as a blender with Shiraz. Lovely and smooth, marry with barbecued fish and lightly caramelised meat dishes.


Are only red in colour because the wine-makers add the red grape skins into the fermenting grape juice and then colour and textures develop (different with each varietal).

PINOT NOIR (Burgundy, France / New Zealand)
Scents - strawberry, cherry, raspberry, spice
Flavours - earthy, forest floor, gamey, mushroom, cherry
"Most are reminiscent of a game bird, shot from the sky, landing in a heap of earthy redcurrant compost". Possibly the most interesting and complex grape varietal around as the finished product should normally have reserved summer fruit (raspberry, strawberry and cherry) characters with smokiness and an almost vegetal / barnyard flavour that can put some people off. The Burgundy red varietal is very diverse, the French call Burgundy “sex in a glass”. The tannins are very silky and soft so you can chill it a little, and basically drink Pinot Noir with everything, especially good with mushroom and earthy dishes.

MALBEC (Cahors, France / Argentina)
Scents - mulberry, light spice, milk chocolate
Flavours - earthy, black forest fruit, plum
Malbec is the forgotten Bordeaux varietal and is used in the great blends but was nearly wiped out in the 1950s through frost. It was never widely re-planted however the Argentineans manage to produce this as a 100% varietal in great quality. The French style is more rustic, and the Argentinean softer and smoother with more fruit development in the grapes. Brilliant with meat and bearing in mind that tannins naturally breakdown proteins, then a great steak and a glass of Malbec work very well together.

MERLOT (Bordeaux, France / Tuscany, Italy)
Scents - coffee, mocha, herbs, red fruit
Flavours - plum, fruit cake, dark chocolate, mulberry
Merlot is a generally a crowd pleaser - soft, mouth-filling and runs over the palate with ease. Merlot is mostly used as a blender in Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon for its good middle-body (that Cabernet lacks). Named after the word for blackbird in French from the colouration of the wine. Excellent with light meats and sauces.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON (Bordeaux, France / Napa Valley, USA)
Scents - capsicum, mint, tobacco leaf, leafy
Flavours - blackcurrant, mint, eucalypt, milk chocolate
Cabernet sauvignon is the king of Bordeaux but in fact this is a recently evolved grape, from the agricultural marriage of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Due to Phyloxera, the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines are in the vineyards of Coonawarra, South Australia. Often blended with Merlot in Bordeaux as Cabernet Sauvignon lacks a middle pallet, this excellent dry and savoury wine is perfect with dry styles of meat - filet of ostrich, lamb, pork or beef, Chateaubriand and other non-fatty cuts. Also excellent with dark chocolate desserts. Great ageing potential and as the wine loses its fruit characters and colour with age, it picks up secondary vegetal and herbaceous complexities.

SHIRAZ / SYRAH (Australia / Rhone Valley, France)
Scents - indian spices, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, eucalypt
Flavours - fruit cake, blackberrry, pepper, savoury meat, cedar
Powerful fruits over Indian spice, almost a sweet and savoury style. Syrah originated in the Rhone Valley however due to Phyloxera and the destruction of nearly all of France’s vines in the 1870s, the oldest (Shiraz) vines are in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, which really annoys the French wine world. In Australia, Shiraz is mostly aged in American oak, giving the strong fruit characters an almost sweet fruit finish, thus this varietal goes amazingly well with fatty meats like lamb cutlets, entrecote and when these meats are grilled or roasted with arabica spices or grilled, the match is almost made in heaven.

Brad Mitton is the founder and owner of Mitton International Wines based in Berlin and Club Vivanova based in Monte Carlo. Bradley recently launched the start-up Brad’s Wine Subscription after demand for monthly wine deliveries from his clients.

With over 25 years of professional experience in the wine industry, Brad Mitton imports selected international wines for leading sommeliers in Central Europe. He is based in the South of France and travels throughout Europe marketing his company and running gourmet events with Club Vivanova.