How do I serve wine with food?

The old rule of ‘red wine with red meat and white wine with fish or poultry’ is a good basic guide, but today we are not as rigidly bound by tradition, and anything goes, within reason.

What makes a good combination?

Ideally, the food and wine should each bring out the best flavours of the other, with neither dominating the taste or detracting from the whole. Obviously a big, full-bodied red wine would completely overwhelm a delicate fish souffle, while a subtly-flavoured dry white wine would be lost among the rich flavours of an oxtail casserole.

Here are some suggestions:

Start the meal with a dry sherry or a glass of dry sparkling wine to clear the palate and stimulate the taste buds.

Serve a bone-dry white wine with a fish dish that is slightly oily. The acidity cuts through the oiliness of the food, leaving the palate clean and clear.

A full-flavoured white wine, like Chardonnay or a wooded Sauvignon Blanc, could go well with a highly flavoured fish or poultry dish.

Sweeter, more fruity wines often set off the flavours of oriental dishes and curries perfectly. For example, try a semi-sweet Gewurztraminer or Bukettraube with curried fish or bobotie.

Red meat dishes come in a wide range of styles. Try a lighter red wine, like Shiraz or Pinotage, with roast lamb.

A Cabernet Sauvignon is usually good with roast beef.

Pinot Noir has been described as the perfect food wine. It seems to team up perfectly with any red meat dish.

An interesting combination is a Noble Late Harvest with chicken liver pate. Partner a dessert with a Special Late Harvest. And don’t turn up your nose to sweet wines. Some of South Africa’s best wines are sweet wines.

If you plan to end the meal with a flourish, try serving a rich old port with a ripe cheese.

Informal meals demand informal wines. It’s not necessary -- or even sensible -- to serve an expensive, barrel matured red wine at a braai or picnic. Old favourites like Tassenberg are fine for casual quaffing.

There are plenty of budget-priced wines – red, white and rose -- that are perfect for chilling and serving at a picnic. Rose wines, if only for their colour, are a great accompaniment to summertime lunches.

An interesting point about sparkling wine. While you can serve it as an aperitif before a meal, you can stay with it for almost any dish throughout the meal – right through to ice cream.

Remember always, you are free to drink whatever you like with any food you like. Nobody can make your rules for you.

Wine is for enjoyment, so drink it however you enjoy it most.