A colleague asked me if I would write an article recommending dinner party wines to people who might find the entire process intimidating. The objective, of course, was to keep the price per bottle at less than £10 and find them at supermarkets in the UK.
Initially I thought this would be a challenge, but in fact there is a lot of great wine to be had. The following is the result of my expedition (and I admit it’s heavy on Waitrose wines, mainly because its selection is simply superior to other supermarkets).
Putting on a dinner party can be a stressful experience, so the last thing you want to do is find out the wine you’ve chosen is a dud.
The good news is matching wine to food isn’t difficult once you know a few basic rules. And you don’t have to spend a lot either; impressive bottles can be found for £10 or less. The best way to do this is to understand which wines go with which kinds of foods and, above all, to be adventurous and try things you haven’t had before.
For dishes that tend to be salads, white meats, fish or shellfish, white wines tend to be the best matches. If the flavours in the food are subtle or more savoury, go for a wine that isn’t too acidity or sweet, such as a chenin blanc or a pinot blanc. For oysters and other shellfish or seafood, you could even do well with a Muscadet. The trick is that you don’t want the wine to overpower the food you’re eating.
For something spicy, you will want a wine with more backbone, so a riesling or sauvignon blanc might go best with hotter foods. And if the dish has some spice to it, an off-dry or slightly sweeter wine will stand up better than something that is particularly dry.
For red wines, the wine served should complement the style of the dish, so try to match heavy reds with heavy meals and lighter reds with dishes that have more subtle flavours or are lighter in their consistency. For example, a cabernet sauvignon or perhaps one of the bigger Italian wines will go nicely with a roast beef or steak.
If the dish is lighter and has more delicate flavours, or is something like a soup or stew, you could opt for a merlot or a cabernet franc. If you are serving roast turkey or chicken, or perhaps a tuna steak or even pasta, you might want a pinot noir or even something like a Beaujolais.
There are no hard and fast rules in the end, but what you want to do is make sure you aren’t serving a tannic cabernet sauvignon-based wine with something that has delicate flavours or a light and supple wine with a brooding T-bon steak, otherwise neither the wine nor the food will taste as it should.
And finally, when it comes to dessert, the basic rule is that the wine has to be sweeter than what you’re serving. For example, you can’t serve a dry red or white wine with a very sweet dessert. Two good examples of versatile dessert wines are Sauternes and Tokaji.
Cave de Lugny Chardonnay 2010 Macon-Villages, Burgundy, France (£7.49 Waitrose)
Macon-Villages is a bargain. Classic buttery chardonnay but with crisp lemon notes, it pairs well with poultry and soft cheeses.
Triade Campania Bianco 2010, Italy (£8.99 Waitrose)
This is made from three grapes – greco, fiano and falanghina – and works well with fish and shellfish. With a creamy texture and an aroma of vanilla and peach, an excellent wine at a very low price.
Cave de Beblenheim Pinot Gris Reserve, France (£9.49 Waitrose)
Alsatian wines don’t get enough publicity. This example is off-dry, meaning it is a bit more sweet and floral, but this makes it excellent as an aperitif or a partner for spicy dishes, such as Asian stir fry. It also goes well with smoked hams or fish.
Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa (£8.99 Sainsbury’s)
Sauvignon blanc is a go-to white wine for most people. In flavour this sits somewhere between the minerality of a French sauvignon from the Loire and the fruitiness of Marlborough. Perfect on its own as an aperitif or even with mussels or a rich seafood dish.
Vinchio Vaglio, I Tre Vescovi 2009 Barbera s’Asti Superiore, Piedmont, Italy (£8.99 Waitrose)
Barbera is a grape that makes for versatile wines with wonderful flavours and a strong backbone but is often ignored by the average consumer. With flavours of cherries, dried fruits and woods, this wine goes well with game, venison and meat dishes with deep flavours.
Les Nivieres Saumur 2010, France (£7.99 Waitrose)
Cabernet franc is a grape normally known for making up blends in Bordeaux varieties but in the Loire Valley it stands on its own. Fruity and balanced with some tannin, this makes for a fairly versatile dinner wine that can be matched with meats and cheeses.
Domaine de Marie Faugeres 2010, France (£7.99 Waitrose)
If you want a beautiful red from the south of France but don’t want to pay for Chateauneuf-de-Pape, this blend of grenache, syrah and carignan will likely tick all the boxes. Full-bodied, rich and spicy gives you mulberry fruit and lots of earthy flavours that will go well with roasts and meat dishes.
Gran Tesoro Garnacha 2010, Spain (£4.07 Tesco)
If you want to go even cheaper than the Faugeres, this is an absolute bargain and yet still peppery and spicy like a good grenache-based wine ought to be. This has flavours of cherries and belies its sub-£5 price tag, going well with grilled meats and other robust dishes.