Wine pairing


Matching foods with complementary wine is something of an art and as the culinary offerings onboard expand the challenges grow. Jo Austin goes matchmaking

There is an old culinary saying that insists “What grows together goes together” and with the popularity of local sourcing on the increase it makes sense for airlines, rail and cruise operators to offer, wherever possible, wines from their home country alongside local dishes.

But when your local flavours may include sushi, curry, herrings, lemon, vinaigrette or mint, and chefs produce ever-more exotic meals, it is quite a challenge to mix the distinctive tastes or aroma with a fine wine and sommeliers are forced to search far and wide for the most suitable pairings.

Japanese options

JAL’s wine advisor and sommelier, Motohiro Okoshi, has become a specialist in matching wines with sushi and seafood and understands better than most the challenges. Okoshi is Japan’s first wine taster and highly acclaimed for matching wine and understanding the notes and flavours of Japanese sake and sochu. He pairs seafood menus with sake and with sushi he matches a Puligny Montrachet and a Bordeaux made up of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. “These wines are a brilliant complement to marinated seafood and Japanese cuisine with light umami,” he says.

Okoshi recommends a Georg Breuer’s Reisling paired with light, fresh appetisers and says: “A Japanese wine produced from the Kerner grape variety is best paired with fish or shellfish dishes”.

BA’s matchmaking

British Airways’ wine buyer for Business and Master of Wine, Keith Isaac, says: “We try to advise customers which wines can be plesantly drunk on their own (so the rounder, fruitier, less oaky reds and the crisp, fresh whites) and those which really go best with food… think Clarets and bigger oakier Chardonnays, perhaps.

“Some wines do both. For example, on Asian routes in Club World we have a top domaine Pouilly Fumé and for North American destinations a Soave Classico from Inama; either of these is ideal alone but at the same time great with either the duck rillettes (on North America routes) as the acidity will cut through the richness of the rillettes, or with the salmon tartare on Asian flights.

“We pay a lot of attention to the saucing of dishes when we recommend wines to match particular dishes. Chicken can be curry or a breast in a light morel cream sauce or sticky barbecue. On South African routes we have butter chicken with jeera pilau: perfect with the Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2015, which is barrel fermented but ripe and round.

“Our roasted salmon served with a Waldorf salad is also well matched with the Chenin Blanc; while the salad on Asian routes is chicken based but will sit well with the Seifried Chardonnay from New Zealand.

“The same applies to the red wines. The spicy Grenache from Australia’s Simon Hackett will balance the spice of the duck and stir-fried pak choi served on the Hong Kong flights, while the Valpolicella from Tedeschi on North American routes stands up to the sherry vinegar jus and Thai shallots that accompany the fillet of beef, while a Claret might not.

“We believe that by picking contrasting wines (lighter, fuller, oakier or unoaked), or with different levels of acidity and ripe tannin, there is always at least one good match for the customer to discover.”

A chocolate masterclass

The art of pairing alcohol with chocolate has been a long debated, almost controversial issue. Wine critics and enthusiasts alike have always found it notoriously tricky to match up sweet treats with interesting vinos.

Lily O’Brien recently tasked the inimitable master of wine and TV presenter Jilly Goolden with matching up their most popular chocolates and truffles with wines that are available in UK supermarkets in a lively and informative masterclass. The pairings included orange and bergamot ganache, dark chocolate with a Spanish Muscatel; malted chocolate crunch, milk chocolate bar with a Beaumes de Venise Muscat and a salted caramel, milk chocolate bar with a Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla sherry. Jilly admitted the pairing was a challenge but her adjectives say it all: “Hauntingly different!” “Scrunchy and munchy, yum!”

Wines with cheese

Amelia Singer ( is a wine consultant and TV presenter with a particular interest in wine and food pairing. She even runs speed-dating events based on the very subject!

On wines with cheese Amelia suggests: “In general wines that are meant for sipping and not quaffing make for better marriages with cheese than wines with harsh tannins. A sweet wine or a fruity wine will successfully pair with more cheese types. Tannins often clash with cheeses, so red wines are less successful in general.

A cheese with a higher butterfat content tends to dilute the harsh tannins in red wines better. Cow’s milk cheeses tend to work best with reds.”

Perfect matches afloat

Italian wine and food expert and supplier Sandro Bottega believes educating people to correctly match food and wine can help consumers better enjoy their wine – and ultimately enhance onboard sales.

Bottega is about spirits and sparkling beverages, and food and wine matching is at the heart of the Bottega Prosecco Bar, a restaurant concept inspired by the Venetian traditional bar and now sailing onboard Viking Cinderella.

Deeply rooted in the Italian tradition of fine wine and food, the Bottega Prosecco Bar serves a large selection of Italian wines along with traditional Italian finger food and specialties.

Sandro Bottega explains: “At Bottega we advocate the importance of a healthy lifestyle which is innate in the Mediterranean diet. We also believe in the pairing of food and drink, which is why we have created our own food and wine combinations using high-quality food of Italian provenance, and paired with the most suitable wines from the wide
Bottega range.”