With spring – and entertaining – in full swing, it’s time to enjoy long sunny days with good friends, seasonal produce and great drinks. One of the best parts of planning these events is surely choosing the wines, so we’ve assembled this quick guide packed with inspiration for getting the pairings right.
Throw a barbecueIf you’re looking for all-rounders to match barbecued meats, fruit-forward red wines with softer tannins are a good place to start. Grenache and its various blends are some of the greatest companions for the grill, thanks to their vibrant characters and plush palates. So too with other Spanish reds, such as red-fruited tempranillo, which often has herbal and spicy notes that work with those chargrilled flavours.
For other great seasonal ideas, medium-bodied cabernet sauvignon is the ultimate match for spring-favourite lamb; barbecued chicken pairs well with chardonnay and other textural whites, such as fiano and viognier; and for grilled salmon, opt for a lighter-bodied pinot noir or gamay. Vegetarians can enjoy rosé or sauvignon and semillon blends with salads, and riesling, richer whites or plush, spicy reds with chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables.
Don’t forget that red wines are best served at room temperature (13–18°C), so if the mercury rises above 20°C they’ll need chilling in a wine fridge for around 30 minutes – or a brief stint in the ice bucket – prior to serving. A cooled red is the perfect contrast to hot, flame-licked meats.
Host a dinner party
With dinner parties still limited to smaller numbers in several places, it’s a good chance to keep things intimate and share some special wines. Sparkling can be a winner here, whether it’s quality Australian styles or Champagne, and it doesn’t have to be just a drink on arrival. With so many different quality styles available, from sparkling rosés to pristine blanc de blancs, they can pair beautifully with each course throughout a meal.
While choosing wines for the meal should be about what you love to drink, there are some broad guidelines to consider. Spice, particularly Asian-inspired dishes with chilli, are brilliant with rieslings, especially off-dry styles with a touch more residual sugar. Other aromatic whites work beautifully here too, such as gewurztraminer, which has exotic aromas and sweetness on the finish. Ever-versatile chardonnay is a mighty match for white fish, shellfish and white meats, but beware of richly oaky styles, which can clash with, rather than complement, many dishes. It’s also often the flavours of the sauce that are best to consider when wine pairing, so don’t feel restricted to the protein.
Organise a “wine and cheese” nightWith the added benefit of little kitchen time, an informal gathering around a cheese platter is always a hit. There’s also plenty of creative liberty when it comes to selecting your cheeses and accompaniments, dialling up or down the extravagance factor as you please.
If you’re after one wine to cover all four key cheese types – blue, soft, aged and firm – an off-dry riesling or sparkling should work well. But if you want to tailor the selections, a blue will match beautifully with a vintage port, Sauternes or sweet sherry. Soft cheeses, such as brie and camembert, pair well with bubbles, though a soft, fruit-forward red, such as pinot noir, can contrast well with the mellow flavours of these cheeses. An aged cheese, such as mature cheddar or gruyere, needs a medium-bodied white, such as chardonnay or viognier, or medium-bodied reds. Firm cheeses – think manchego, pecorino or Parmesan – are ideal with tannic reds, full-bodied whites and sweet wines. Think vintage Champagne, shiraz and oloroso sherry.
Prepare a picnicRosé is an obvious choice for picnics – and for a good reason. Off-dry styles pair well with chilled fresh fruit, while a light, dry rosé will typically work wonders with light salads, meats and almost anything can you throw at it.
Sparkling and riesling are two other classics for the picnic blanket. A young riesling works well with prosciutto and melon, while antipasto loves young semillon and medium-bodied reds. For quiches, mature chardonnay is a good match, while light- to medium-bodied reds with higher acid work surprisingly well with a roasted chicken.