However different to previous years’, the festive season is upon us, which means that it’s time to make some plans and get ready to celebrate with friends & family – even if it’s just over Zoom. So many of us honed our cooking skills over lockdown, so we thought we’d reach out to Claire Strickett & Bert Blaize, authors of Which Wine When: What to drink with the food you love, to get their beginner tips on wine pairing.

Why should you pair food & wine?

Matching wine with food is often seen as an elite level of wine expertise – something only for the real pros – so you might not think it’s for people just starting to learn more about wine. But we think it’s a great way to get into wine. First of all, we all drink and eat together all the time, so by giving those combinations just a bit more thought, you get to elevate an everyday experience to next level deliciousness. Secondly, we’re all generally pretty confident thinking and talking about the food we love, even if we aren’t that confident around wine – so why not use your favourite food and its flavours as a jumping-off point into learning more about wine? Food as a gateway drug for wine, if you will.

How to pair wine

There are almost no blanket rules for food and wine matching. Everyone’s palate is different and responds differently to flavours and sensations. So everything you read, you can take as a starting point for your own adventures in eating and drinking.

Here are two thoughts to get you going:

1. “What grows together, goes together” – food and wine culture tend to evolve together, because people have been enjoying local food and wine together for thousands of years out of sheer necessity. A great example of this are oysters paired with Muscadet. Muscadet is a wine from the western part of the Loire Valley. The local delicacy is oysters and the two marry together incredibly well together. But you’ll find examples like this all over the world.

2. Think of wine as a condiment – it sounds strange, but it can give you some ideas for pairing. Take fish and chips, for instance. The first thing you’ll reach for is some vinegar for your chips and lemon for your fish – i.e., acidity. So we know this dish needs lots acidity, and also that citrus flavours work well. A dry English sparkling wine has both those things in spades, so makes a great pairing.

What grows together, goes together

Where to buy wine from

Now more than ever it’s a great idea to search out your local wine shop/importer if you have one. Get to know them and show them some love. Supermarkets selections have got a lot better over the years but nine times out of ten you’ll get way more wine for your money, a better service and a good feeling from buying from a local shop. They’re also trained to advise you: the less you know about wine, the better it is to go to a specialist who knows a lot – you can lean on their knowledge.

When buying wine, it’s important to…

• Be open-minded to new choices and unusual regions – less well-known wines are generally better value

• Don’t go much below £10 in a shop – which is still only the cost of two glasses of wine in a pub. Any less, and tax, packaging and marketing make up most of the price you pay, not the wine

• Ignore medals and awards on the bottle – it’s marketing nonsense

• Don’t judge a wine by its label. Even if it’s a cute cat

• Never be afraid to ask for help from a shopkeeper or sommelier. They won’t judge – they’ll be delighted to be able to talk about their favourite subject with you. Let them know your price range, any wines you know you like, and any dislikes.

• Always ask lots of questions – there’s no shame in not knowing