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How to Pair Wine with Food

How to Pair Wine with Food

By Deni Kirkova|

White wine goes with fish, red goes with red meat and sweet wines only with dessert. It’s the extent of most of our wine pairing knowledge. But there’s much more to pairing wine with food than this.

Pairing Wine with Food for Great Event Menus

Alberto Errigo is the inhouse beverage expert at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC). Here, he reveals how we develop menus including selecting wine that goes with the food, plus tips on developing your palate and the payoff from taking risks.

Alberto says: “The way it works is, depending on the package, it’s manager selection - we choose for the client – or it can be the client selection. If it’s manager selection, generally, we will pick wines depending on how much stock we have available, the food, and the style of the event. If the event organiser chooses, they pick from what they see on the menu. Or if they attend a dinner, we offer them a complimentary menu tasting where they get to try all the wines.

“When it’s me selecting, I choose the wine I think best suits the menu the customer is going for. If they don’t like the wine I choose, they can change it. You try to find one that fits the bill - the entire menu, all three courses - rather than one dish.”

How to Pair Wine with Food

Alberto’s top tip is to listen to experts.

He says: “Customers are often biased on what they know and feel somewhat uncomfortable taking advice to try different things.

“Typically, when you go to a bottle shop, you go and buy the wine you like that fits your budget. But if you go to an event or a wedding for example, and there are different varies, you may as well try different things. We do that with food. It's a human mentality. We are open-minded to trying new concepts when we see MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules. We are inspired by Heston Blumenthal’s experiments. And yet, with wines we are very cautious. We go for safe options. But there are some amazing varieties in Victoria, Australia, and the world.”

Planning an event at MCEC is your perfect opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and take our recommendation. Even when you go to Dan Murphy’s for a bottle at the weekend you can ask them for advice. Say, ‘hey, I'm making a specific roast. What do you recommend?’ Instead of ‘hey, I heard Shiraz is good, let’s buy Shiraz’.

Try New Wines. You Might as Well…

Alberto’s advice rather cheekily is, if you’re planning a corporate event where the money does not come out of your pocket, you can feel more liberated to be a bit riskier with what you try and push the boundaries. After all, you’re not paying for it. You may as well try something different.

Albert says: “We tend to get two types of customers. The one that says, ‘Everyone wants a Pinor Noir, let’s pick one’, or you have the customer that goes, ‘What do you recommend? Let’s try that’ Try to be like the second customer.”

For 2023, for example, we have a Vermentino on the menu instead of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s like the Italian version of a Sauvignon Blanc, a very similar grape.

“When you try to explain that to a customer, they either say, ‘The name is too exotic’ or they say, ‘Let’s try it’ if they trust us like they often have done this year. The Vermentino is actually the most popular wine on the list based on blind wine tastings,” says Alberto.

Are Your Safe or a Risk-Taker?

Alberto notes that very safe customers are usually schools, colleges, and universities – education events – as we do a lot of graduations. Professional conference organisers (PCO) too – because they must please everyone. It’s a lot of pressure and they don’t want the fallout of taking a risk backfiring falling onto them.

Generally, it’s the medical industry that like to push the boundaries and try something new. They’ve got the budget. Even with food, they like to try something a little different.

How to Develop Your Palate

Go to wineries on the weekend and try to learn about wine. A lot of people think they must be very refined and knowledgeable to get the benefit. That they need to understand what’s on the nose, what’s on the palate and all that complexity.

Forget trying to remember complex concepts, finding the blackberry notes, apple, smoke and understanding all those fancy words… Don’t worry about it. Just get the winemakers to speak to you in simple terms. That’s how you will enjoy the wine more.

“One piece of advice I would give is to go with what you like on your palate, especially when it comes to reds,” says Alberto. There are a lot of tannins that affect how you enjoy a wine. With organic wineries, you can taste the difference because of what they don’t put in. You don’t get the weird too-dry feeling in your mouth or a headache the next day.

Are You Sure You Like That Wine?

“At a recent inhouse sparkling wine tasting - it was funny - attendees didn’t know the variety or brand. They were pretty much blindfolded. Quite a few said they don’t like prosecco, ‘I really hope there is no prosecco’. And guess what? The top two wines they picked were prosecco,” says Alberto.

The moral of the story is you might have a preconception about a wine you’ve tried before, but you can’t be sure because each variety is so different depending on the soil or the way they’ve been fermented. There is a lot more complexity in making wines than ‘I like that variety’. So, if you come to a corporate event somewhere you’re not paying, just try something new.

Ready to create your dream event menu? Reach out to the team and start planning.

Explore our Event Planning Resource page for menu ideas for your event.

Discover MCEC's Event Planning Resource page for menu inspiration for your upcoming event.