Most of us think white wines go best with white meats such as fish, chicken and pork, while red wines are best matched with red meats.

We agree. It’s a good rule of thumb, and captures the idea that wine and food pairing should be all about balance. Neither the food nor the wine should overwhelm the other.

When you move beyond these basic principles, and start to take your food and wine pairing to the next level, it helps to understand a little more about flavours – and particularly how to use those flavours to enhance your dining experience.

To demonstrate, Montalto’s winemaker Simon Black and general manager Anthony Jones sat down for lunch to discuss how best to match fish and white wine. (Yes, it was a tough day at the office for the guys – our heart goes out to them).

A match made on the Mornington Peninsula

Simon and Anthony enjoyed a beautiful lunch of snapper with spring greens – asparagus, broad beans and zucchini – with a miso sauce, white cauliflower and pea tendrils. (Check out the full recipe below.)

This is a sparkling creation from our head chef Barry Davis. While a dish like snapper and fresh garden greens would usually be considered quite light, the miso sauce adds a complexity and unexpected richness. And that set up a bit of a challenge for our in-house experts.

The Montalto white wines …

To pair with this dish, Simon and Anthony selected two white wines – a chardonnay and a pinot grigio.

The Pennon Hill Pinot Grigio is light, bright, fruity and aromatic with Nashi pear, Granny Smith apple and rose petal characteristics. A crisp, refreshing and moorish wine with lovely mouthfeel.

The Montalto 2013 Chardonnay is a bigger and more intense wine. It’s complex, layered and flinty with expressive fruit, and creamy, savoury notes. An award-winner.

Complementary and contrasting flavours

There are a couple of approaches to matching wine with food and a good starting point is to explore complimentary and contrasting flavours.

Think about flavours that “go well together”, and look for them in both the food and wine. Here, the light fruit and floral characters of the grigio – nashi pear, apple, and cut wildflowers – compliment the dish’s fresh garden greens and lighter vegetables. This approach focuses on harmonising flavours between the wine and food.

Alternatively, you can use contrast to match the wine and food. When you have richness in a dish from butter, cream and oils – or in this case miso – you can use the acidity in a wine to help cut through, keeping the palate clean and fresh.

In this case, the grigio has less oak influence than the chardonnay. It’s bright, crisp and fresh, and that helps with the richness and complexity of the miso sauce.

It’s a win win

Both Anthony and Simon ultimately came out in favour of the pinot grigio to match with the snapper dish, but acknowledged that the chardonnay also had characteristics that worked well.

That’s something to keep in mind. Experiment and explore the options for wine pairing, but remember it’s not necessarily a question of “right” or “wrong”.

The pinot grigio may have pipped the chardonnay for our guys, but you might easily prefer the chardonnay. Personal preference plays a key role.

Full Recipe

Pan-roasted local snapper with spring greens and miso broth

Serves 4

1.5 kg snapper (filleted to get 4 portions and bones for fish stock)
1 wombok
16 spears of asparagus
2 zucchinis
200g broad beans
100g peas
100g snow peas
40g pea shoots
1 leek
30g butter
1 litre fish stock (buy or make using the fish bones)
150g miso paste
2 lemons
20g dashi

Full Instructions

Cut snapper fillets into 4 equal portions and, using the bones, simmer a nice flavoured fish stock.
Individually blanch vegetables in salted boiling water and refresh in ice water (asparagus, zucchini, broad beans, leek, wombok, and peas).

To fish stock, add miso paste and dashi, and bring to the boil.

Squeeze in lemon juice, season with sea salt.

Add blanched vegetables to this stock and simmer until hot, then spoon into bowls.

In a hot pan, sear snapper skin side down, then turn to low heat to let skin crisp. Add a small amount of butter to pan, flip snapper over and baste until cooked.

Place snapper onto vegetables, garnish with pea shoots and serve.