By Malkhaz Kharbedia
Pairing wine with food is a very important matter which people should pay more attention to – particularly in Georgia, the country of wine. Ensuring that a wine and a dish match has other benefits besides aesthetics: good combinations are healthy and pleasant.
Some words of advice
- One should select a wine to go with food as one would choose spices: just as one knows that savoury spices go well with red beans, one should also know which wine would go well with such a dish.
- The flavour of a wine is largely based upon the following three basic elements: acidity, sweetness and tannin content. Very acidic wines can deal with fatty foods, and very often share a common language with spicy sauces. Sugar can soften and round off the flavour of a dish, whereas a wine with lots of tannins goes well with dishes high in protein, which is why strong red wines should be served with dishes such as meat, beans or mushrooms.
- It is a well-known fact that dry red wines do not go well with fish, because fish gives such wines a metallic taste (fish cooked in red wine and served with a light red wine, however, is a very interesting combination).
- If a wine is bitter or is very young, its bitterness can be neutralized by pairing it with a sour or salty dish, and acidic wines actually go very well with salty dishes. This is why white wines with high acidity or dry sparkling wines go well with fish and seafood.
- Tough meats which need to be chewed for a long time – beef steaks, especially – soften the flavour of tannins, which is why red wine is best served with red meat whereas white wine goes best with fish and white meats.
- Simple dishes with mutton, lamb, beef or game without complicated sauces are best accompanied by special, aged red wines (which also go well with roast turkey or pork).
- White wine goes well with most dishes made from fish or containing eggs, whereas light reds should be served with dishes made from pulses.
- The rule for choosing wine is very simple: serve aromatic, thick and strong wines with fatty and nutritious foods; slightly lighter wines with slightly less fatty dishes; and light wines with light dishes. Fatty and nutritious food can also go very well with a light wine if the flavour of the latter would make for an interesting contrast. A dish should match the acidity of the wine with which it is served, or else the wine may seem bland. A goose prepared with oranges, for example, should be accompanied by a distinctly acidic wine, whereas one cooked with olives would not necessarily require such a wine. The acidity of a white wine can improve the flavour of a dish, as it has the same effect as adding several drops of lemon juice.
- Should one ever be given the opportunity to try a very old, rich, complex wine, one should never have it with a peppery dish, for this spice would kill all the wine's interesting and mysterious nuances. The opposite, however, is true of simple wines: pepper added to a food enriches the aroma of such wines and gives them new meaning.
- Sweet dishes do not go well with dry wines, but many sweet and semi-sweet wines are an excellent accompaniment to strong flavours. Examples of well-known pairings are Sauternes with foie gras or with Roquefort cheese.
- One should remember that if one intends to serve different wines during a meal, one should begin by serving the lighter ones. It would be pointless to start with heavy Saperavi, for example, for one would then be unable to appreciate the flavour of any other wine served later. As a rule, one should start with sparkling or light classic European-style white wines, then move on to rosé wines, which could then be followed by Kakhetian qvevri wines, finishing with red wines in order of fullness of body and strength. Dry wines should always be served before semi-dry, semi-sweet, sweet or fortified wines. The final note of a dinner might consist of a strong drink such as cognac, Georgian brandy or high-quality chacha, etc.
Georgian sparkling wines
Georgian sparkling wines make for an excellent apéritif. Brut or aged sparkling wines are delicious with salmon, caviar or oysters, and dry sparkling wine goes very well with Chinese food. Semi-dry sparkling wines are good with sushi, raw salmon, fish cooked without spices, fruit or with avocado salad, whereas rosé sparkling wine goes best with light desserts. It would not be a good idea to serve champagne with very garlicky, peppery or spicy foods or with chocolate.
Rkatsiteli is a universal accompaniment. If made in a European style, this wine can accompany a wide range of dishes. It goes well with very simple dishes, different kinds of cheese, dishes with potatoes, salads, meats in sauce, green beans or pies made from cheese or with other fillings.
Tsinandali wine which has not been stored in oak goes well with chicken salads, dry cheeses, crab or other seafood, boiled fish or white meats such as chicken or turkey. On the other hand, Tsinandali which has aged in oak barrels goes well with ham salads, trout smoked with spices, roast chicken or turkey or brains.
Mtsvane, Khikhvi and Kisi
If made in a European style, these wines go well with seafood, light salads, steamed fish and goat's cheese.
Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc
Wines made from foreign varieties of grape grown in Kakheti go well with shrimp and with mussel soup, and are also an excellent apéritif.
Chinuri and Goruli mtsvane
These two wines make for delicious apéritifs, and go well with green salads, boiled white meats and fish.
Like Rkatsiteli in Eastern Georgia, Tsolikouri in Western Georgia can accompany many different dishes, ranging from maize bread with cheese or chopped leeks with walnut all the way to chicken in sour wild plum (tkemali) sauce, aubergines and cheese pies (khachapuri).
Tsitska should accompany fish, salads or green beans prepared with walnut sauce.
This is one of Imereti's strongest and most hot-tempered white wines. It goes well with dishes made from mutton or lamb (Imeretian chakapuli with tarragon, for example), chicken roast on skewers, boiled tongue, chicken salads or chicken cooked in white wine.
Tsulukidzis tetra from Racha
This wine is best served with pies filled with cheese, spinach, or with other herbs, or with chanterelles in walnut sauce.
Kakhetian qvevri wines
These wines have a very distinctive flavour, and their high tannin content precludes their use as apéritifs. Wine made in a Kakhetian style is a universal accompaniment for the entire Eastern Georgian cuisine, but should above all be served with fatty and nutritious foods ranging from sheep's cheese with tarragon or dambal khacho (very mature cottage cheese) to khashlama (boiled meat). Kakhetian qvevri wines also go well with spicy or peppery dishes, with shila pilaf (rice with meat or mushrooms), with a chakapuli of lamb cooked with tarragon, with trout roast on skewers or with chicken. They are also a good accompaniment for bozbashi (boiled mutton), dolma (vine or cabbage leaves stuffed with meat), shoulder of veal or for turkey with walnut sauce (satsivi).
Tvishi and other semi-sweet white wines should ideally accompany fruit, fruit salads, almonds, biscuits or light cakes, Georgian paska (an Easter cake made with lemon juice and nutmeg), boiled maize, pumpkin, korkoti (a kind of pilaf made from cereals) or cold melon.
Eiswein or other late harvest wines
Besides being served as a dessert wine, such wines are also make for an excellent apéritif and go well with classic European foie gras, mature cheeses, khalva (a very sweet Turkish dessert), Turkish delight, ice cream with caramel and with fruit salads.
In Georgia, rosé wines are mostly made from the Saperavi or Tavkveri varieties of grape, and go well with cheese pies, pizza, salads, oriental dishes or with ham or sausages. Rosé wines should also be served with fruit – especially semi-dry rosé wines. Chkhaveri wine should also be mentioned here, for this rosé wine full of notes of peaches and flowers is an excellent accompaniment to meat dishes and expensive cheeses. Rosé wines should be served chilled.
Some Saperavi wines have amazing potential, and can go very well with delicate dishes or with a wide variety of game ranging from wild boar and jikhvi (wild mountain goat) to various birds. Saperavi is also good with pork cooked on skewers, expensive hard cheeses, liver kaurma (liver cooked in a pot) or with "oyster" mushrooms. Elegant and light versions of this wine go well with moderately seasoned meat dishes such as mutton chanakhi (mutton cooked with vegetables), beef chashushuli (a kind of stew), fried piglet, veal or with chakhokhbili (meat stewed with tomatoes). Some Saperavi wines are best drunk when young, which is why they are excellent everyday wines. They go well with pretty much anything: pâté, potatoes fried with ham, cheese, sausage, fried saucisson, spaghetti, red kidney beans, salads, sandwiches or cold meats.
Teliani appellation Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is an excellent drink to accompany beef steaks, veal cooked on skewers and boiled tongue.
Red wines from Kartli
The above title refers to Shavkapito and Tavkveri wines from Kartli as well as to Saperavi wines made from Saperavi grapes grown in Kartli. Tavkveri wines would be a perfect match for salmon steaks or for dishes made from boiled or stewed meat, whereas Shavkapito or Saperavi wines from Kartli go well with chakhokhbili made from mutton or lamb, with kalia (a kind of poultry stew) or with kaurma made from mutton or lamb.
The best dishes to accompany this wine would be fried veal, beef cooked with thyme, Imeretian kuchmachi (pig innards cooked with walnuts), and of course amanita caesarea, more commonly known as "Caesar's mushroom".
Red wines from Racha
Racha is of course famous for its dry Alexandrouli and Mujuretuli wines, as well as for the thin and elegant Dzelshavi. These wines are of course ideally served with dishes from Racha: the dry, strong, hot-tempered and spicy Alexandrouli and Mujuretuli with smoked ham from Racha or with a goose kharcho (a stew with walnuts), fried rabbit in sauce, stewed veal or with armillariella mellea ("honey fungus"), whereas Dzelshavi goes well with kidney bean pie (lobiani) or crushed kidney beans with walnuts.
Ojaleshi goes particularly well with traditional meat dishes from the Western Georgian region of Mingrelia such as fried goat kid, kupati (a kind of sausage made with pig innards), kuchmachi (fried pig liver with pomegranate seeds) or fried piglet stuffed with cheese.
Moving on to semi-sweet red wines: Kindzmarauli is a Kakhetian wine made from Saperavi grapes, and is accordingly a very strong wine rich in tannins. In addition to red fruit and cakes made with fruit, Kindzmarauli can therefore be served with meat dishes with sweet sauces. Some kinds of Kindzmarauli could go also well with old sheep's cheese.
Khvanchkara, Usakhelouri, Orbelis ojaleshi
Some Khvanchkara wines can be enjoyed with kidney beans with ham or with kidney bean pies, but other gentle kinds go well with red fruit and light cakes. These three wines are an ideal accompaniment to traditional Georgian desserts like pelamushi (a kind of jelly made from grape juice), churchkhela (walnuts covered in solidified grape juice), kishmishi (raisins), dried fruit or baked pumpkin.
Georgian cheese and wine
Gudis kveli (mature sheep's cheese) goes well with the amber Kakhetian wines which are traditionally made in qvevri. Saperavi wines from different regions are also very nice with this cheese, such as those from Napareuli or from Kvareli or that from the right bank of the Alazani i.e. from Gurjaani.
Dambal khacho (very mature cottage cheese) also goes well with Saperavi wines, whereas wines made from Manavis mtsvane grapes are best drunk with mature cheeses made from cow's milk. This latter cheese, which is made in Outer Kakheti and is very fatty with a yellowish centre, exists in two varieties: one is pale despite its yellow colour and is more crumbly, whereas the other one exudes liquid goodness from its large pores and is shiny. Very similar cheeses are also produced in Georgia's Kartli region – to the north of which the famous Ossetian cheeses can be found – and these all go well with wine from Kartli, but some Kartlian wines are so aromatic that they require softer, fresher cheeses or old but odourless cheeses.
In Western Georgia, fresh and saltless chkinti cheeses from Imereti predominate – this despite the fact that the king of cheese in this western half of Georgia is Mingrelian buffalo sulguni. Imeretian wines and rosé wines from Kartli (Tavkveri), also rosé wines made from Saperavi, , Aladasturi or Chkhaveri grapes go well with fresh chkinti cheeses. Rosé would be an excellent accompaniment to fresh cheeses made from goat's or sheep's milk.
Slightly old cheeses from Western Georgia (from Racha, upper Imereti or Guria) are best enjoyed with wines such as Rachuli tetra, Kvishkhuri, Dzelshavi, Rachuli tsitska, Tsolikouri or Chkhaveri.
It is not easy to choose a wine to go with Mingrelian buffalo cheese, but a good Tsolikouri, Tsitska or fortified or liqueur wine would likely be a good match. Just like Italian mozzarella, Georgian sulguni cheese made from buffalo milk would be delicious with Georgian eiswein or with wine made from grapes harvested late. Smoked sulguni, however, would be a perfect partner for Georgian red wines such as Saperavi, Otskhanuri sapere, Alexandrouli or Shavkapito. The same could be said of old sulguni or of sulguni matured in Saperavi wine.
It is good that the practice of producing noble, old cheeses is beginning to establish itself in Georgia, but the practice of developing wines to match such cheeses needs to start alongside (such as wines made from grapes harvested late like Sauternes and eiswein). In the meantime, high-quality red or white wines such as Tsinandali aged in oak barrels, Mukuzani wine or Saperavi wine from Khashmi or from the Bakurtsikhe-Kardenakhi area could be substituted.
An appropriate wine can also be found to go with kalti (very dry and hard sheep's cheese from the mountainous region of Tusheti), which is traditionally eaten with beer or vodka from the same region, but one could also eat it with a white Kakhetian wine from the left bank of the Alazani or with Saperavi.
© Malkhaz Kharbedia, Wine Club, Georgian Wine Guide - 2014