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‘What’s the best wine to serve with a roast dinner?’

Sommelier and pub co-owner Nigel Sutcliffe talks through his roast dinner wine selections – from full-bodied reds to drink in the winter to surprising white and orange wines to pair with pork, chicken and vegetarian roasts

best wine for a roast

In our Ask the Sommelier series, we put your wine-related questions to top sommeliers. In this instalment, Nigel Sutcliffe – sommelier and co-owner of bistro pub and wine bar The Oarsman, in Marlowe in the UK – advises on the best wines to pair with a roast dinner.

‘It’s roast dinner season and I’m constantly finding myself at a loss with what to drink alongside. Previously I’ve always gone for a smooth, easy-going red to please everyone and go with most things, but I’d like some more guidance on how to pair wines with different types of roast dinner, or perhaps something more adventurous to impress my fellow roast lovers.’
Lucy from Bournemouth, UK

nigel sutcliffe the oarsman
Sommelier Nigel Sutcliffe advises that wines from warmer climes can make for the simplest match with a roast dinner

‘When it comes to pairing wine with food – especially a dish like a roast dinner, which might involve a lot of different flavours – warmer-climate regions like Oregon generally produce wines that are much easier to marry. That’s because, if you go with a colder-climate bottle, the wine tends to be higher in acidity and minerality, which can be more challenging to pair with food – although these wines could work if you wanted to find a more unusual pairing.’

What’s the best wine for roast chicken?

‘For roast chicken dishes – like the chicken, smoked and braised sweetcorn and tarragon we serve at the restaurant – I’d go for a medium-bodied, slightly oaked Chardonnay. Specifically, I like Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Vide Bourse 2018. It needs a moment to open up, so I decant it; then it shows bread, buttered toast and a slight smoke that marries well with the buttery and slightly toasty flavours that come with roast chicken. The medium body and fine depth of the wine stands up to the protein in the meat. It’s a brilliant marriage – but any lightly oaked Chardonnay should work well.’

What’s the best wine for roast pork?

‘Pork – especially pork served slightly pink, as it so often is these days – will need something slightly tannic to pair with the iron-like taste of the meat. You could go with a Pinot Noir, but I prefer a Nebbiolo like Bordini’s Barbaresco La Spinetta 2018. The soft floral aromas on the nose and notes of raspberry on the palate complement herby seasonings often found in roast pork dishes like porchetta, which is on our restaurant menu.

the oarsman porchetta
Nebbiolo works well with savoury, herby seasonings, too - like the ones used in The Oarsman's porchetta dish

‘A Nebbiolo will also stand up to more wintery side dishes like savoy cabbage and roasted potatoes, as it’s got more body than a Pinot Noir. But if you’re having a spring pork roast, you’ll need less structure and tannins, so you can go with a more sunshiney Pinot Noir instead.’

What’s the best wine for roast beef?

‘You can go almost anywhere with beef. It’s a very versatile meat for pairing with wine. I’d recommend a very rounded red like Vega Sicilia’s Alion 2017 from Ribera Del Duero in Spain. It’s round and full, with dark fruits and plenty of tannins, notes of cherry, chocolate, and balsamic, and an earthy, mustard character.

For roast beef, I’d recommend wines that you’d describe as a farmer dressed in his Sunday best

‘I’d recommend wines that you’d describe as a farmer dressed in his Sunday best: earthy and with notes of dark fruits, but with elegance. The tannins stand up to the iron-rich meat and the dark fruitiness and slightly earthy, bitter notes work well with any charring. If it’s a hot day but you still want roast beef, orange wine is the way to go as it’s lighter but still has some tannic structure from the skin contact.’

What’s the best wine for a vegan roast dinner?

‘We often use chargrill for vegetarian roasts at the Oarsman, as with our dish of barbecue cauliflower with pickled onions and golden raisins. This is a common theme across vegetarian roast dishes, and works well to really showcase the vegetable in its purist form. For this style of vegetarian or vegan roast, I’d go with something with skin contact. The tannins in skin-contact wines work well with the strong flavours of char. My pairing would be Ovum’s Big Salt 2021 from Oregon: it’s a blend of several grapes (including Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Muscat, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc), so is quite forgiving with lots of different dishes, as the white grapes don’t overpower the delicate vegetable flavours.’

Interview by Louella Berryman

Do you have a question to put to the world’s top sommeliers? Send them to editor@cluboenologique.com