When the subject of tricky foods for wine comes up, it generally focuses on miscreants such as asparagus, artichokes and eggs. But citrus can be even more of a problem.
That might surprise you, given that there are quite a few citrussy wines, most notably sauvignon blanc, but if the citrus flavour in a dish is dominant, as it is in spaghetti al limone or chicken tagine with preserved lemon, say, you’re better off with a more neutral dry white or a red, because the lemon in the dish tends to strip out the citrus in the wine.
Intensely lemony desserts, such as the classic French tarte au citron, are even more of a challenge, because they need very sweet wines that also match their acidity – late-harvest rieslings such as the Seifried number in today’s pick generally work best.
Orange-flavoured desserts or cakes, such as orange polenta cake, can also be problematic. Spanish moscatels generally hit the spot, or try Hungary’s fabulously marmaladey tokaji. (If chocolate is involved, you could always turn to orange-flavoured liqueurs such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier.)
Other solutions? So far as puds are concerned, cream or other dairy such as ricotta or cream cheese tends to mitigate the sharpness of lemon and lime. Lemon cheesecake is easier to pair than lemon tart, bringing in wines such as sauternes and similar sweet bordeaux as options.
With savoury dishes, too, there are often other ingredients in a dish that will offset the citrus. In Greek lamb dishes that are seasoned with lemon, for example, it’s the lamb – and often the feta – that kicks lemony whites such as assyrtiko into touch.
It can also be worth holding back on the lemon with, say, fish and chips, or a zesty salad to which you intend to add a squeeze of lime, and see how the wine tastes without it. A fresh, citrussy white or a limey Clare Valley riesling in the case of the salad could well do the job for you.
Finally, bear in mind that the acid in citrus will accentuate the sweetness of any accompanying wine, so if you served a chardonnay, for example, with a lemony dish, it would probably taste richer and more buttery, and an already jammy shiraz even jammier. But that could, of course, be to your taste.
Five wines that would work with citrus
Fresco di Masi Bianco 2021 £13.99 golden acre wines, 11%. Fresh, crisp but not overly citrussy, this attractive unfiltered organic white would drink really well with salads and fish dishes.
Lion’s Den Assyrtiko 2019 £9.99 Aldi, 13%. Bright, lemony white that would be perfect with grilled lamb with feta and mint.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Old Vine Garnacha Calatayud 2019, £10. 15%. Garnacha, or grenache as it’s known in France, works brilliantly with rich, orangey stews or duck with orange.
Frappato 2020 Terre Siciliane, 13.5%, £11.99 Averys, Laithwaites, or £9.99 if you buy a case. Deliciously juicy Italian red that could easily take a lemony chicken or pasta dish in its stride. Sold out so quickly when they first brought it out, they’ve had to bottle more, so you might need to wait a week or so to get hold of it.