You've all heard old food and wine pairing rule - white wine with fish, red wine with meat. And you may have also heard the more popular phrase – eat what you like, drink what you like. In reality, paring wine with food – or food with wine – is somewhere in the middle.
Pairing food & wine is not a science. It has a lot to do with personal preference and tastes, so there are no cut and dry rules. Occasionally you'll get a pairing that makes you say "WOW!" By the same token, you will occasionally find a pairing that makes your taste buds recoil in anguish. But most pairings fall somewhere in the middle of these two. In fact, most wines work with most foods, but knowing a few basic rules can enhance your enjoyment.
Match creamy with creamy – Creamy wines, such as Chardonnay or Viognier, matched with cream-based sauces (pasta or poultry) or a creamy cheese. You're matching rich with rich, so the textures of both will complement each other.
Match acid with acid – Bright, crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a lovely match for that fish with a lemon sauce. A good rule of thumb – if the recipe or food has lemon or other citrus in it, you're going to want some acid to match. Some great wines to pair a lemon-based sauce are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Chablis.
Match sweet with sweet – Chocolate cake? Lemon custard? Actually a good way to do this one is to pair color with color. Rich and dense chocolate cake is a great match to Port or other dark, sweet wines. A light lemon custard looks for sweet and acid, so a Moscato or Muscat-based dessert wine is not too heavy and a perfect match. Berry tart? Match it with a red sticky from Australia.
Match delicate with delicate; bold with bold – this is one that does not do well to contrast. A delicate meal, such as sole with lemon butter, would be completely overwhelmed with a big California Cabernet. Instead, pair with a delicate wine such as Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or even a light and fruity Pinot Noir. In the same realm, a light Sauvignon Blanc would be overwhelmed by a hearty beef stew. For those flavors, a bold red like an Italian Barolo or a big Australian Shiraz would do much better to complement the bold flavors of the dish. In short – do not overwhelm the food or the wine.
Match spicy with sweet – A big tannic red with spicy chow mien? Not so much. Take that dish and pair an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer, and it's a party in your mouth. The sweetness of the wine is offset by the spice in the food and instead of tasting sweet, you taste the delicious fruit in the wine instead. Pair Riesling, Pinot Gris (Alsace style) or Gewurztraminer with spicy Thai or Indian food. It's a great combo.
Match creamy with crisp – Another fun match is to pair a bright acidic wine to cut through a cream-based food. Take creamy cheese. Sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc can cut through that cream and bring out the best flavors in both the dish and the wine. Another great example is a crisp Chablis with a lobster bisque.
Match Tannin to protein & fat – Tannins in wine are enhanced with paired with other tannins present in foods, so avoid pairing a big tannic wine with walnuts or chocolate! The two elements that help soften tannins in wine include protein and fat. This is why a steak is such a classic pairing for big red wines – it has both. Protein and fat help bring out the fruit in a red wine, subduing harsh tannins.
Not sure what to have with a certain food? Tray matching region to region. If you're having pasta bolognese, try pairing it with a Chianti or another Tuscan Red. Rosemary-crusted lamb? A clear match for Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Oysters on the half shell? A Loire white or Albarino are both coastal wines, perfect for shellfish. There is just something about the food and wine coming from the same soil and climate that help make a perfect pairing!
For finding wines to pair with your dish, check out our new Wine & Dine section, sure to find you a perfect match for your meal.
Remember - any combination you enjoy is a good combination!