Pairing food and wine can seem overwhelming, with rules to remember and foods to avoid, but in reality, most wines work well with most foods. Sometimes you'll find a "Wow!" pairing, and other times you'll encounter an "Ick!" pairing, yet the majority of pairings fall somewhere in the middle. Still, to improve your chances of having a "wow" experience, read a few basic tips below.
Complementing flavors means you are matching the structure of the wine with the structure of the food. This can enhance those characteristics in both the wine and food. Examples include:
- Match creamy with creamy - Creamy wines, such as Chardonnay or Viognier, matched with cream-based sauces (pasta or poultry) or a creamy cheese.
- 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. Great high-acid wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Chablis.
- Match sweet with sweet - Chocolate cake? Lemon custard? Match a similar wine with the similar food. Rich and dense chocolate cake is a great match to Port or other dark, sweet wines. A light lemon custard looks for white, sweet wines with acid - Sauternes or Muscat-based dessert wines are a perfect match.
Contrasting flavors means you are trying to offset a taste or structural element in the wine and food, which usually means another part of the wine or food will stand out. Here are some Dos & Don'ts:
- DO 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.
- DO match creamy with crisp - Another fun match is to pair a bright acidic wine to cut through a cream-based food. Take a creamy cheese like Brie and pair it with sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc - the acid cuts through that cream and bring out the best flavors in both the cheese and the wine.
- DO match tannin and fat (and protein!) Tannic wines do well with foods full of fat and protein - think red meat and dense stews. The fat and protein lessen the tannic effect and heighten the fruit in a wine.
- DON'T match tannin with sweet or acid - oh boy, a sweet food will zap all the fruit out of a tannic red and all you're left with is… tannin. A tannin red paired with a lemon-based sauce on pasta or fish? You may feel like someone put braces in your mouth with the metallic flavor. Now tannin is a good thing, but we want to taste it in the BACK of the wine. So go find that steak!
Not sure what to have with a certain food? If you're having a regional dish, such as pasta with a meaty Italian ragu, try pairing it with a regional wine, like a Tuscan Red. Lamb with rosemary? Go for a Red Rhone Blend. Fresh seafood? Find a wine grown in coastal areas full of seafood cuisine, like Albarino or Vermentino in Sardinia. Chances are it will be a good match. Something about the food and wine coming from the same soil and area make a perfect pairing!