There are many books about the art of pairing wine with food, but we think it all comes down to eating and drinking what you enjoy. Throw rules out the window! If you like white wine and are having a hamburger, fine! If you like red wine and are having fish, great! The wine police will not knock on your door warning you of these seemingly ill-conceived wine and food matches.
However, there are some helpful hints in making even these food and wine pairings seem like a perfect match. When pairing your wine with your food, the most important element is the balance. You want the food and wine to complement each other and not compete.
Rich, heavy foods such as game or roasted meats need a full-bodied wine regardless of color. Lighter foods such as fish or plain chicken are best complemented with a more delicate wine, again regardless of color.
Foods can range in flavor intensity and so can wine. A delicate wine can easily be overpowered by a strongly flavored dish. Considering how a dish is cooked can influence the intensity of flavors. Take chicken as an example. Chicken steamed with only minimal spices is very low on the flavor intensity and on the weight scale. A lighter more delicate wine would be a better match than a full-bodied one. Now imagine your chicken has been roasted in the oven. The flavor intensity increases as well as the weight. We could now match our chicken with a wine that has more flavor and weight. Finally, if we braise or stew our chicken in a rich wine sauce, the dish will be high in flavor intensity as well as weight. This dish would pair nicely with a full-bodied wine. (Note: Still, no mention of color.)
One sure fire way to create a good wine and food pairing is to pick out some of the predominate flavors in the food dish, and match them to the aromas and flavors in the wine. Chicken cooked with lemon sauce works great with a crisp Chardonnay that has lemon flavors. Pasta with mushrooms picks up the earthy aromas of a Pinot Noir.
Acid Loves Acid
Pair foods high in acid with crisp fruity wines. Dishes that are high in acidity will make your wine taste softer. You will want a wine that also has high acidity or it may taste soft and flabby.
Foods: Tomatoes, vinaigrette, lemon, lime
- White Wines: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Sparkling Wines
- Red Wines: Rosé, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Barbera
Fat Loves Tannin
Pair foods high in fat with more tannic wines. Tannins in red wine create the drying sensation you often feel in your mouth. This is due to the tannins clearing away the protein molecules in your mouth. Foods with high protein content will soften the effects of these tannins in wine.
- Foods: Roasted, grilled meats and poultry as well as soups, stews and casseroles
- White Wine: Full-body Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer
- Red Wines: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz/Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Nebbiolo
Oil Loves Acid
Pair oily foods with wines that are crisp and fruity. Wines with good acidity can be the perfect cleanser for rich oily foods.
- Foods: Duck, fois gras, fried foods, oily fish
- White Wine: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauternes
- Red Wine: Beaujolais, Sangiovese, Barbera
Spice Loves Sweet
Pair hot and spicy foods with wines that have a touch of sweetness or good fruit. Hot and spicy foods reduce the sweetness in wines and can make a dry wine seem bitter. Spices can also accentuate the flavors of oak in wine. Hot spices seem to get even hotter with a wine high in tannins. If you would like a red wine, suggestions would be fruity wines with low tannins.
- Foods: Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, spicy barbeque
- White Wines: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, White Zinfandel
- Red Wines: Rosé, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Zinfandel, Merlot, Dolcetto, Shiraz/Syrah
Salty loves Sweet
Salty foods are enhanced by a touch of sweetness. Salty foods can also benefit from a bit of acidity in the wine. Avoid tannic wines as the salt can make them seem bitter.
- Foods: Ham, rouquefort cheese, olives
- White Wines: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauterne, Fino Sherry (acidic)
- Red Wines: Beaujolais, Barbera, Sangiovese
Sweet Loves Sweet
Pair sweet foods with sweet wines. Sweet foods can make a dry wine seem tart. It’s best to match your dessert with a wine that is as sweet if not sweeter than the dessert.
- Foods: Chocolate, creamy desserts (crème brulee, cheesecake), fruit desserts, cakes and cookies
- Wines: Port, Madeira, Muscat, Late Harvest Riesling, Vin Santo, Sauternes, Tokaji, Ice Wine
As you can see, contrary to the old adage that white wine should always be served with white meat and red wine has to be served with all red meat, it’s no longer a hard and fast rule. Enjoy the fun of experimenting with different wines and foods to develop your own personal preferences. The world of wine is yours to explore!