Updated: Jul 20, 2022
Drinking wine with a meal is a pairing that's been around for a very long time, and can get very complex. When it comes down to it the pairing of wine and food is simple. The pairing should create a balance between the components of a dish and the characteristics of a wine. When done right the wine should complement the dish and the dish enhance the flavor of the wine. Keep in mind that there is no hard and steadfast rule for pairing food and wine. If you think your pink Zen goes great with a hot dog, that's all you and don't let a wine snob deter you from that guilty pleasure. However, if you want to expand your palette and broaden your horizon these few tips may help the next time you find yourself answering the question, "Would you like the white or the red with your grilled Chilean ea bass or your Wagu Kobe filet?"
Speak The LINGO
The first step in gaining an in-depth knowledge of wine and food pairings is an understanding of some of the most commonly used wine terms. These terms are used to describe all different aspects of wine.
Acidity: Present in all grapes and play a role in the preservation of the wine. Wines that have a sharper and more crisp taste will have higher levels of acidity.
Body: A term used to describe the flavor profile of a wine. For instance, full-bodied wine is one with powerful flavors and a strong aftertaste.
Dry: Wine that normally consists of very little to no sugars.
Tannin: a chemical compound found in the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes. some are incorporated in the aging of the wood barrels
Tips For Pairing Wine & Food
If you’re just getting started, you’ll find these tried-and-true methodologies to produce consistently great pairings of wine with your meal. That said, as you get more familiar with different wines, you’ll become confident and can experiment with extending the boundaries of traditional wine to food guidelines.
The wine should be more acidic than the food.
The wine should be sweeter than the food.
The wine should have the same flavor intensity as the food.
Red wines pair best with bold-flavored meats (e.g. red meat).
White wines pair best with light-intensity meats (e.g. fish or chicken).
Bitter wines (e.g. red wines) are best balanced with fat.
It is better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat.
More often than not, White, Sparkling, and Rosé wines create contrasting pairings.
More often than not, Red wines will create congruent pairings.
Contrasting or complementary pairings are based on food and wine combinations that share no compounds or flavors but instead complement each other. The flavors in each are balanced by their contrasting elements.
Rosé, White, and Sparkling wine make excellent choices for contrasting pairings. A sweet white wine paired with a spicy dish will allow the sugar in the wine to cool down and balance out the spiciness in the dish.
Another common complementary pairing is a white wine with salty dishes. The saltiness from the food actually decreases the sweetness of the wine and brings out the wine's fruity taste and aromas. A glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio will pair perfectly with salty popcorn and especially well with fried dishes.
In a congruent pairing, the food and wine chosen will share several compounds or flavors. This can be a sweet wine paired with a sweet dish, a red wine with a buttery after taste paired with a buttery pasta dish. The important tip when creating congruent pairings is to ensure that the wine is not overwhelmed by the flavors of the food.
When this occurs it can make the taste of the wine become bland. The benefits of a congruent pairing is to allow the wine and the food to enhance the flavor of the other. Red wines are a great go to when looking to create congruent pairings. With aromas and flavors ranging from cherry to smoky, red wines are very diverse and easy to match with like food pairings. Take a glass of a Syrah wine that is a full bodied and it will have a similar flavor profile of some of your favorite grilled meats, making it a great congruent pairing.
Identify The Basics Tastes
In this day and age, we’ve learned that there are over 20 different tastes found in food – from the basic, including sweet, sour, and fat, to the extreme, including spicy, umami, and electric. Fortunately, you only need to focus on 6 tastes when pairing food and wine: Salt, Acid, Sweet, Bitter, Fat, and Spice (heat).
For the most part, wines lack the 3 tastes of fatness, spiciness, and saltiness but do contain acidity, sweetness, and bitterness in varying degrees. Generally speaking, you can group wines into 3 different categories:
Red wines have more bitterness.
White, rosé and sparkling wines have more acidity.
Sweet wines have more sweetness.
Salt is common in a variety of different foods but is common in fried foods, pasta sauce, and potatoes among others. Salty foods can really have an impact on the taste profile of a wine. As a result, the best pairings for salty foods include sparkling wines and acidic wines. Acidic wines serve as a great complementary pairing and will have the ability to balance the flavors within a dish.
Acidity is common in both food and winemaking complementary and congruent pairings possible. Acidity can add freshness to both wine and food. When creating a pairing, the acidity of the wine should be at least equal to the food or the wine will taste bland. So the rule of thumb is for your wine to be more acidic than your food. Salad dressings are very high in acidity, so when pairing salads it's important to base the pairing off of the dressing and not the salad contents itself. A great pairing for acidic dressings is Sauvignon Blanc.
Fat is one of the few flavor profiles that can not be found in wine. As a result, when pairing fatty foods with wine the key is to create complementary pairings. One key aspect in wine that pairs well with fatty foods is tannins. The bitterness created by tannins in wine has the ability to soften the fat within the meat and enhance the flavors. A great suggestion is a cabernet-based wine. This is the case because the fruit and berry flavors of the wine will complement the smoky flavors within the meat. BITTER
With the existence of bitter food and bitter wine, there is one key rule to follow. Avoid congruent pairings, so pairing bitter foods with bitter wine. Pairing to bitter elements will only enhance the bitterness in both the food and winemaking it an unpleasant pairing experience. One suggestion is to try more complementary pairings such as acidic wines, off-dry Riesling, and Zinfandels.
The level of sweetness is key to take note of when pairing wine with desserts and other sweet food items. The wine has to taste sweeter than the dessert or the wine will be overwhelmed ultimately stripped of its flavor. Sweet food can also enhance the bitterness in winemaking the taste unpleasant to most. So avoid pairing sweet foods with wines high in tannins.
Spicy foods can be complex but they allow for both complementary and congruent pairings. The main factors to consider are the ability of spicy food to increase the taste of bitterness and acidity and decrease the body and sweetness of a wine. Riesling is a great complimentary match with a hint of sweetness and great fruit flavors.
Unwinding The WInes
White Wine, Red Wine, and Sparkling Wine all have very diverse and complex flavor profiles. That means there are hundreds if not thousands of different ways to explore the different pairing possibilities of dry white wines to bold red wines. Here we will explore the various tips and tricks when creating pairings for specific kinds of wine.
While the specific tastes and aromas of Chardonnay can change depending on the brand, the wine generally has strong fruity flavors. With hints of green apple, pear, melon, creamy lemon, and rounded out with vanilla it pairs well with a variety of food options. It serves as a great choice for shellfish, grilled lobster, tilapia, vegetables, and dishes with rich sauces. Its bold body, lack of acidity, rich and creamy texture make it an excellent option for the above choices.
This delicate white wine holds flavors of white peach, green apple, and lime. Its light sweetness makes it a perfect complementary pairing for spicy dishes. Its semi-sweet taste has the ability to tame the heat of spicy dishes. Off-Dry Riesling also pairs well with shellfish, pork, ham, and salads. Its lack of tannins and therefore bitterness make it a great pairing for salads with vinaigrettes. This is the case because bitter vinaigrettes paired with bitter wine will only enhance the bitterness of both the food and wine.
As a light-bodied white wine, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be high in acidity and offers a crisp white taste. This allows for it to pair well with tart dressings and sauces, cheese, oysters, fresh herbs, and delicate fish. The pairing options here demonstrate how high acidity wine and food can complement each other well. The acidity of the food and wine won't compete with each other and instead, they will allow you to notice the natural flavors.
With a light and crisp taste, Pinot Grigio is the perfect option for light seafood. Its crisp and delicate taste is perfect for enhancing the flavors of a dish. With hints of pears, lemons, melons, and sweet spice, it creates a delicious white wine. It's important to pair delicate fish with delicate wines because the wrong choice in food or wine can overpower the taste of the other. As a result, you can end up with a great wine tasting bland because of the overpowering flavors of the food choice. Along with fish, Pinot Grigio also pairs well with pasta, grilled chicken, and dishes with fresh herbs.
Rosé is one of the most diverse wines with its ability to have characteristics of both red and white wine. This allows for Dry Rosé to pair well with almost any cheese because of its acidity and fruity traits. As a crisp pink wine, it offers a refreshing taste with low amounts of tannin and therefore little bitterness. Dry Rosé's flavors include hints of strawberries, cherries, citrus, and herbs. This allows for it to pair well with grilled chicken and spicy seafood.
As a full-body red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon is high with tannins, plum, blackberry, and black currant flavors. This gives it its dark fruity taste that even becomes more mature with time. The strong tannins make it a great choice for steak or lamb chops because of their ability to refresh your palate after each bite.
Pinot Noir is known for its light body and earthy flavors. These flavors consist of dark berries, cherries, plums, violets, and warm spices. This red wine stands apart from others, with very few tannins it pairs perfectly with fatty fish. This includes salmon and tuna among others. Along with fish, it pairs well with lamb, venison, and pork chops.
This red wine is the perfect congruent pairing for spicy dishes. With a spicy flavor profile itself, it pairs well with barbeque, lamb, and grilled meats. The important thing to consider when pairing Syrah wines is the spice level of both the food and the wine. If the food is significantly spicier than the wine it will overpower it and cause the wine to lose its spicy profile and taste flavorless.
Sparkling wine is commonly associated with celebratory occasions. However, sparkling wines pair well with a variety of different foods. Especially salty foods and even fried ones. This is the case because the carbonation in sparkling wine cuts through the saltiness and perfectly balances out the meal. Sparkling wine also pairs well with roasted vegetables and fish.
Overall food and wine pairings can be as simple or as complex as you would like them to be. The one thing to keep in mind is to have fun and ultimately drink what you enjoy! Now go grab some hot dogs and a bottle of red...