3 Fundamentals to Wine Pairing

Nearly every culture around the world includes wine on the dinner table. You want to know why? Because wine makes food taste better! When you get the perfect pairing of wine and food, you can really indulge in savoring the flavors so you enjoy every bite and sip. 

If you worry about lengthy wine lists or snobby sommeliers … don’t. I’ve got 3 basic guidelines to share with you that will get you on the way to a perfect pairing in no time!

  1. Balance the Weight The idea is to have the weight of your food match the weight, or the “body,” of your wine – you don’t want one to overpower the other. To understand what I mean by the weight of your food, think of a salad as a light meal and a braised beef shank as a heavy one. Lighter bodied wines pair best with lighter food.
  2. Choose Complementary Flavors Let’s say you’re having a beautiful salad with green apple. You might want to try a dry Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc that has hints of apple. A lamb chop with cranberry chutney? Maybe a Pinot Noir with cherry notes that will go well with the tartness of the cranberry.
  3. Make the Call: Red or White? Most people have heard that you go white with fish and red with meat, and there’s a reason for that. The tannins in red wine provide a sense of dryness on the palate that go really well with fattier, richer foods like steak, lamb or even cheese. White is lighter (remember the balance thing?) and they work well with lighter dishes like vegetables, fish and poultry.
wine pairing

At the end of the day, there’s really no right or wrong when it comes to pairing wine with food. It’s all about personal preference and palate, so as long as you’re savoring every bite and sip, you’ve done it perfectly. And if you’re ever in doubt, remember the wine lovers’ movie, “Sideways.” They said Pinot Noir pairs with anything, and they were right on.

To get you started on becoming a wine pairing master, here are some general guidelines: 

  • Salad, Fruits, and Vegetables – Try a crisp refreshing white such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, an un-oaked Chardonnay, sparkling whites or a rosé.
  • Goat Cheese – I wanted to point out this cheese specifically because it is so awesome with Sauvignon Blanc. There’s a grassy tangy thing going on that is just wonderful.
  • Blue Cheese (and other bold cheeses) – Bold cheeses tend to work really well with a richer red such as Syrah or Cabernet.

*Pro Tip: If you’re serving a cheese plate with a variety of several options, go with a mid-range red like Merlot.

  • Fish and Seafood – Light fish dishes work best with delicate whites such as Pinot Grigio or Chablis. Heavier seafood dishes, like those with cream sauces, work better with something like a rich, oaky Chardonnay.
  • Chicken – Like with fish and seafood, think about how your chicken is prepared. If it’s a simple grilled dish, try a light white like Chardonnay or even lighter. A heartier dish? Try a Merlot or something a little heavier. Remember: the key is to balance the weight of your food with the body of the wine.
  • Lamb – You traditionally pair lamb with Pinot Noir but it also works well with medium bodied reds.
  • Pork – A good range of reds work with pork. Again, think about wine pairings based on the preparation. For instance a pork tenderloin with cherries may go well with a fruity Merlot while a richer braised pork shoulder would be delicious with a smokier, heavier Cabernet.

*Pro Tip: If use wine in your recipe, serve the same wine with your meal. Instant pairing success.

  • Beef – When it comes to pairing with beef, the rule is the bolder the better. Go for a big red such as a Cabernet, Syrah or Grenache.
  • Italian Dishes with Tomato Sauce and Pizza – When it comes to Italian food, I suggest you stick to the region where the dish is from. They really knew what they were doing when they originally created those dishes and wines. If you’re stumped for the region, Chianti is always a good choice.
  • Spicy Asian Dishes – Offset the heat with a light sweet wine like a Riesling or Gewürztraminer.
  • BBQ – A good smoky Shiraz is always a great way to highlight the grill flavor of barbecue.
  • Desserts – Port and dark chocolate are a classic wine pairing combination. If you’re having fruit, try a sweet sparkling wine or … if you’re skipping the cakes and pies, try a dessert wine for a delicious, special treat.

Like I said, when it comes to pairing wine and food, there are no hard and fast rules. Have fun experimenting with the different combinations and don’t be afraid to go outside the traditional pairing guidelines. Red wine can be delicious with fish and chicken. It’s just a matter of finding the right balance that works for you.

Have a blast trying out your new wine pairing skills and if you discover any especially delicious combinations, be sure to let me know!