5 Basics for Wine & Food Pairings

Food and Wine Paring

1. Have fun!
Really. That’s Number 1. Usually reserved for the end of a wine & food pairings guidelines article, I’m putting it out there now. Drink what you like. Some straightforward pairing tips will follow, but if you like your porterhouse steak with Pinot Grigio, don’t let anyone or any “wine rules” stop you. Go ahead, enjoy. Pairing guidelines exist to get you to that ultimate goal anyway. The guidelines themselves are even flexible and depend on your taste buds. For example, most pairing suggestions revolve around characteristics of the wine such as its acidity, tannin level, alcohol level and sweetness. And the majority of the guidelines work out well for people. For instance, if you’re like most people, the tannins in a big red wine and the fattiness of a big creamy fish meal would cancel each other out (instead of complementing each other) leaving you with an unpleasant flavor. This is why most fish dishes pair well with wines that have a cleansing effect (high acidity). However, differences do arise – since some people prefer contrasting wine flavors with their dish, and some would like a similar flavor. Personal preference. So with a rich cream sauce, do you want to cut through the fat with a dry, crisp Sauvignon Blanc or do you want to hug the flavor of the wine around the sauce with a ripe, soft chardonnay? The fun is in finding out. Therefore, Rule 1.

2. White Wines
Ok, so you know to have fun and go with what you like but you’d like some general this-usually tastes-good-with-that scenarios. So, crisp white wines generally pair well with tart dishes, light dishes, or slightly spicy dishes. A Sauvignon Blanc is delicious with salad, sushi or Indian food. Although (side note) if you’re going super spicy with any of these dishes, a beer would actually be quite tasty.
A wine like Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) pairs well with light but a little “denser” plate, like tomatoes and mozzarella, a light pasta dish or a simply-flavored chicken. Reach for the Chardonnay when it comes to a rich cream-based sauce, like fettuccine Alfredo.

3. Red Wines
Ok, so the science behind the reds…again, it’s about complementary tastes. This is why Cabernet Sauvignon and a juicy steak are your classic pairing. The beef’s protein and fat soften up the wine’s tannins, but the steak doesn’t overpower the wine altogether. A Pinot Noir on the other hand, very easy drinking to begin with, is great with many cheese and earthy foods like stone fired pizza with fresh herbs, or a flavorful chicken and pasta rosemary dish. Then, there’s the “pairing based on origin” theory, which tends to play out well with Italian reds. There’s nothing better with a rustic Tuscan dish than a Tuscan wine. Funny how that works. For a heavily-seasoned or rich barbeque sauce dish, a young Syrah would be nice.

4. Champagne/Sparkling
Not often paired with food, sparkling wines actually work quite well with food, specifically salty foods; due to the wine’s effervescence and slightly sweet taste. So, caviar yes. But also edamame, warm salted pretzels, or proscuitto-wrapped appetizers. This is very helpful to know because not many other wines go well with salty foods. Salt can even make some wines (like an oaky chardonnay) taste weird, and it can turn high alcohol wines bitter. So break out the bubbly.

5. Mix it up. Literally.
We tend to forget you can mix wine with things. Like other spirits, or juice, or soda! Yep. As in a “Kalimotxo,” which is Spanish red wine and cola. And sometimes this fits the bill. Wine cocktails are great at a barbeque, where perhaps there are several different types of dishes or maybe at a get together where a variety of small plates are on the menu. Try a Kir Royale (Chambord and Champagne), a punchbowl of sangria (red or white) or even a “Bishop Cocktail” (red wine, rum, simple syrup, and lime juice). So for those times you’re in the mood for something different, or you just don’t know what to pair your meal with, think a little outside the box (or bottle…) and mix up something fun!

Kristine has been researching, writing about, and enjoying beverages for years. A freelance writer, she's wife to one cool guy, and mom to another. She's an avid researcher, reader, hiker, texter, hat wearer and music listener. She lives in Phoenix with the aforementioned cool guys and all three love to explore restaurants and travel. She can be reached at krisgresh@yahoo.com

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