Wine pairing can be a complex and overwhelming thing to learn. But it doesn’t have to be, if you keep in mind a few guidelines. When pairing wine with food, it is important to know the standout flavors of both the food and the wine. Without these, you won’t know what to pair with what, or why it works. From deep Cabernets and crisp Rieslings to salty potato chips and buttery lobster tails, we will explore how to pair wines to foods, and why they work.
A general rule for wine paring is this: Red wines are used to compliment common flavors in the dishes it pairs with, while white wines are used to present contrasting flavors. While this is generally accepted, bending this rule can result in some exiting and delicious flavor interactions. Some other common guidelines include, making sure the wine is sweeter/more acidic than the food it pairs with, Making sure the wine and food have the same flavor intensity (you don’t want one to overpower the other), and while reds generally compliment darker, more intense meats like beef; and whites compliment lighter meats, like chicken; it is better pair a wine with a dish’s sauce, rather than the meat itself. With these guidelines in mind, let’s explore some specifics:
With salty foods like pretzels, potato chips, and popcorn, a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc can hold their own against salt and keep the palate refreshed. Because Champagnes, with their dryness, actually have hints of sweetness to them, they can form a perfect balance with salty foods, as well. The best compliment for salt is sweet.
For rich grilled meats, a Cabernet Sauvignon is the go to. While the dark fruit and woods in the Cab compliment the richness of the meat, the tannins cut through the decadence of a large steak dinner. For sweet foods, like cakes and ice cream, pair with a sweet wine, like a Muscat or fruit dessert wine. Sweet begs for more sweet. For fruit based desserts, a Moscato d'Asti or demi-sec Champagne will emphasis the fruits, rather than the sugars, of the dessert. For tart and tangy foods and dressings, a Sauvignon Blanc, Portugese Vinho Verde, Spanish Verdejo, or a classic Chardonnay are top notch. None of these wines will be overwhelmed by the tang of citrus, or even ranch dressing. And they are still delicate enough to not over power the subtle flavors of a scallop or well used onion.
For Seafood, both food and wine shine best when they are matched in their delicateness. From baked salmon to shrimp ceviche to buttery lobster tails, whites are the way to go. Try a Pinot Grigio or Arneisor Chablis. For spiced dishes, commonly found in Mediterranean Cuisine, a wine with plenty of spicy notes is the perfect compliment. For spiced lamb, or a harissa burger, try a Washington Syrah, a Cabernet Franc, or a Greek Xinomavro. All will add a new aspect of depth to the dish. For foods brushed with a powerful BBQ sauce, you’ll need a wine bold enough to stand against the deep richness, tang, and sweetness of the Southern Tradition. Malbec, Shiraz, and Côtes-du-Rhône wines have the power to stand side by side with spicy BBQ chicken, a tangy rack of ribs, or smoked brisket. No flavors will be lost in this pairing.
For Rich Cheese dishes, like a decadent grilled cheese sandwich or a Croque Monsieur, a dry Rosé is just the thing. While some cheeses react well with the crispness of a white, and some with the berry sweetness of a red, Rosé has the best of both worlds. For cheese plates, remember that heavier cheeses will want a strong wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon, while lighter cheese will want a lighter wine, like a Pinot Grigio or a Riesling. An easy trick for wine and food pairing is to note the adjectives used when describing each item. If you can use the same adjective to describe both components of the pairing, like “rustic”, “delicate”, “powerful”, “rich”, or “deep”, it will most likely be a successful pairing. Remember, in wine paring, as with all things, some rules were made to be broken, others were not. The fun lies in discovering which is which.