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pairing food with wine

How To Impress Guests With Amazing Wine Pairings

The golden rule of wine and food pairing is to drink what you like when you like it. You do not have to follow any specific rule. However, if you know what works best for most people, you can experiment and find the combination that works best for you. Do not be afraid of some trial and error to find the perfect complimentary wine for a particular food item. Think of this guide as a starting place of sorts. 

The following tips are not hard-set rules, only advice that will help you select the best wine for a particular meal. The recommended guideline is to mix and match, and if in doubt, ask the cook or waiter for their wine and food pairing recommendations.

Food And Wine Pairing Is About Balancing

The ultimate goal is to balance the wine and food pairing based on their flavors, tastes, acidity, and other factors. Some wines work better with a particular type of food, and it is in these instances where a pairing guide comes in handy. Drinking a stronger wine with delicate food like fish can overpower the fish’s delicate flavor and spoil the experience. In the same way, if you are eating a well-cooked steak rich in fat and protein, you do not want to serve a white wine. The delicate flavor of the white wine will be overpowered by the steak’s strong flavor and taste.

Use full-bodied wine with a full-flavored dish and a lighter varietal with subtle food flavors. Before we get into the meat (get it) of wine pairing, it helps to have the correct wine vocabulary to help you in your journey.

Body – It is used to describe the wine’s flavor profile. For example, a wine with a strong aftertaste and powerful flavor is termed full-bodied, while wine not aged long or made from grapes harvested earlier in the season is termed light-bodied wine. Wines are classified as light, medium, and full-bodied.

Tannin – This chemical compound is found in the stems, seeds, and skin of grapes. Tannins are released as wine is aged in wooden wine barrels. A higher tannin level makes the wine taste more bitter. Some describe high tannin wines as gritty.

Acidity – The acidity of in wine provides sweet and sour flavors. Wines with a more crisp and sharp taste contain a higher acidity level.

Balance – A balanced wine is one that has a flavor profile that indicates roughly equal levels of acid and tannin.

There are entire dictionaries filled with wine terms, but these basics will be plenty to help you pick the right wine for your next dinner party.

Types Of Food & Wine Pairings

A good rule of thumb when choosing wine pairings is to pair foods having heavy flavors and ingredients with red wines. For example, you should pair red meat like steaks with red wines. This wine has what it takes to soften the meat proteins, enhancing its flavors. Tannin present in the red wine softens the meat. You should pair light foods with white wine. If your food is light meat like fish or chicken, you should use white wine. The slight acidity of the wine will enhance the taste of light meat.

Finding the right wine for meat or fish with a heavy sauce can be tricky. You should consider the overall taste, content, and flavor of the food and not only the main ingredient like meat. In the case of fish or meat food with sauce, you should pick a wine that will pair well with the sauce. The meat is secondary here. Some sauces can interact with the wine in unexpected ways. Avoid pairing a bitter sauce with a bitter-tasting wine because you will be increasing the bitterness, spoiling the overall taste.

The wine and food pairing mainly falls within two categories:

Congruent Pairing

Both food and wine have many similar flavors or compounds in this combination. For example, a sweet dish is paired with a sweet wine. The goal is to make sure the food flavors doesn’t not overtake the wine flavor. If it happens, the wine is overpowered and becomes bland. With congruent pairing, both wine and food should work together to enhance each other’s flavors. One should not overpower the flavor of the other. Red wines work well in this context. They are available with a full spectrum of flavors and aromas, making it easy to pair them with heavy and rich foods. When you pair your grilled meat with a full-bodied wine, you cannot go wrong.

Complementary Pairing

Wine and food complement each other in this pairing and do not share any flavor or compound. The flavors are balanced by the contrasting elements of food and wine. White, sparkling, and rose wines are perfect when you have planned a contrasting pair. For example, a spicy dish can be paired with a white wine with a sweet taste. The dish will let the wine’s sugar balance the dish’s spicy taste. You can pair salty dishes with white wines. The food saltiness balances the wine’s sweetness, bringing out the wine’s aromas and fruity taste. You cannot go wrong by pairing Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay with a salty dish.

You have several options when it comes to the types of wines. The options include red wine, white wines, and sparkling wines. Each category of wine is available in diverse flavor and content profiles.

There are hundreds of ways to experiment with food and wine pairings, and following these simple tips and tricks will help you create the perfect wine and food pairing.

Taste Wine Like A True Armchair Sommelier

Spice up your next party with our FREE wine tasting guide! Learn what to look, smell, and taste for while appreciating your favorite bottle. We’ve also included a printable tasting notes template and a tasting wheel.

Red Wine Pairing Examples

Dry Rosé

Rosé can have some bitterness because of the low amount of tannin. It has fruity and acidic profiles, and it pairs well with cheese. Rosé also pairs really well with spicy seafood and grilled chicken.

Cabernet Sauvignon

It is high in tannins and fruity flavors and pairs well with lamb chops and steaks.

Pinot Noir

Pinot’s often have light flavors and less tannin. Pinot Nori pairs well with fatty fish, including tuna and salmon. It also goes well with pork chops, venison, and lamb.

Syrah

Syrah pairs well with spicy dishes, and you can combine it with grilled lamb and barbeque meats. Make sure the spice levels of both the wine and food balance each other and do not overpower each other.

White Wine Pairing Examples

Chardonnay

It comes with strong fruity flavors that give a hint of melon, pear, apple, or other fruits. You can pair it with many foods, including vegetables, grilled lobster, shellfish, or any dish with a rich sauce.

Off-Dry Riesling

You can pair this with spicy dishes. Its slightly sweet taste is able to control the spiciness of the dish. The low tannin levels in many wines in the category make it a great pairing with ham, pork, shellfish, and salads.

Sauvignon Blanc

With its high acidity and crisp taste, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with oysters, cheese, light sauces, delicate fish, and fresh herbs.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is a great match with light seafood. Always select a delicate wine to pair with a delicate fish so that the taste of one does not overpower the other. This wine pairs well with grilled chicken, fresh dishes, and pasta.

Sparkling Wines

Wines from this category combine well with many different foods, including salty and fried dishes. It balances the saltiness of the meal. Sparkling wine also combines well with roasted fish and vegetables.

Wine and food pairing methods cover congruent and complementary pairings. However, you should remember that the flavor does not equal taste. It is only a combination of aromatic compounds. Taste has its own distinct characteristics, such as spicy, bitter, sweet, acidic, and salty. Wine may not be rich in salt, spices, or fat, but it does have different levels of sweetness, bitterness, and acidity. You can follow these tips and tricks to perfect your wine and food pairing skills.

Author: Rachel Moore

Rachel works as a Marketing Manager at Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. Rocky Mountain Barrel Company provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and wine barrels. They are proud to partner with 1400+ breweries internationally.

Armchair Sommelier Wine Tasting Guide

Spice up your next party with our wine tasting guide! Learn what to look, smell, and taste for while appreciating your favorite bottle. We’ve also included a printable tasting notes template and a tasting wheel.