There’s no set method for pairing wine and food. What a good pairing comes down to is what kind of meal you want to have. When you cook, do you prefer to bring out flavors through contrast, or complement flavors with subtle similarities? Do you want your wine to be the star of the show, or do you want it to support your meal, whether you’re serving a flaky fish, beef, or a featherlight souffle? Here’s a very flexible guide to making successful wine pairings for any kind of meal!
Imagine you’re eating a hearty, rich beef stew with a crusty loaf of bread. This is a pretty heavy meal with very bold flavors. In this case, you’ll probably want to choose a wine that can hold its own – a full-bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon. But what if you’re eating steamed sea bass on top of a lemony bed of vermicelli? A delicate fish like this would be overwhelmed by a heavy red wine, and would probably be better served with a light white wine such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
- Light Whites: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne
- Medium Whites: Viognier, White Bordeaux, Chardonnay
- Lighter Reds: Beaujolais, Dolcetto, some Pinot Noir
- Medium Reds: Chianti, Burgundy, Merlot, Zinfandel, some Pinot Noir
- Heavy Reds: Port, Cabernet Sauvignon
Complement or Contrast?
Some people prefer to choose wines and foods that have similar flavors and essences – a buttery Chardonnay with a creamy pasta, for example. Others, however, prefer to contrast their pairings; in that case, serving a crisp, acidic wine with a creamy pasta will show off the flavors of both offerings through their differences. While it’s traditional to go with complementary wines, many people nowadays enjoy contrasting flavors.
People can detect 4 distinct kinds of flavors on their tongue: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Most wines will fall somewhere under the first three taste categories.
- Acidic, sour wines will come across as tart – pairing these wines with an oily, creamy meal can cut through the heaviness. Pairing it with an equally tart dish can mitigate the overall “tart” of the meal, and allow the underlying sweetness or saltiness shine instead.
- Very sweet wines, such as a Sauternes, is often enjoyed at dessert. If pairing complementary flavors, the wine usually needs to be sweeter than the meal. However, sweet wines also make an excellent contrast to very hot and spicy foods too.
- Particularly bitter wines are often best paired with heavy foods, as they can easily overwhelm lighter meals. They will go excellently with a fatty cut of steak or aged, hard cheeses – since these are high in protein and fat, it will mitigate the bitterness of the tannins and make the wine a little softer.
Those are the basics for pairing wine and food! The most important aspect of it all is finding what suits your taste and personality. If you’d like to find out more about particular varieties and types of wine, going out to a vineyard for a tasting is a great way to get wine-savvy. If you’d just like to experiment at home, there are many excellent wine choices at reasonable prices available for every taste profile!
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Photo Credits: Delicious Magazine UK, Flourish over 50, Life 123, Ask Men