Wine Pairing Basics: Two No-Fail Tips

Category: Food

Pairing food and wine shouldn’t be rocket science. More than anything, it has a lot to do with personal taste, which means there are no cut-and-dry rules. In fact, most wines work with most foods, but knowing a few basic rules can enhance your enjoyment. Eating and drinking is meant to be enjoyable, and all you need are a few simple tips for a great meal!

Complementary flavors

Going for complementary flavors is an easy way to pair wine with your food. When you pair this way, you're matching the structure of the wine with the structure of the food. For example: matching a big, powerful, wine with a rich and savory dish. A light, delicate dish wouldn’t work with a robust red since the flavors in the wine could overpower the food.

Match creamy with creamy: like a Chardonnay with a cheesy pasta dish or poultry with a cream-based sauce.

Match acid with acid: any dish with lemon or citrus would do well with a crisp, acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, or even Chenin Blanc.

Match sweet with sweet: chocolate cake? Crème brûlée? Pair your desserts with a sweet wine like Port or Moscato. For dishes with a significant fruit component, eat with fruity wines like Gewürztraminer or Riesling.

Contrasting flavors

Pairing your food and wine with contrasting flavors means you're trying to counterbalance a taste or structural element in either the dish or the drink. For example: rich, fatty dishes like steak diminish the perception of tannins (or acidity), making a robust wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon seem smoother. Salt, on the other hand, accentuates the tannins of a wine and can make it taste more astringent.

Match spicy with sweet: a big, tannic red with spicy chow mein? Not so much. Very spicy flavors tend to react poorly with bold, high-alcohol wine, making them taste even hotter. A fruity or lightly sweet wine like Riesling or Pinot Gris is much better suited to your Thai take-out.

Match creamy with crisp: Drink a crisp, acidic wine to cut through the flavors in a rich, creamy dish. Try a sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc with your fettuccine alfredo or mac and cheese.

Tastemaker Claire Thomas shares her basic food and wine pairing tips!

Drink and eat what you like

Forgot the rules already? Choose a wine you'd want to drink by itself. That way, even if the pairing isn’t perfect, you'll still enjoy what you’re drinking; at worst, you might need a sip of water or bite of bread between the dish and the glass.

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