Food and Wine Pairing Basics

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Last Updated on April 9, 2021 by Tracy

It may seem overwhelming deciding on food and wine pairings, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some food and wine pairing basics to help you along the way.

Food and Wine Pairing Basics

Food and Wine Pairing Basics

There is nothing better than sitting down to a delicious meal, and that meal can be made even better with the perfect glass of wine. How do you know what kind of wine goes with each dish, or how to prepare a whole meal around a single type of wine? You can find books, apps, and even whole websites dedicated to food and wine pairing but there are a few simple rules that can help to get you started.

How to pair wine with food

Here are 10 Food and Wine Pairing Basics

Wine should be more acidic than the food

There is a degree of acidity to all wines, which comes from the grapes, and the fermentation process but some wines are more acidic than others. The prominent acidity in white wines such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc gives them their crisp flavor. The low amount of tannins in red wines like Chianti and Beaujolais also gives those wines a fair amount of acidity.

Acidic wines pair tremendously with a wide variety of different dishes. Acidic wines go very well with acidic foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, or tomato sauces. They also go well with rich or creamy foods because the acid cuts through the rich taste on your palate. The same can be said of salty foods and fried foods. Some classic examples of this type of pairing would be Pinot Grigio with delicate seafood dishes, Chianti with pasta and fresh tomato sauce, or chicken piccata with Barolo.

What grows together goes together

This is a principle of wine pairing that is thousands of years old, you know before the wine grown in one region was able to be sold all over the world. Foods and wine from any particular growing region tend to pair together very successfully. Spanish wines pair well with traditional Spanish dishes, likewise Italian wines of a particular region pair beautifully with the regional dishes in the area those grapes are grown.

Sparkling wines and Champagne make good pairings

When one thinks of pairing food and wine together using sparkling wines and Champagne to do it may seem strange, but it can work for just about any dish. From scrambled eggs, yes really, to seafood, to any dish featuring mushrooms, or risotto and cream sauce Champagne or sparkling wine can make a perfect pairing.

Sweet with spice

If you are serving up a spicy dish then you probably want to pick a sweet(er) wine to help mitigate a little bit of that heat and soothe the palate. Some great examples of wines that will do the trick are Rieslings, a sweet sparkling wine, or if you are a fan of red wine a slightly chilled Beaujolais. When pairing a wine with a spicy dish you want to make sure that you avoid very bitter or highly tannic wines because they can make spicy dishes seem even hotter than they are.

Wine in the dish

This one is an easy pairing! If you are serving a dish that has wine in it, then pair it with a bottle of the same wine. Some examples of this would be Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon, pasta with white wine sauce, buffalo chicken meatball sliders, or a fresh vegetable salad with a white wine dressing. The first two should be served with the same red wine you cook the dish with and the others should be served with a bottle of the same white wine you used to make your sauce.

Sweet with salt

Sweet, even just lightly sweet wines pair very well with salty dishes in much the same way that chocolate pairs with salty foods like pretzels. Try pairing your fried chicken, country fried steak, or even just french fries with a light sparkling wine or a Riesling next time and your taste buds will thank you!

Smoke goes with oak

When you are trying to pair a wine with a smoked or chargrilled dish you need to look for one that has been aged in oak barrels. Wines that are aged in oak are often very intense in flavor, and when you pair these oaked wines with grilled foods it balances out the intensity. Instead of noticing the intense flavor of the wine the grilled flavor of the food brings out the fruity undertones of the wine for a complementary effect.

Wine should be sweeter than the food

When pairing wine with food the wine should be at least as sweet as the dish and generally should be a little bit sweeter than the food being served with it. Sweet wines show off and enhance the sweet flavors in the food but if the dish is sweeter than the wine it can make the whole pairing just fall flat.

Pair with the sauce

Pair the sauce that you are serving with your dish to the wine served with it. If you are serving a creamy sauce try pairing it with a buttery Chardonnay. If your dish calls for a delicate citrus sauce try pairing it with a zippy Sauvignon Blanc or a light Chardonnay. Tomato-based or meat sauces generally pair very well with red wines like a Shiraz. If your dish does not include a sauce just try pairing lighter wines with lighter meats like chicken or pork with Chardonnay, and steak or red meat with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s all about personal preferences

While there might be a lot of “rules” especially when it comes to classical food and wine pairings, the truth is it is really about your personal preferences. Make note of what wines increase your experience and joy in a dish, and also make note of any combinations that you just really don’t enjoy. This way you can continue to experiment with your food and wine pairing decisions and avoid pairings that just don’t do it for you.

Wine and Food Pairing Basics

Serving a meal and pairing it with a delicious and appropriate wine may seem like rocket science or a really difficult math problem but it really isn’t. Use these basic wine pairing “rules” to get you started but let your tastes and personal enjoyment lead the way after that. I will tell you that when my husband and I were in Beaune France, we asked a wine maker his tips on wine pairing and this is what he told us, food and wine are meant to be paired and shared with the ones you love to fellowship together and make memories so don’t get too caught up in making your choices. Let your taste buds guide the way!

What is one of your “rules” about food and wine pairing?

Food and Wine Pairing

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