How To Choose Wine and Food Pairings

Beef steak with side dish

Choosing a wine that complements your food can make a meal more enjoyable. Some people go to great pains to match food with the perfect wine, but it really doesn't have to be that painful. If you follow some simple guidelines, the wine you choose should complement your meal just fine. Remember that these are guidelines, not rules. The only rule should be to drink what you like. 

  1. The old established laws of wine-pairing dictate that red wine should be served with beef and pasta, and white wine with chicken and fish. If you have no other clue, then this may still be a good guideline. However, there are some other simple guidelines that give you greater variety.
  2. The general guideline is to pair light-bodied wines with lighter foods and heavy-bodied wines with heavier, more flavorful foods. A wine's body is how powerful and weighty it feels in your mouth.
  3. When pairing foods such as light seafood, baked or grilled chicken, turkey, mild cheeses and ham, a light wine is a good choice. If you wish to pair white wine with these foods, try Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or even a rose such as White Zinfandel. If red wine is your preference, try a Beaujolais, Pinot Noir or Burgundy.
  4. When pairing foods such as beef, game, barbecue chicken, barbecue pork, game or pastas in a heavy red sauce, a full bodied, flavorful wine is a good choice. Try a Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah or Merlot. If you would like to pair a white wine with these foods, try Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer or Pinot Blanc.
  5. Foods and wines from the same region generally work well together because, over time, the people of the region naturally consider one when creating the other. Therefore, Italian dishes usually work with a good Chianti, which is a classic Italian wine.
  6. Dessert wines such as Muscats, Ports and Sherries are very sweet wines. Muscats are the sweetest and are not recommended for pairing with food. Ports and Sherries, however, can be paired as long as the dessert isn't sweeter than the wine itself; wine will turn sour in the mouth if paired with a sweeter food. Ports are classically paired with dessert cheeses, particularly Stilton. They fare nicely with any bleu or hard, flavorful cheese. Ports also work well with chocolate or cream desserts. Sherry is another option with dessert cheeses. Try pairing Sherry with nuts or nutty desserts as well.
  7. If you are not comfortable experimenting with wine choices and simply want a guide of which wines generally are paired with which foods, here is a list of foods with wines that experts generally agree complement each other:

    • Steak - Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot.
    • Salmon - Chardonnay, Riesling, Beaujolais.
    • Chicken- BBQ or Heavily Marinated - Zinfandel, Syrah, Chianti, White Burgundy.
    • Chicken - Baked or Grilled - Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Burgundy.
    • Fish - White, Flaky - Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais.
    • Shellfish - Chablis, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc.
    • Turkey - White Burgundy, Chardonnay, Chablis, Pinot Noir,  Beaujolais.
    • Ham or Pork - Beaujolais, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, White Burgundy, Chardonnay.
    • Pasta in Red Sauce - Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Pinot Blanc.
    • Pasta in White Sauce - Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot.
    • Cheese - Mild - Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc.
    • Cheese - Strong - Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot.
    • Desserts - Gewurztraminer, Riesling, White Zinfandel.
  8. When bringing wine to a party, ask the host what the main course will be and select a wine that complements the main course. If the host says it doesn't matter what kind of wine you bring or it's a potluck dinner with no main course, stick with medium-bodied wines such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, or Syrah.
  9. Remember, these are only guidelines. If you find a wine that in your opinion complements a food, yet the pairing violates these guidelines, drink it anyway! In the end, personal taste is all that matters!


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