Food and wine pairing
Food and wine pairing is arguably one of the ultimate arts of the wine world. A great wine can bring you happiness and joy, but pairing a great wine with great food can truly transport you to a new dimension and elevate your senses to levels previously unknown.
Every wine has it’s own best pairing, and ultimately the key to a great food and wine pairing is through experience and taste, trying every individual wine and understanding it’s key components and strengths, then identifying the food with which the wine pairs best.
However, there are still some overall themes and ideas you can follow to quickly bring you up to speed with the best way to pair food and wine. We’ll try and outline some of these, but remember, if in doubt, just try the wine and try the food together and see if you think both parts enhance the other. You’re looking to bring out the best qualities in each other, not to overpower.
It’s a delicate art, but once mastered you’ll find it unlocks the best of both worlds.
The basics of pairing food with wine
When trying to identify a great food and wine pairing, what you are trying to do is simple – find a wine which enhances the flavors in the food dish and compliments them, and find a food which does the same to the wine.
It can be easy just to assume that ‘your favorite’ wine pairs best with ‘your favorite’ food, because ultimately they’re both just that, your favorites, but this doesn’t mean they’re a good food and wine pairing. When you’re trying to identify a good pairing start simple, with ingredients.
Break out the individual ingredients in the food you are going to be pairing and get a small glass of the wine you’re keen on experimenting the pairing with. Bit by it, try a small amount of each of the ingredients along with a small mouthful of the wine. This might seem ridiculous, but a dish is comprised of these tastes and it is absolutely vital to see and understand how the wine pairs with the different aspects of the food.
Each ingredient will taste different and pair differently with the wine, so try to think about which ingredients pair well, which pair badly, which enhance the wine and which overpower it (and vice versa). Do remember, just because one ingredient in the dish doesn’t pair well with the wine, this doesn’t mean the dish won’t. However, what this can do is inform the cooking – if you find that chives pair brilliantly with the wine then maybe consider slightly elevating the amount of chives you add to the dish in order to create a better pairing. Never compromise on the integrity of the dish, but do bear this in mind.
After you’ve identified how the ingredients pair, try so with the final dish. This and this alone will give you the best view of how the wine pairs not just with the dish, but with the composition of the whole dish.
Food and wine pairing for white wines
I’m sure you’ll know the classic idea that you pair certain foods with white wines (eg, fish) and certain foods with red wines (eg, red meat). In general, this is absolutely true and a pretty good rule of thumb, but pairing white wines with food is a lot more nuanced than just “pair white with fish”.
With a white pairing, the key is to look for the other ingredients in the dish or sauce which give the dish it’s signature flavor. While a fish dish may inherently pair well with a white, using garlic rather than chives or butter rather than dill will determine whether the wine pairs better with a Chardonnay or a Champagne, etc.
We’ll go into detail with some more specific wine pairing suggestions with whites at the end of the article, so if you’re keen to find the perfect food and wine pairing for your white, jump on down to the end.
Food and wine pairing for red wines
As we’ve just touched on, red wines tend to pair better with bold and overpowering flavors such as earthy herbs with red meat. However, because red wine tends to pair with a greater array of food, selecting the right red wine for your food pairing is absolutely paramount.
Full bodied or lighter, high or low tannins, level of oaking and much more can make a phenomenal difference on the final pairing, so take care to ensure that the red you’re presenting pairs well with your specific dish far more than just “because it’s a red”.
Next, we’ll outline some more specific food and wine pairings which are great general advice to work from.
Wine pairing suggestions
As always, the first rule here is to try what you preach. Individuals vintages and even different years can pair wildly differently with food, so try before you hand it out and make sure you’re talking sense. This being said, here are some overall suggestions for pairing different wines with different types of food.
- Pinot Noir – Go for bold, earthy flavors such as mushrooms or even truffles. The light-bodied Pinot Noir flavors complement these earthy notes with their own savory depth
- Chardonnay – Pair classically with white fish such as salmon or any kind of fish served in a herby and buttery sauce. Also pairs fantastically with seafood (eg, garlic butter prawns)
- Champagne – Not just for a celebration (although definitely great for that too) but also pair brilliantly with salty foods. We’d recommend serving up Champagne (or any other sparkling white) along with saltier canapés
- Cabernet Sauvignon – Absolutely perfect with red meats. Think seared steaks or herbed lamb chops with a healthy helping of earthy herbs like rosemary. Firm tannins in the Cabernet help refresh the palate and are not overwhelmed by the strong tastes of the red meat
- Sauvignon Blanc – A versatile wine, but we’d suggest pairing with zesty foods with tangy acidic tastes such as grapefruit or citrus. Great with desserts or light salads.
- Dry Rosé – Absolutely perfect for pairing with cheese. While some red and white wines pair better with wines, the majority of cheeses pair perfectly with a dry rose, not that dissimilarly to a light port.
- Pinot Grigio – Perfect for pairing with lighter seafood dishes, so as not to overwhelm the lighter tastes in the delicate white. Go easy on the herbs here, so as not to overpower the Pinot.
- Malbec – Powerful and strong flavors with a mix of sweet and spice. Excellent with barbecue sauces (even those with a lot of molasses) or stronger herbed dishes (absolutely brilliant with a seared beef steak and a hearty helping of chimichurri dressing)
- Moscato d’Asti – Fruity desserts are the way to go here. Sweeter sparkling wines help to bring out the fruit in the dessert rather than the sugar. Think bold flavors, such as figs or dates.
- Syrah – Asian food and those featuring a lot of spice are the way to go here. Absolutely beautiful pairing with any kind of spice from Thai curries to Greek harissa spiced Gyros.
- Zinfandel – Rich and creamy meat dishes such as pates, mousses or terrines. Absolutely beautiful pairing alongside some duck pate, with light orange notes pairing well with the wine.
- Riesling – A white alternative to Syrah, Riseling pairs perfectly with the spicer dishes on the men. Think Thai, Indian, etc.
We’ve really tried to drill this home already but we’ll mention it once more – the key to a great food and wine pairing is in more than just the general advice. If you’d like to serve up a bottle along with your dish, then absolutely read the advice online and find a recommended pairing, but most importantly get yourself a glass with your dish before you present the pairing to guests and make sure you agree with the recommendations!