Wine is a food accompaniment. In a good pairing, the food will taste better and the wine will taste better.
There are two mains approaches to pairing food and wine. Either compliment flavors that exist in both components, or contrast with opposite flavors.
Examples of complimenting:
- Earthy mushroom dish, pair it with an earthy pinot noir (go European)
- The smoky and peppery nature of Syrah make it a great pairing for bacon
- Goat cheese with high acid, drink sauvignon blanc with high acid
- Chicken Piccata with lemon sauce pairs with pinot grigio or unoaked chardonnay because of the citrus notes in the wine
Examples of contrasting flavors:
- Salty food, sweet wine (opposites attract). Blue Cheese with port is a classic pairing.
- Rich fatty food with bright wine (heavy and light textures). Riesling with bratwurst.
Another way to think about contrasting is to imagine the food has a missing flavor that the wine adds. Fish is often eaten with lemon juice squeezed over the top. You can pair fish, which has no natural lemon flavor, with a white wine that has a citrus flavor and aroma.
The intensity of flavor in the food and wine must be equal for the pairing to work. One can not out weigh the other. Remember both the food and wine will taste better in a successful pairing!
- A vegetable dish could pair with a light vinho verde wine, but a petite sirah would likely diminish your perception of vegetable flavor.
- It is safe to bet that a bold syrah or zinfandel would stand up to a roasted or braised meat.
- Match the intensity!
Food and wine interact with each other and change our perception.
- Salty foods will make wine seem less acidic. That is why you frequently find almonds and olives on wine bar menus.
- Fatty foods will make wine seem less tannic. Hence the ubiquitous steak and cabernet sauvignon pairing.
- High alcohol wines will make hot spice seem more spicy. Look for sweet or bubbly wines when eating hot spicy foods. Personally, I have found slightly sweet rosé to be a good match for buffalo wings.
What grows together goes together. When eating a cuisine from a particular region, choose a wine from the same region. Italian wine and pasta. Spanish wine and tapas.
The old rule of thumb is red meat with red wine, white meat with white wine. That is basic, and not all encompassing. Gamay with chicken, or salmon with pinot noir are common examples of pairings that go against that rule.
The fun is trying things out without feeling limited by what someone else tells you “tastes good.” If you find a pairing that works for you, enjoy it. Do not worry if it follows someone else’s rules or not.