Updated: Mar 23, 2020
The world of wine can be absolutely daunting. To say there is an expansive catalog to reach for when selecting a bottle to have with dinner is a gross understatement. From white to red, dry to sweet, devilishly complex to beautifully simple and everything in-between, there's a wine for everybody and for every occasion. Our choices are truly endless! This boundless selection of libations can ensure a wine enthusiast will never grow bored of this magical beverage, but it can leave one scratching their head when selecting the perfect partner for their next meal.
The first step in finding the ideal comestible companion for your crisp Caesar salad is understanding a few basic wine terms before we dive into the meat (pun fully intended) of food and wine pairing.
Acidity: Often found in sharper, more crisp wines. Acidity provides a tart, mouthwatering sensation.
Dry and Sweet: Dry wines hold little to no detectable sugar. It is common for novice tasters to mistake "dry" for "tannic" or "oaky" attributes. A wine may create a drying sensation on the palate but still hold a perceived sweetness. Sweetness, of course, means there is a discernible amount of perceived sweetness.
Body: Used to describe the texture and weight of the wine in the mouth.
Tannins: Often described as the textural component that "dries the mouth". Tannins add to both the astringency and bitterness of the wine.
Basic Pairing Tips
1. Red Wines and Red Meat: A guideline (nearly) as old as wine itself and for good reason! Red wines do wonders for softening the unami flavors and proteins of red meat with the heavy tannins found in most red wines. It is best to use dry reds and to avoid sweet reds when pairing with steaks.
2. White Wine and Light Meat ( Fish and Chicken): White wines pair well with fish because the acids in the wine enhance the taste of the fish, making it taste fresher. Similar to how lemon is squeezed over fish to enhance the taste, white wine can have the same impact because of it acidity.
3. Like with Like: If the same general descriptors can be used to describe both the food and the wine such as sweet, dry, complex, or simple, there's a good chance the wines will complement each other well! 4. Be Mindful of the Entire Dish: The folly of many a pairing are rooted in holding a narrow field of vision. When you set out to find the perfect partner, you must keep in mind the entirety of the dish. What seasoning will be employed? What side dishes will be included with the meal? Perhaps most importantly, which sauces will be employed in the meal? Sauces can dominate a dish. It is paramount that every aspect of a dish be taken into consideration before a wine is selected for pairing.
There are several schools of thought and general approaches one can take when setting out to pair food and wine. For the sake of time, we will focus on two, congruent and complementary pairings.
Congruent Pairings: As the name would suggest, the congruent pairing method focuses on partnering like with like in relation to the wine and food dish. It is best to use this method multilaterally, partnering a food and a wine with multiple similarities. This can mean a sweet wine with fruity notes paired with a sweet fruit based dessert, or a red wine with buttery oak notes paired with pasta smothered in a buttery red sauce. It is important to note you want to avoid pairing food which is stronger than the wine. Doing so is the perfect way to turn that bright and complex Chardonnay into a muted, dull mess.
Complementary Pairings: The inverse of the above method but a equally effective method of pairing is to practice complementary pairing. Where the congruent pairing relies on pairing like with like, complementary pairings lean on accentuating differences in the food and wine. The goal for this method is to balance contrasting flavors while simultaneously complementing their differences.
Flavors to complement each other include:
Sweet and Spicy- The sugar of a wine can do wonders to turn down the heat of a dish to make a spicy dish much more palatable, while also producing an intriguing spicy-sweet flavor on the palate. Avoid wines high in ABV (13.5% and above) when pairing them with spicy food. The higher levels of alcohol will intensify the spiciness to obscene levels.
Example: German Rieslings (10%-12% ABV) with Spicy Curry Dishes.
Fruity White Wine and Salty Foods- The saltiness of the food cuts into the sweetness of a wine leaving the ripe fruit notes and aromas. If you've ever had chocolate covered pretzels, you know how amazing sweetness and saltiness can be when paired together.
Example: Blue Cheese and Port.
Acidic Wines and Fatty Foods- Highly acidic wines cut right into the fatty flavors of highly fatty or fried foods and rounds it all off in the mouth. It also serves as a palate cleanser of sorts. However, avoid pairing acidic wines with creamy sauces. These two elements will clash with one another leaving a tangled and simply gross mess in the taster's mouth.
Example: French Sauvingion Blanc/ California Cabernet with Rare Rib-eye Steak.
Red wine, white wines, and sparkling varietals, there is a vast world of different kinds of wine and each offering is a little different than the last. Here we explore some of the more popular wines and what pairs best with them.
While the exact aromas and tastes of this popular varietal varies greatly depending on the region and brand, the wine generally holds stark citrus/fruity flavors and can often be found to have delectable vanilla flavors. It is often the perfect pairing for shellfish, grilled lobster, tilapia, vegetables, and dishes with rich sauces. Its bold body, lack of acidity, rich and creamy texture make it an awesome partner for a wide variety of dishes.
This delectable wine generally has flavors of ripe peach, granny smith apple, lemon and zesty lime. Its feint sweet notes make for a perfect companion for spicy dishes. The pseudo-sweet nature of this offering often tames spicy dishes by slicing into the heat like a hot knife through butter. This style of Riesling pairs well with shellfish, pork, ham, and salads. Its lack of tannins and in turn bitterness makes it a great pairing for salads with traditional vinaigrette sauces.
Unlike its other pale companions, Sauvignon Blanc is almost always higher in acidity and in turn offers a crisp finish. This allows for it to pair well with tart dressings and sauces, cheese, oysters, fresh herbs and delicate fish. Sauvignon Blanc perfectly demonstrates how high acidity wine and food can compliment each other in a truly magical way. The acidity of the food and wine won't compete with each other and instead they will accentuate their natural flavors perfectly.
With a crisp and refreshing taste, Pinot Grigio is the ideal choice for seafood white meats. Its delicate and complex taste is perfect for enhancing a dish. With hints of green pears, ripe melons, zesty citrus and sweet spice, it is easy to see why its a favorite among the wine community. It's important to pair delicate dishes with delicate beverages. Selecting even a moderately powerful option paired with a delicate offering will over power an element of the dish. The end result will be an immaculate wine being muted next to the strong flavors of a dish.
Rosé is easily one of the most diverse libations in the wine world. With its uncanny characteristics of both red and white wine, Dry Rosé pairs well with virtually any cheese because of its acidity and fruity characteristics. This crisp rose colored wine offers a refreshing taste with a minuscule level of tannin and in-turn little bitterness. Dry Rosé's may include hints of ripe strawberries, baked cherries, and zesty citrus. This wine can be paired with a good deal of dishes.
This classic libation is high in tannins. Flavors and aromas of plum, blackberry, and black currant grant it its dark fruity taste that matures beautifully with time. The strong tannins make it a great choice for steak or lamb chops due to its ability to revitalize your palate after each bite.
Pinot Noir. The legend. This author's absolute favorite wine variety is known for its light body and earthy flavors partnered with a beautiful bouquet of berry flavors. Unlike other bold full bodied reds, Pinot Noir has very little tannins, making it easy to pair with seafood. This includes lobster, trout, salmon among many others. Pinot Noir isn't a one trick pony, it also pairs wonderfully with pork and steaks as well.
Happy cooking (and sipping)!