As I tell my students the basic premise of food and wine pairing is to harmonize and enhance the flavors of both the food and wine. The following are basic guidelines to take into consideration when pairing and matching food and wine.
Food & Wine Pairing 101
First rule of thumb is to eat and drink what you like, no matter what the “rules” are. And quite frankly there are no “rules”, just guidelines, to enhance your pairing experience. However, if you are willing to go on the food and wine ride, then you may want to apply a few principles to ensure a palate pleasing outcome.
First step on the pairing adventure is to loosen the reins on what you know about red wine being paired with beef and white wine being with chicken and fish. Yes, most generic pairings in these categories work but the logic behind it is “weight with weight”; heavy foods with heavy wines; i.e., filet mignon served with Cabernet Sauvignon; and grilled flank steak served with an oaked Chardonnay. Begin to think about the weight of the food when considering your wine.
Pasta with meat sauce or pasta with olive oil and grilled vegetables is a good example. Both are pasta dishes yes, however, it’s not the pasta that you’re pairing with the wine but rather the sauce and what you’re adding to the pasta. Ideally you want to pair your wine to the most dominant flavor of the dish.You wouldn’t pair the same wine with both dishes, for the pasta with a meat sauce you’ll be safe with a Dolcetto, or a Merlot and for the pasta with olive oil and grilled vegetables try a Pinot Gris or a Gavi. Armed with, the weight with weight knowledge, you’re ready to take on a whole new adventure with your food and wine. Some quick points of reference when pairing are:
- Salty foods camouflage the sweetness of wine
- Acidic wines are softened with fatty or sweet foods
- Tannins are more pronounced with salty foods
- Sweet foods balance tannic wines
- Heavy proteins such as beef will soften tannins (bitterness) in red wine
- Spicy foods pair best with a low alcohol wine, a sweet wine and dry red wines
Sauvignon Blanc is planted in many wine regions around the world; Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, dry white wine.
Guideline food pairings and matchings for Sauvignon Blanc:
Meats & Fish: Shellfish, Sushi, Sole, Chicken, Pork
Cheese: Feta, Chévre
Fruits & Vegetables: Citrus fruits, Melons, Green Apples, Asparagus
Desserts: Lemon, and Apricot based desserts
Chardonnay is a very neutral, and versatile wine that can be made in different styles, from heavy and oaky to lean and minerally. These styles are a result of the terroir in which they are grown and the fermenting process. Chardonnay is planted and grown all over the world.
Guideline food pairings and matchings for unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay
Meats & Fish: Salmon, Chicken, Pork, Shellfish
Fruit & Vegetables: Peach, Mango, Salads with Chicken (Chicken Caesar)
Sauces: Mild Curry
Pasta & Grains: Risotto, pasta in cream sauce
Dessert: Key Lime Pie, Granny Smith Apple Pie
Guideline food pairings and matchings for oaked Chardonnay
Meats & Fish: Salmon, Lobster, Scallops, Chicken Breast, Turkey Breast, Pork Loin
Cheese: Asiago, Havarti, Mozzarella
Fruit & Vegetables: Asparagus, Avocado, Potatoes, White Mushrooms, Peas, Squash, Zucchini; Mangos, Peaches
Sauces: Mild Curry Sauce, Butter Sauces, Cream Sauces
Pasta & Grains: Risotto, Pasta [in cream sauce]
Dessert: Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, Butter Pound Cake
Riesling is a white grape, producing white wines. Riesling is an aromatic wine with flowery, perfume aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling.
Guideline food pairings and matchings for dry Riesling.
Meats & Fish: Smoked fish, Crab, Fish Tacos, Duck, Pork, Bacon, Chicken, Dim Sum, Ceviche
Cheese: Soft Cow’s Cheese
Fruits & Vegetables: Bell Pepper, Eggplant, Squash, Carrots
Dessert: Apple Desserts
Pinot Noir is a black wine grape that produces a red wine, grown in regions around the world. Pinot Noir is a thinned skin varietal making is susceptible to elements that can damage, such as sun and fungal disease. This stunning, elusive grape is known for its elegance, Pinot Noir is a fruit forward wine with a flavor profile of berries and cherries, with hints of chocolate and spice notes of cinnamon, and clove; classic Burgundy will show off its earth nuances of herb, mushroom, and leather.
Guideline food pairings and matchings for Pinot Noir
Meats & Fish: Duck, Goose, Squab, Lamb, Quail, Pheasant, Rabbit, Venison, Elk, Antelope, Ostrich, Buffalo, Beef, Lobster Bisque, Pork
Cheese: Creamy Bleu, Camembert, Gruyere, Goat, Brie
Fruits & Vegetables: Mushrooms, beans, Lentils, Eggplant, Fennel
Pasta & Grains: Wild Rice, Quinoa, Mushroom Pizza
Cabernet Sauvignon very much like Chardonnay is one of the world’s most widely recognized grape varietals. Cabernet Sauvignon is a black wine grape and is grown in most every wine producing region. Cabernet Sauvignon’s distinction comes from bell pepper, asparagus, jam, mint, black pepper, and eucalyptus.
Guideline food pairings and matchings for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Meats & Fish: Steaks, hamburgers, Ribs, Sausages, Beef Casseroles, Beef Stew
Cheese: Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheddar Cheese, Blue cheese
Fruits & Vegetables: Currants, Endive, Broccoli, Red Cabbage, Portabello, Radicchio
Pasta & Grains: Pasta with Tomato Sauce, Jambalaya
Dessert: Chocolate Cake
Merlot is a black wine grape that produces red wine. Merlot is used as a blending grape as well as a single varietal, Merlot is planted in various wine regions around the world. The characteristics of Merlot show strawberry, black cherry, plum, cedar, tobacco, blackberry, fruitcake, and chocolate.
Guideline food pairings and matchings for Merlot
Meats & Fish: Italian-style Sausages, Braised Short Ribs, Veal, Pork, Lamb, Roast Chicken, Roast Duck, Turkey Guineafowl
Cheese: Parmesan, Havarti, Swiss, Muenster, Provolone, Asiago, Smoked Cheddar
Fruits & Vegetables: Fried Vegetables
Sauces: Bolognese, Béarnaise
Desserts: Chocolate Cake, Brownies, Chocolate Torte
Zinfandel is a black wine grape that produces a robust red wine; also known as Primitivo grown in Puglia, Italy. Zinfandel is famously planted in California. Zinfandel’s distinctiveness takes on red berry fruit blackberry, anise, and pepper.
Guideline food pairings and matchings for Zinfandel
Meats & Fish: Grilled Sausages, Ribs, Blackened Fish
Cheese: Triple-cream and aged cheeses
Fruits & Vegetables: Cranberries, peppers
Sauces: Cajun sauce, hot salsa
Desserts: Spice cake, pumpkin pie, gingerbread, carrot cake