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What Wines Pair With What Foods?

Jun 27th, 2022

The world of wine is a complex and detailed one, with a thousand different wines and a thousand different rules that go with them. There's wine that's chilled, wine that's not, wine that's best served in a large glass and wine that's best served in short ones. There's wine that pairs with hot foods and wine that pairs with cold foods, and some wines that can do both under very specific circumstances. There are wines that need to be aerated and wine that needs to be drunk immediately, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But for the majority of us, wine is a simple pleasure that we may enjoy with dinner, with friends or on special occasions. We don't need a hundred rules to enjoy wine, but there is certainly some benefit to knowing a little bit about the varieties of wine out there.

Like, for example, what types of wines go best with certain foods! A nice wine pairing with dinner won't change the world, but it will make for a nice meal and a good impression.

So, let's dive right in!

Why does wine work with different foods?

The wine-making process has had centuries to be perfected, and the result is certainly impressive! Wine-makers know exactly how the various steps and ingredients affect the final product, such as grape size, skin thickness, soil chemistry, aging process and even water content! Red wines have more tannins from the grape skins, giving them a full, bitter flavor, while white wines are sweeter because they’re left on the vine longer. Within both red and white wines are other varieties that have their own unique fermentation processes, leaving each wine with a unique chemical composition that gives each its own unique taste.

All this to say that there is a science behind wine and food pairings, just as there is a culinary science that pairs food flavors together to create one astounding meal. The chemical and flavor composition of wine can either add depth to a dish, or it can overpower it. A nice wine pairing can act as its own side dish of sorts, so finding a good wine to pair with your food can only add to its overall taste and profile.

Wine pairing rules

By all means, don't feel like you have to memorize a list of all the wines and all the foods they pair with! There are a few simple rules that can help guide your wine-pairing process, no experience necessary.

The wines should be sweeter and more acidic than the food

Why? Because you're trying to balance and elevate flavors, not match them! A wine that matches the sweetness and acidity of the food will not have the same effect as one that stands out a little more and that lifts the palette.

Match flavor intensities

This doesn't mean finding a wine that tastes the same as the meal, but one that has the same intensity of flavor. Rich foods with lots of powerful flavor need wines that also have rich, powerful flavors, and the same goes for more subdued dishes. Match their energies, if you will.

One of the best examples of this is using red wine for red meats (beef, venison, pork, etc.) and white wine for light meats (like chicken or fish). Bold meats need bold wines, and light meats need light wines.

Shared flavors vs. contrasting flavors

When it comes to flavor itself, wines will balance the dish by either providing shared flavors or by contrasting them. This is where it can get tricky, though, because too many shared flavors or too many contrasting flavors can make the pairing undesirable. Using a general guide for wine and food pairings can help you choose what general category of wine will go with your meal.

Which is where we come in!

How to make food and wine pairings

Red and rose wines

Red wines pair well with hearty foods that typically contain more fat and red meat.

  • Pinot noir: tuna, pork, grilled salmon, halibut, cod, swordfish, anchovies, gruyere, cheddar, French fries, Mexican food, hummus.
  • Merlot: Bacon cheeseburgers, potatoes, ice cream, dark chocolate.
  • Syrah: portabella mushrooms burgers, BBQ pork ribs, cookies, hamburgers, dark chocolate. 
  • Red blend: smoked cheeses, grilled steaks, Mexican food.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: duck, beef, grilled steaks, trout, red snapper, halibut, aged gouda, apples and cheese, cookies, dark chocolate, 
  • Zinfandel: BBQ chicken & pork ribs, bacon cheeseburgers, spicy cheese, potato chips, cookies, pepperoni pizza, hamburgers.

White Wines

White wines pair well with

  • Sauvignon Blanc: goat cheese, grilled chicken, shellfish, flounder, sole, tilapia, feta, ricotta, peanuts, pretzels, potato chips, tortilla chips and salsa, carrots and celery with Ranch, Mexican food.
  • Chardonnay: grilled lobsters, shellfish that you dip in butter, flounder, sole, tilapia, halibut, salmon, tuna, trout, brie, popcorn. 
  • Pinot Grigio: grilled chicken, flounder, sole, tilapia, feat, ricotta, tortilla chips and salsa, apples and cheese, French fries.
  • Viognier: red grapes, cookies, tuna, salmon, snack trays. 
  • Riesling: tortilla chips and salsa, apples and cheese, Twinkies, Mexican food.
  • Sparkling wines/Champagne: white chocolate, popcorn, tortilla chips and salsa, soft cheeses, brie, anchovies, mackerel, snack trays.

Dessert wines

These wines taste sweeter because the fermentation process is much shorter than other wines, giving them a stronger, sweeter taste. Fortified wines also fall under this category, as they are typically sweeter thanks to the added spirits in them. 

  • Port: blue and goat cheese, dried fruits, nuts, surf & turf, oysters.
  • Sherry (amontillado): seafood, toasted nuts, mushrooms, barbequed foods, smoked foods.
  • Vermouth: goat cheese, figs, scallops, clams, prawns, olives, artichokes. 
  • Marsala: pastries, olives, nuts, blue cheese, parmesan, tiramisu, chocolate cake.
  • Madeira: olives, salads, sushi, smoked salmon.
  • Saternais: strawberries and cream, peaches, apple tarts. 

So, next time you’re trying to create a menu that will melt your mouth, use this wine and food pairing guide to help narrow down your choices!


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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/kaboompics

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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