The Basics: Wine and Food Pairing Guide

The Basics: Wine and Food Pairing Guide

The world of wine can be intimidating. From full-bodied red wines to crisp dry white wines. The options are truly endless! However, when it comes to pairing wine with food there are quite a few tips and tricks to help you along the way.

The first step in gaining a piece of in-depth knowledge into wine and food pairings is an understanding of some of the most commonly used wine terms. These terms are used to describe all different aspects of wine.

Terms to Know

Acidity: Present in all grapes and play a role in the preservation of the wine. Wines that have a sharper and more crisp taste will have higher levels of acidity.

Body: A term used to describe the flavor profile of a wine. For instance, a bottle of full-bodied wine is one with a powerful flavor and strong aftertaste.

Dry: Wine that normally consists of very little to no sugars.

Tannin: a chemical compound found in the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes. some are incorporated in the aging of the wood barrels.

Food and Wine Pairing Tips Everyone Should Know

Can’t remember which wine pairs well with salmon or your restaurant’s chef special? Well, these tips cover all the basics of what you should and should not do when pairing wine with food. These tips will help broaden your horizons on the impact wine can have on the dining experience.

Red Wines and Red Meat.

One of the most basic tips that are easy to remember and will help you make quick recommendations. The reason that red wine pairs well with red meats, such as steak, is because of its ability to soften the proteins in the meat and help enhances the flavors of the fat. The softening of the meat occurs because of the tannin, a chemical compound found, found in red wine.

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 its acidity.

If the same adjective can be used to describe the food and wine it is likely a pairing that will work. For instance, sweet wines go great with sweet food. A great example is fruit-based desserts or tarts and sweet wines. There are a few exceptions and we discuss them in detail below.

Sometimes it can be tricky to pair wines with meats or fishes that have a heavy sauce. The best way to approach a dish like this is to pair the wine with the sauce and not the meat. This allows for a better experience because some sauces can have bad interactions with wine. For instance, you want to avoid pairing bitter sauces with a bitter taste because the bitterness will build, creating an unfavorable taste.

Ultimately drink what you enjoy, but also don’t miss out on the ability to explore.

Pairing Methods

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There are various ways to approach wine and food pairings, but every pairing falls within two categories. The first is congruent pairings and the second is complementary pairings.

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Congruent Pairings

In a congruent pairing, the food and wine chosen will share several compounds or flavors. This can be a sweet wine paired with a sweet dish, a red wine with a buttery after taste paired with a buttery pasta dish. The important tip when creating congruent pairings is to ensure that the wine is not overwhelmed by the flavors of the food.

When this occurs it can make the taste of the wine become bland. The benefits of a congruent pairing are to allow the wine and the food to enhance the flavor of the other. Red wines are a great go-to when looking to create congruent pairings. With aromas and flavors ranging from cherry to smoky, red wines are very diverse and easy to match with like food pairings. Take a glass of a Syrah wine that is full-bodied and it will have a similar flavor profile to some of your favorite grilled meats, making it a great congruent pairing.

Complementary Pairings

On the other hand, complementary pairings are based on food and wine combinations that share no compounds or flavors, but instead, complement each other. The flavors in each are balanced by their contrasting elements.

Rosé, White, and Sparkling wine make excellent choices for contrasting pairings. A sweet white wine paired with a spicy dish will allow the sugar in the wine to cool down and balance out the spiciness in the dish.

Another common complementary pairing is a white wine with salty dishes. The saltiness from the food actually decreases the sweetness of the wine and brings out the wine’s fruity taste and aromas. A glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio will pair perfectly with salty popcorn and especially well with fried dishes.

The Wine Breakdown

White Wine, Red Wine, and Sparkling Wine all have very diverse and complex flavor profiles. That means there are hundreds if not thousands of different ways to explore the different pairing possibilities of dry white wines to bold red wines. Here we will explore the various tips and tricks when creating pairings for specific kinds of wine.

 

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White Wine

The White Wine Primer

Chardonnay

While the specific tastes and aromas of Chardonnay can change depending on the brand, the wine generally has strong fruity flavors. With hints of green apple, pear, melon, creamy lemon, and rounded out with vanilla it pairs well with a variety of food options. It serves as a great choice for shellfish, grilled lobster, tilapia, vegetables, and dishes with rich sauces.  Its bold body, lack of acidity, rich and creamy texture make it an excellent option for the above choices.

Off-Dry Riesling 

This delicate white wine holds flavors of white peach, green apple, and lime. Its light sweetness makes it a perfect complementary pairing for spicy dishes. Its semi-sweet taste has the ability to tame the heat of spicy dishes. Off-Dry Riesling also pairs well with shellfish, pork, ham, and salads. Its lack of tannins and therefore bitterness make it a great pairing for salads with vinaigrettes.  This is the case because bitter vinaigrettes paired with bitter wine will only enhance the bitterness of both the food and wine.

Sauvignon Blanc

As a light-bodied white wine, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be high in acidity and offer a crisp white taste. This allows for it to pair well with tart dressings and sauces, cheese, oysters, fresh herbs, and delicate fish. The pairing options here demonstrate how high acidity wine and food can complement each other well. The acidity of the food and wine won’t compete with each other and instead, they will allow you to notice the natural flavors. \\\

Pinot Grigio

With a light and crisp taste, Pinot Grigio is the perfect option for light seafood. Its crisp and delicate taste is perfect for enhancing the flavors of a dish. With hints of pears, lemons, melons, and sweet spice, it creates a delicious white wine.  It’s important to pair delicate fish with delicate wines because the wrong choice in food or wine can overpower the taste of the other. As a result, you can end up with a great wine tasting bland because of the overpowering flavors of the food choice. Along with fish, Pinot Grigio also pairs well with pasta, grilled chicken, and dishes with fresh herbs.

Red Wine

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Dry Rosé

Rosé is one of the most diverse wines with its ability to have characteristics of both red and white wine. This allows for Dry Rosé to pair well with almost any cheese because of its acidity and fruity traits. As a crisp pink wine, it offers a refreshing taste with low amounts of tannin and therefore little bitterness. Dry Rosé’s flavors include hints of strawberries, cherries, citrus, and herbs. This allows for it to pair well with grilled chicken and spicy seafood.

Cabernet Sauvignon

As a full-body red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon is high with tannins, plum, blackberry, and black currant flavors. This gives it its dark fruity taste that even becomes more mature with time. The strong tannins make it a great choice for steak or lamb chops because of their ability to refresh your palate after each bite.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is known for its light body and earthy flavors. These flavors consist of dark berries, cherries, plums, violets, and warm spices. This red wine stands apart from others, with very few tannins it pairs perfectly with fatty fish. This includes salmon and tuna among others. Along with fish, it pairs well with lamb, venison, and pork chops.

Syrah

This red wine is the perfect congruent pairing for spicy dishes. With a spicy flavor profile itself, it pairs well with barbeque, lamb, and grilled meats. The important thing to consider when pairing Syrah wines is the spice level of both the food and the wine. If the food is significantly spicier than the wine it will overpower it and cause the wine to lose its spicy profile and taste flavorless.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is commonly associated with celebratory occasions. However, sparkling wines pair well with a variety of different foods. Especially salty foods and even fried ones. This is the case because the carbonation in sparkling wine cuts through the saltiness and perfectly balances out the meal. Sparkling wine also pairs well with roasted vegetables and fish.

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Food Flavor Profiles

Another popular method to pair wine and food is by placing them into one of 6 food flavor profiles. This includes salt, acid, fat, bitter, sweet, and spicy. Below we breakdown each flavor and the important aspects to consider when pairing them with wine.

Food Flavor Infographic

Food Flavors

SALT

Salt is common in a variety of different foods but is common in fried foods, pasta sauce, and potatoes among others. Salty foods can really have an impact on the taste profile of a wine. As a result, the best pairings for salty foods include sparkling wines and acidic wines. Acidic wines serve as a great complementary pairing and will have the ability to balance the flavors within a dish.

ACID

Acidity is common in both food and winemaking complementary and congruent pairings possible. Acidity can add freshness to both wine and food. When creating a pairing, the acidity of the wine should be at least equal to the food or the wine will taste bland. So the rule of thumb is for your wine to be more acidic than your food.  Salad dressings are very high in acidity, so when pairing salads it’s important to base the pairing off of the dressing and not the salad contents itself. A great pairing for acidic dressings is Sauvignon Blanc.

 FAT

Fat is one of the few flavor profiles that can not be found in wine. As a result, when pairing fatty foods with wine the key is to create complementary pairings. One key aspect of wine that pairs well with fatty foods is tannins. The bitterness created by tannins in wine has the ability to soften the fat within the meat and enhance the flavors. A great suggestion is a cabernet based wine. This is the case because the fruit and berry flavors of the wine will complement the smoky flavors within the meat.

BITTER

With the existence of bitter food and bitter wine, there is one key rule to follow. Avoid congruent pairings, so pairing bitter foods with bitter wine. Pairing to bitter elements will only enhance the bitterness in both the food and winemaking it an unpleasant pairing experience. One suggestion is to try more complementary pairings such as acidic wines, off-dry Riesling, and Zinfandels.

SWEET

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The level of sweetness is key to take note of when pairing wine with desserts and other sweet food items. The wine has to taste sweeter than the dessert or the wine will be overwhelmed ultimately stripped of its flavor. Sweet food can also enhance the bitterness in winemaking the taste unpleasant to most. So avoid pairing sweet foods with wines high in tannins.

SPICE

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Spicy foods can be complex but they allow for both complementary and congruent pairings. The main factor to consider is the ability of spicy food to increase the taste of bitterness and acidity and decrease the body and sweetness of a wine. Riesling is a great complementary match with a hint of sweetness and great fruit flavors.

Overall food and wine pairings can be as simple or as complex as you would like them to be. The one thing to keep in mind is to have fun and ultimately drink what you enjoy!

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