Wine pairing is...
The short answer is that wine pairing is the art of choosing a wine that will enhance the flavors of the food you’re eating for dinner.
This culinary tradition of carefully matching wines and foods has existed for many years and across many different cultures.
In high-end restaurants, wine pairing expertise is often offered by the sommelier, who recommends a wine to go with whatever meal you picked from the menu.
To learn about pairing wines yourself, you can pick up entire books filled with information about which wines pair well with which foods.
There’s a lot to remember— but luckily, with modern wine pairing guidelines, there are a few general rules that you can follow for a wide variety of wine pairing options.
Let’s get into the specifics, examine how wine pairing works, and go over some wine pairing basics before diving into some examples.
How does wine pairing work?
To determine what kind of wine pairs well with a certain food, wine experts will measure specific elements of both the food and wine to see if they are complementary. Things such as flavor and texture factor into the pairing.
When searching for a top-notch pairing, the sommelier will try to get the best possible combination of flavors between the food and wine for a delicious complete meal. However, since taste is subjective, different sommeliers (and food enthusiasts) may have different preferences for wine pairings.
However, there are a couple of basic combinations that can help an emerging chef to pick the best wine to go with their food.
Wine pairing basics
One of the more simple principles behind wine pairing is the art of balance— the different flavor elements in the food and wine should feel complementary, with neither flavor overpowering the other.
For example, while eating lighter, airier foods like quiche, drinking a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon would completely overwrite the taste of the food. Good pairing removes none of the flavors.
These are a few of the most common rules that sommeliers use for wine pairings.
-White wines pair well with light meats
When cooking with lighter meats, such as chicken or fish, it’s best to balance the meal with an acidic white wine. Heavy red wines tend to overpower the delicate tastes of cooked chicken, and the sharp taste of the white wine serves as a subtle compliment to fish-based meals.
-Red wines pair well with red meats
Heavy wines complement red meats great due to read meats having a stronger, more robust flavor than lighter meats. Dark red wines are often a perfect complement to steak dinners and other red meat delicacies. Another reason that red wines work so well with red meats is the chemical compound tannin in red wine will make the proteins in the meat softer while bringing out more of the flavors trapped in the fat.
-Sweet wines pair well with desserts
Due to the acidic nature of dry wines, and the fact that sugar will intensify acidity, it’s a good idea to avoid dry wines when eating dessert. Choosing a sweeter wine than whatever dessert you’re planning is a good way to manage the wine pairing for sugary foods. Since desserts can be a little more complicated than “red meat or light meat,” it can be trickier to pick which kind of sweet wine will work best. It’s helpful to try and match the lightness of the dessert to the lightness of the wine and avoid any flavors that could overpower your meal.
Examples of wine pairing
Here are a few examples of excellent wine pairings with common dinner foods:
-Chardonnay and fish
As mentioned above, white wines pair best with light meats. Taking that strategy and getting even more specific, we can pair Chardonnay with most fish dishes for a delicious balance of flavors.
The best kind of fish to eat while pairing dinner with Chardonnay are fish with fats or rich, savory sauces, where the acidity in the wine will gently enhance the natural flavors. This food and beverage combination works especially well with fish like salmon or halibut.
-Pinot Noir and salad
For a healthy meal subtly enhanced with a lighter wine, try having a Pinot Noir with salad. This light-bodied wine makes for an excellent flavor combo with anything earthy, so this works best for salads that are more savory than tangy. Another great option for pairing Pinot Noir is mushrooms— on a salad or flatbread, or however else you like to eat them. The wine can intensify the savory elements without covering up the distinctive mushroom taste.
-Dry Rosé and cheesy pasta
Due to the many distinct flavors of cheese, cheesy dishes can be uniquely challenging to pair with wine. Luckily, a Dry Rosé should have the right mix of acidity to pair with almost any type of cheese used in a pasta dish. Dry Rosé has properties of both white and red wine, and it works well with a variety of cheeses. Dishes that use more than one type— such as lasagna, grilled cheese sandwiches, or ravioli— often compliment the unique flavor of the wine without throwing off the balance of the meal.
Wine pairing in a nutshell
Put simply, wine pairing requires knowing which wines will bring out the flavors you want to taste in your food. Because of that, everyone will have their own best combinations of food and wine.
This guide should help you know where to start and you can learn more by taking an online wine class.