In short, food and wine pairing is not a ‘one size fits all concept’. You might have tried a steak with a full-bodied red and thought it was horrible. After all, every palate is different! We’re just going to educate you on the most obvious pairings out there, so that you can fudge your way through dinner parties and date nights easily without having to avoid the topic altogether.
Pairing Methods For Beginners
There are many ways to understand how food and wine pairing goes but there really are only two categories when selecting the best pairs out there! The very first category is called the congruent pairings and the other is called complementary pairings.
Congruent Pairings – for congruent pairings, basically this is chosen by the several shared compounds of the wine and food you have chosen. The taste of the wine should have similar tastes to the food! For example, sweet dishes paired with a bottle of sweet wine, a bold tasting dish with a bold heavy wine. When selecting pairings using the congruent method, you must make sure that the wine isn’t overpowered by the food you’re pairing it with. If you accidentally do this, what happens is the wine will start tasting dull. Congruent pairings are supposed to enhance the flavours of each other and not overpower each other. When you’re doing congruent pairings, red wines are the usual go-to! Red wines are full-bodied and should usually be paired with bold flavours like grilled meat such as slices of grilled striploin or lamb chops.
Complementary Pairings – Aside from congruent pairings, complementary pairings are wine and food combinations that don’t have similar tastes and flavours but “complement” each other! These types of pairings contrast each other but create a balance in flavour! Usually, the types of wine to create complementary pairings are White, Rosé, and Sparkling wines. Contrasting these wines with dishes such as spicy flavoured foods creates a balance because of the sugars in the wines! A very common complementary pair are sweet white wines with salty food. The salt in the food actually cancels the sweetness in the wine and makes you taste more of the undertones of the wine, this balance of taste makes you able to savour the notes of the wine such as flowery, fruity, etc!
Another method aside from the two is profiling food flavours! This is a method in which you take all 6 flavours into categories to pair with different wines! These categories of flavours are salty, acidic, fat, bitter, sweet, and spicy! So here are some important pointers when you’re using this method of food and wine pairing:
Bitterness – When it comes to bitter food congruent pairs won't be a very good idea! If you pair a bitter food with bitter wine it will only add up to the flavours of bitterness and won’t bring out the best in either the food or wine. So instead, try pairing bitter foods with complementary pairings such as acidic wines. Let’s say your dinner is a plate of buttery striploin with a serving of arugula salad as a side, this is best to pair with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
Salty – There are a variety of foods that have a level of saltiness commonly with fried foods and pasta sauces, and others. Because of the salt in these types of meals, the best pairings with these are usually wines that are acidic! Such as some white wines and sparkling wines. These create a complementary balance with the meals and create an enjoyable balance to pair with the food! Meaning a serving of lasagna with Bechamel and Bolognese can be paired with a glass of Arneis or Pinot Noir.
Spicy – Selecting wines with spicy foods are actually quite exciting! They can be paired with complementary or congruent pairs. It’s all up to you whether you prefer the spice with sweet wine or bitterness because spicy foods can actually either increase the bitterness or acidity in wine or mellow down the sweetness. So for your spicy curry night you can bring in a bottle of California Chardonnay or Riesling.
Acidity – When working with acidic foods, it’s always best to pair a wine equal to acidity. Acidity adds freshness to the food and wine, so when you’re pairing an acidic food, your wine should be equally or more acidic! So pair up a glass (or a bottle) of Chianti on your next fruit charcuterie board
Fat – So fat isn’t actually found in flavours of wine! So the trick here is to pair fatty foods with a complementary flavour of the wine. A very good pair alongside fatty foods are tannins! Its bitterness has the ability to enhance and soften the flavours of the fatty foods so it’s a great idea to pair these types of foods with a wine that has more bitterness to it caused by tannins! So a serving of prime rib is best paired with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sweet – When pairing with sweet foods such as chocolate, and fruit, it's best to pair a wine that’s sweet as well. When pairing with sweet foods you should select a wine that’s sweeter than the dessert itself so that way, the food won’t overpower the taste of the wine. For a chocolate spread/board where you have strawberries covered in milk chocolate, white chocolate, or hazelnut chocolate is best to go with Moscato, Merlot, or Brachetto d’Acqui.
Wines really are complex and simple at the same time! But learning a tad bit about wine and food pairings will give you a much better experience at your next dinner or party!
The best step is to know your alcohol. The term “varietal” refers to the specific type of grape used to make a wine, and most vineyards will list this information on the bottle so you can be informed before throwing a dinner party and accidentally serving Merlot with salmon or Chardonnay with spaghetti. If you aren’t sure what varietal you want, go for the classic: Pinot Grigio pairs well with just about anything fowl (duck, chicken) and seafood (salmon, tuna); Cabernet Sauvignon complements red meats like steak or lamb; and Zinfandel goes great with pasta dishes including bolognese sauce and spicy arrabbiata.
Once you know your alcohol, it’s time to think about the food itself. Texture is key when pairing wine with food: a fine wine should never be paired with a coarse dish, and visa versa. Acidity is also something to consider – a tart Sauvignon Blanc can brighten up a heavy (read: greasy) meal, while tannins in red wine can tame richer flavors like those found in chocolate desserts. Last but not least, don’t forget about flavor! Sweet wines like Riesling or Moscato pair well with sweet and savory dishes alike, while earthy Pinot Noirs go great with mushrooms and other umami-rich items on the plate. Cheers!
Steak & Shiraz
One of the most popular pairings, steak and glass of Shiraz. The tannins in the red wine are balanced out perfectly by the meaty flavor of steak, while carbonation cleanses your palate after each bite.
Riesling is one of the best white wines to pair with Asian food because it works as both a palate cleanser and compliment. The low alcohol makes it an even better pairing for spicy dishes like Kung Pao chicken or Thai green curry , while Chinese broccoli goes great with Riesling leaves notes of honeysuckle and lime on your tongue. And if you’re feeling especially daring, try pairing lychee martinis with Indian food!
For those chocolate-lovers out there (that’s most of us), the robust structure of full-bodied Shiraz helps to balance out the richness of fatty cuts of meat, making them the ideal match. In saying that, other bold varietals pair well with red meats too, so if you prefer a more fruit-forward drop, try a glass of Malbec, or a sweet Zinfandel, or opt for a well-balanced Cabernet. Dark chocolate,
Charcuterie & Rosé
A dry style Rosé finds its perfect match in a charcuterie board. The wine has enough acidity to cut through the fattiness of meats like prosciutto and salami, while the fruitiness of the Rosé pairs well with sweet pickles, pates and cheeses.
Pork & Pinot Noir
A delicate Pinot Noir is the perfect wine to pair with a crispy pork belly or roasted suckling pig. The light tannins in the wine will soften the fatty flavors of the meat, while the earthy undertones compliment the crispy skin perfectly
When it comes to Italian food, there really is no better pairing than Zinfandel and pasta. The fruity Zin brings out all the best flavors in bolognese sauce The acidity of this varietal balances the fatty flavours of the meats, pairing particularly well with prosciutto and spicy salami, as well as traditional charcuterie accompaniments like olives, peppers and artichokes.
Chicken & Chardonnay
The important thing here: knowing which style of Chardonnay to choose. Easiest way to remember? The heavier the dish, the heavier the style of Chardonnay. A buttery, oaky Chardonnay is perfect for dishes like roast chicken or creamy risotto, while a light, unoaked style is ideal for seafood or poultry.
Duck & Pinot Noir
Perfect for the winter roast season, or your local Thai takeaway night at home, grab a bottle of Pinot Noir to really accentuate the sweetness of duck meat. Delicate Pinot styles lend themselves to duck dishes, with the acid in the wine cutting through the fattiness of the duck skin, and the earthy tones carrying the meat’s softly spiced flavours.
Cheeseboards & Reds
In short, cheeseboards can’t really be paired perfectly with just one varietal because the very nature of them is variety - every cheese has a different match! But there are a few staples. For a hard and crumbly cheese, go for a tannic red like Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec, while for a soft and creamy cheese, pick an unoaked Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. And if you want to mix it up even more, try Rosé with brie or Gewürztraminer with Camembert - both pairings are delicious. Have a look at our charcuterie board ideas.
When it comes to food pairing, there’s one thing for sure: the options are endless. But by following these simple tips, you can create perfect pairings that will elevate your meals to the next level. So the next time you’re stuck for what to drink with dinner, remember to explore.
It's good to know that food pairing is an art, and with the correct choice of wine you can bring out the best in your dish. Experimentation is what it's all about! So invite some friends over for dinner, open a bottle or two of red, and just have fun!
Now that you know how to perfectly pair wine with food, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice! With these guidelines in mind, you can confidently serve up an amazing meal that will impress your guests – and make sure you have something to sip on while you cook. When in doubt, ask the sommelier!