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The Basics of Food and Wine Pairing




Food and wine pairing

A crisp, sparkling white. A rich, creamy red. A delicate, fruity rosé.
No matter your favorite varietal or vintage, there’s a vast spectrum of taste and texture on offer in the world of wine. Learning all the complexities contained within this world can take years, and only becomes even more complicated when you throw food into the mix.

You might ask questions like —

Does a red pair well with a creamy chicken risotto? 
Which white goes well with a crunchy Greek salad? Should I choose Brie or Gruyere for my sparkling Chard?
Fortunately, there are foundational concepts that can guide you in pairing each glass with its perfect partner. Let’s learn all about the basics of food and wine pairing so that you can give each mouthwatering sip the rich company it deserves.
The basics of food and wine pairing

Wine Pairing 101

Once you learn the foundations of food and wine pairing, you’ll be able to handle whatever meal comes your way. The basics are fairly simple, though experimentation becomes more freeform as you develop a handle for the art (and science) of a perfect pairing. 

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

  • All flavors are accentuated by harmony or contrast
  • Wine should be sweeter and more acidic than your food, otherwise the wine will taste flabby
  • Aim to match your wine with the sauce rather than the meat
  • Red wines pair well with rich, bold meats like beef and pork.
  • White wines go well with lighter meats like chicken or fish
  • Lighter wines such as rosé, sparkling, and white wine usually prefer contrasting pairings 
  • Red wines generally prefer congruent pairings

Those last few bullet points can be a bit confusing. Let’s break them down!

Contrasting vs Congruent Pairings

Have you ever heard that opposites attract? That’s exactly the principle at play with contrasting pairings, most common among white and sparkling wines.

For example, a dry sparkling wine can bring out the best of a creamy, fatty cheese precisely because the flavor profiles are so distinct from each other. The vast difference in texture and taste is exactly what allows these two to burst into life on your palate.

Meanwhile, congruent pairings popular in the world of red wine highlight shared flavors, just as a rich red complements the fatty flavors within a sirloin steak.

Try a bitter and fat food and wine pairing with this sirloin steak

Bitter and Fat

No steak dinner is quite complete without a bold glass of a full-bodied red for company. This congruent pairing is a staple of any steakhouse, but bitter and fat can stretch far past this classic duo.

Take our Graveyard Shift Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. This red is bursting with cherry flavor and works wonderfully with a creamy potato casserole and sun-dried tomatoes. The firm tannins make a harmonious duet against the luxurious fat in the potato dish, while the tomatoes provide that splash of sweetness to round out the dish.

Double the Acidity

One of the most important rules you can remember with wine pairing is this — if your dish has more acidity than your glass, then the wine will taste flat. For instance, don’t pair a buttery Chardonnay with an Italian salad swimming in vinaigrette. 

Instead, look towards a naturally crisp white like our Mother of Pearl Sauvignon Blanc to make a tasteful combo sparkling with punchy acidity.

Sweet and Salty

While sweet and salty might not be for all, you’re only doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try pairing a sugary varietal with a salty entrée.

A succulent Riesling tastes even sweeter when served alongside a crunchy Pad See Ew or Panang curry.

Egg salad makes a great regional food and wine pairing

Regional Pairing

A regional pairing can also work wonders and keep your plate more local. For example, if you’re eating a classic Spanish Jamon Iberico, it makes sense to pair it with a complex Spanish red. 

Not only will the fattiness of the meat be complemented by the rich tannins of the wine, but your meal will have a more cohesive identity. Mixing and matching your regions can provide a unique perspective for two that might not have had much time to play together.

A scrumptious Torrontés could taste delicious with a classic Argentinian proveleta and chimichurri, but it could also taste delicious with a French-influenced potatoes dauphinoise.

Let’s Get Practical

Now that we’ve learned a bit about the basics, let’s apply what we’ve learned to a real-world example.

Say it’s dinner time, and you’re hungry for something light yet filling. You whip up a scrumptious lemon-pepper chicken caesar salad and want to pair it with the perfect partner.

First, let’s evaluate the dish. Chicken is lighter meat so it would likely taste best with a crisp white like a Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course, the caesar dressing is rich and creamy, so perhaps that would taste best with a dry sparkling. Then again, the lemon juice renders the salad much more acidic, so perhaps a lighter red like a Beaujolais could accentuate those flavors. 

As you can see, wine pairing becomes a bit more complicated once you’re faced with the multiple facets of a real-world dish. After all, what’s the right wine pairing?

There isn’t one. Scratch that. There are dozens.

Sure, some wine pairings will prove a bit more reliable than others, but the only wine pairing that will satisfy you every time is one that you’ve tried and tested yourself.

Don’t take anyone’s word for it but your own taste buds. They’re the only true judges you have to pay attention to.

Learn the rules to bend the rules in food and wine pairing

Learn the Rules to Bend the Rules

When you’re in the first steps to learning any new skill, rules can be incredibly useful. They provide structure and focus, allowing us to grasp the basics.

Unfortunately, hard-and-fast rules don’t exist in food and wine pairing. All we have are rough guideposts that can point us in the right direction. Once we consider those, the horizons are endless.

The old adage is true — you have to know the rules before you can break them.

If you think our delicious Morning Jay Chardonnay pairs well with a rich, meaty steak, then have at it. If you love combining our scrumptious Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon with a crunchy Greek salad, all power to you. 

The one strict suggestion we will make is to ensure that your wine is sipped at its optimal serving temperature. All the pairing science and creativity in the world won’t make much of a difference if your wine tastes too flabby or acidic due to poor serving conditions.

An easy way to avoid that all-too-common situation is to use a personal sommelier like the Wine Connoisseur.  With expert calibration and unmatched ease, this wine aeration machine optimizes each sip down to the last drop.

So go ahead and experiment to your heart’s content. Just make sure that you’re giving each glass the care and attention that it deserves.

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