If you’re not a wine professional or connoisseur, it’s easy to feel intimidated about food and wine pairing. Whether you’re enjoying a fine wine dining experience or preparing a nice meal at home, how do you decide on the best wine for your meal?
The first step is to relax! After all, if you have a glass of wine in hand, your wining and dining experience should be anything but stressful.
The next step is to gain a general understanding of how the senses work. To break it down, your perceptions of taste will take shape when two sources interact. If tastes perceived by your tongue are similar, they’ll decrease intensity and create an enjoyable feeling of balance and harmony. For instance, acidic foods and wines may taste less sour when you pair them together. It’s also important to consider food elements such as salt, fat and spiciness for the most harmonious pairings.
This is the simplest strategy to successfully pairing food and wine. However, the process can be much more complex — such as pairing a sweet wine with a salty dish — due to the wide range of personal tastes and flavors in food and wine throughout the world.
Let Taste Be Your Guide
When considering a potential wine pairing, pay attention to the five main characteristics of wine and how they would balance with your entrée. General rule is to never upstage the star of the meal. If the star is the food, always err on the lighter side of wine so you don’t overpower the food.
For instance, consider a wine’s sugar and alcohol content when pairing it with food; such as a spicy dish where the sweetness of the wine will tame the spicy and the lower the ABV (alcohol by volume) the better.
On the other hand, noteworthy flavors in your food can impact the type of wine you pair with it. Creamy cheeses pair well with the fizziness of a sparkling wine. Foods that are hearty and rich in fat, such as red meat, need a wine with high tannin to break through the oil and complement the meat’s flavor.
But every wine is different, and so is every dish — making it difficult to compile a universal list of wine and food parings. Red wines can have different characteristics from each other and wine’s unique qualities—based on region of origin, vintage and how they are produced—will slightly change the way each wine tastes. If you’re cooking instead of eating out, experiment with new combinations and use your instincts. When taste is your true guide, you can’t go wrong.
While the perfect wine pairing ultimately depends on your personal tastes and the unique elements of your meal, we’ve compiled a broad guide with our personal recommendations for every food, flavor and season. Relax and use our guide as advice the next time you’re pairing food and wine — but don’t let it restrict you!
Cheese and wine are common pairings, partly because they both have different levels of texture that can complement one another. Cheese can have all sorts of unique flavors, so it’s important to distinguish the noticeable characteristics in your cheese to determine its ideal wine counterpart:
- Acidic If you have an acidic cheese, such as goat cheese, a Sauvignon Blanc wine can balance it out. Our specific recommendations include Wairau River from New Zealand, Veramonte from Chile, or Chateau de Sancerre from the Loire Valley in France. Each wine is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, but the texture and acidity levels vary.
- Creamy For Brie and other creamy cheeses, a creamy wine such as Chardonnay complements the cheese’s texture and flavors nicely. Chardonnay is commonly aged in oak, which separates it from other common wines such as Pinot Grigio. Some of our favorites are Sanford Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County and Tormaresca Chardonnay from Italy — these varieties are usually aged in stainless steel to increase acidity levels.
- Strong With strong cheeses, such as aged Parmesan-Reggiano, a Chianti — a bold, earthy wine — is a classic choice. Our top Chianti recommendations include Marchese Antinori and Melini “La Selvanella.” Both wines are vinified under the Italian government’s strict guidelines and are Chianti Classico Riservas.
Starches typically have a weightier form, so a wine with a lot of texture can pair nicely with them. Whether you’re cooking with a simple starch such as potatoes or risotto, or beans and nuts, a well-made Riesling will be a delicious accompaniment to your dish.
Juicy wines with fruit accents, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, can also complement foods that are heavy in starch.
Our picks: Chateau Ste Michelle “Cold Creek” Vineyards from Columbia Valley (Riesling) or Tangley Oaks from California (Pinot Noir)
Vegetables can add freshness and character to your meal, and their lighter texture is perfect for both your plate and your wine glass! Lighter-bodied wines pair nicely with vegetables due to the balance of textures. If you’re steaming a summer medley of vegetables, a Pinot Grigio is one of the best choices.
Our picks: Erath Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley in Oregon or Mazzoni Pinot Grigio from Tuscany
Most fish and seafood dishes have similar characteristics to vegetables, due to their light and delicate texture. A lighter-bodied wine can be the perfect addition to your seafood dinner, but certain types of seafood have obvious flavors and textures that will match elements in other wines. For instance, you won’t find a better pairing than fresh raw oysters and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Our pick: Wairau River New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
While white meat is traditionally paired with white wine — grilled chicken and Chardonnay is a common pairing — flavors and tastes play a major role in these types of dishes. The sauce that accompanies the meat is significant when selecting your wine pairing, so consider the level of spiciness, acidity or sweetness in the sauce.
For instance, a Cornish hen served with a savory sauce will balance well with a fruity Pinot Noir. On the other hand, a pork entrée with a fruit-based sauce will pair better with a wine that has a higher sugar content, such as the Zinfandel.
Our picks: Wente “Reliz Creek” from California’s Central Coast (Pinot Noir) or Paso Robles Zinfandel from Ridge Vineyards
Cured meats present a variety of wine options, including more traditional pairings and parings that balance the saltiness of the meat. Because Italy mastered the art of curing meat, old world Italian wines are one of the most classic pairings you can get. Wines with dark berry flavors will complement any dish with cured meat, whether it includes salami or prosciutto. A red wine with Grenache influences is also one of our favorite pairings.
If you really want to marry the saltiness of the meat with your wine selection, you can’t go wrong with a sparkling wine — the bubbles accompany the salty flavors nicely.
Our picks: Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino from Tuscany (the “Baby” Brunello), Paul Jaboulet “Parallel 45” from France’s Rhone Valley, or Moletto Prosecco from Italy’s Veneto region.
When it comes to sweets, keeping your wine sweeter is a good rule of thumb to follow. If you’re drinking a dry Riesling with a low sugar content, you can risk losing its flavor if you pair it with a sweet dessert. The sweetness in both Crème Brulee and an exceptional Ice wine can balance each other perfectly.
If you’re interested in a cheese-based dessert, such as a piece of English Stilton cheese smothered in honey, a wood-aged tawny port is a wise choice.
Our picks: Ice Wine from Peller Estate in Canada’s Niagra Peninsula or a 10-40 year old Tawny Port from the House of Sandeman in Porto.
No matter what type of fresh fruit you’re enjoying, wines that are low in residual sugar are often the best pairings. Whether it’s a Riesling or a light-bodied Pinot Noir, a dry wine will balance the natural sweetness of the fruit.
Our picks: Grace Lane Riesling from Yakima Washington, California’s Greystone (Chardonnay), or Chanson Bougogne from Burgundy (Pinot Noir).
Wines for Every Season
What about the times when food isn’t a large part of your wine experience? You might plan to enjoy a glass of wine on its own while you’re reading on your patio, hanging out with friends or even while preparing your meal. If wine is the only thing on your mind, consider the temperature outside.
Wine can pair perfectly with specific seasons, and certain flavors might be the best way for you to refresh and relax throughout the year!
Hot Summer Days
If it’s hot and sweltering outside, you’re most likely craving a wine that will quench your thirst and cool you down. A light-bodied, dry crisp wine, such as a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, is a top-notch choice. In most cases, a creamy Chardonnay won’t pair well with a summer scorcher. Not many of us enjoy creamy drinks when we’re bogged down with the summer heat.
Our picks: Mazzoni and Santi Pinot Grigio, and Chateau de Sancerre and Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc
Once the fall rolls around, we naturally begin to eat foods with greater texture. Whether it’s Thanksgiving Day or you’re enjoying a simple turkey dinner prepared on a chilly October night, a wine with more weight will pair well with the season of texture-rich food. Wines with rich flavors or traces of oak are great options.
Our picks: An oaky Chardonnay or a juicy Zinfandel
Cold Winter Days
Once you feel that first blast of bitter wind, you’re going to need a wine that can warm up your body and mind. A fortified wine, such as a vintage port, can be the strong, flavorful presence you need on a winter day.
Our pick: A vintage port from Cockburns, Churchill or Warres
It doesn’t matter what type of day or meal you’re having. With our expert wine and food pairing guide, you’ll find the perfect wine to balance every taste you encounter — and you no longer have to feel intimidated when it’s time to select your wine. Share your favorite wine and food paring with us the next time you’re wining and dining!