How to pair the right food with the right wine

The original idea was to compile a list, pairing food and wine. But then, we figured that it makes more sense to explain the how and why behind the logic of which wine goes best with what food.

Fundamentals of Flavors

Let’s start with some basics here. When you pick a wine, the most important questions to ask are these. Will your dish or meal be:

  • Mild or flavorful?
  • Full of fat or lean?
  • Acidic or rich?

Once you determine this, choose the right wine for your food based on the following:

  • Balancing the flavors. The idea is to ensure that the wine you choose to go with the food will balance the flavors. Mild foods usually pair well with mild wines while foods with strong flavors must be served with a matching wine. Rich food goes with rich wine.
  • Your palate must be cleaned with acids or tannins. A meal that is rich in fat is paired with red wine to clean the palate. That doesn’t mean white wine cannot be served with food with bold flavors; you just have to ensure that it is an acidic white that contrasts the food.  
  • While acidic wines are great with acidic food, they will clash with creamy dishes.
  • If your food is flavored with strong spices, these will overwhelm the wine’s taste, so it might be best to skip the wine with these foods. Although, if you absolutely have to, opt for a spicy, sweet and dry wine.

Here’s a point to keep in mind: wine and food are good friends. If they grew up together, they’re likely to pair well. For example, pair Italian wines with Italian foods. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but is a good guideline to follow.

That being said, here are some universal guidelines to remember:

  • Champagne is great with salty foods. Its sweetness matches the salt.
  • Sauvignon Blanc is perfect with sauces and tart dressings
  • Food flavored with fresh herbs? Opt for Gruner Veltliner
  • Pinot Grigio with light fish dishes
  • Chardonnay for fatty fish or fish in rich sauce
  • Riesling (off-dry) with sweet, spicy dishes
  • Lighter wines with desserts
  • Rose Champage with dinner
    Dry Rose with cheesy dishes
  • Pinot Noir with earthy flavors
  • Zinfandel with pate, mousse
  • Cabernet Sauvignon/tannic reds with juicy red meat
  • Low alcohol wines with spicy dishes
  • Veggies? Chardonnay or Chablis
  • Cream of Asparagus soup – a chilled dry sherry for its subtle nutty flavor

Interestingly, there are some foods that are a challenge to pair with wine. Let’s look at these.

One of them is chocolate. But there’s a way to get around it when you know how. The trick is to combine the ingredients to result in a balanced flavor so that the wine and chocolate complement each other. Chocolate brings sweetness, fat and textured tannin in its taste and if this is paired with red wine, it can be disastrous, leaving behind a sourness that is unpleasant. The fruity flavor of the wine is overpowered by the chocolate, unless it is white chocolate which is devoid of tannin.

So what wine can you pair with chocolate?

Go in for sweet reds if you’re serving truffles, chocolate mousse. Choose a tawny or vintage port for that spicy cinnamon flavor. For fruity chocolate desserts, try a low alcohol Italian sparkling red.

According to a Facebook friend:

"The best pairing with chocolate (not milk chocolate) I have ever found is a Grand Cru Banyuls. It is often overlooked in favor of the more readily available Port but it should be on every chocolate lover's list of the best wine to pair with a chocolate dessert."

Nutty Veggie Flavors with Wine

Another food that is tricky to pair with wine is Brussels sprouts, which has a nutty, earthy and sulfurous flavor. It is the same with cauliflower, garlic, asparagus and broccoli. Your best bet with these foods would be a dry Madeira wine or French Muscadet

How about cheese?

Wine and cheese make a perfect pair. Blue cheese, however can be quite overpowering in its taste and the wine you choose must be equally powerful and sweet such as Shiraz, Zinfandel or sweet dessert wine to balance the flavors. One of the best choices is Port wine for its acidity which brings out the cheese’s cream.

Pairing wine with sushi

Sushi, made of raw fish, sesame and seaweed can be tough to pair with wine. The problem is, the iron in the red wine sticks to the fish oil and settles on the palate, producing a metallic and unpleasant after taste.The best thing here is a bone-dry white, Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc, an Italian Pinot Noir or Brut champagne. See? Not so difficult after all.

The bold and salty soy sauce presents another challenge when it comes to pairing it with wine. If the soy sauce is paired with wine must be paired with wine that is sour. You could either go for a sweet and salty combination with a sparkling Moscato.

As wine connoisseurs will tell you time and again, it makes a world of difference to match the food with the perfect wine, making the dining experience worth relishing. Plan ahead for upcoming special occasions and keep your menu in mind when visiting wineries and choosing wines to bring home in your wine suitcase!

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