10 Rules to Pairing Wine & Food

More than mere cornerstones of the epicurean world, wine and food are the very foundations upon which that world was created. Accordingly, there are rules to pairing wine and food so that you can enjoy your meal to its fullest potential.

Will you be cast out from the dinner party should you break one of these esteemed rules? Probably not. On the other hand, you might not maximise flavours as much as you could have–among epicureans, that’s punishment enough. 

Give your palette the satisfaction it deserves by following our 10 Rules to Pairing Wine and Food.

Pair Earthy Wines with Earthy Foods

Red wines like Pinot Noir are renowned for their relatively light bodies and earthy flavours. That makes them the perfect match for earthy foods like mushrooms, truffles, lamb, potatoes, and beef stew.

Pair a Dry Rosé with Savoury Hors d’oeuvres

At most dinner parties or engagements, you can expect some quality snacks before the main event, many being of the creamy or savoury variety. That makes dry rosé–which is commonly light, acidic and a little fruity–the perfect drinking partner for say a cheese plate or puff pastry.

Pair Sweet Effervescence with Salty Cuisine

Bubbly, acidic wines like sparkling Riesling or champagne commonly retain a dry, sweet edge. Sip them when eating salty foods like smoked salmon, Asian noodles, and Parmesan cheese. And don’t forget to say, “Ahhhhh…”

Pair Silky White Wines with Fatty Fish and Creamy Sauces

When you think of velvety white wines you might picture a lush Napa Chardonnay of deep gold amber colour. Now picture a nice cut of salmon with a cream sauce poured over it sitting next to that Chardonnay. 

Now picture yourself taking a bite of the salmon and following it with a gulp of wine, your mouth swimming in a pool of silky texture and rich taste. Indeed, the pairing practically speaks for itself.

Pair Tannic Red Wine with Hearty Fare

A naturally occurring compound in red wine, tannins are what cause that dry taste after you’ve just taken a sip of say a robust Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Accordingly, tannic red wines generally tout firm, full bodies. That makes them a perfect bedmate for heartier cuisine like duck, steak, sausage and gravy.

Pair Lighter White Wines with Lighter Seafood Dishes

You can do no wrong pairing a delicate white such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio with a light or tart seafood dish. The wine not only harmonises with the taste, but serves as an excellent palate cleanser thanks to the acidity. Generally speaking, acidic white wine and seafood are made for each other.

Keep it Fruity

Among white wines, you’ll frequently find a tangible fruit element in both the aroma and taste. If your main course is likewise incorporating fruit by way of say sauteed apples or a fig compote, then by all means pair the two up and relish the results.

Pair Lower Proof Wines with High Proof Spice

Alcohol can exacerbate the spiciness in cuisine and make a hot dish even hotter. If you’re munching on something spicy, consider sipping a lower proof wine with light notes of sweetness, which will counter the spice instead of compounding it.

Pair the Right Wine with the Right Sauce

Sometimes the meat is the star, and other times the sauce steals the show. When your chicken breast or pork dish is paired with a killer sauce, choose a wine based on the sauce as opposed to the protein. For instance, pair white wines with a flavourful lemon sauce or white wine sauce, and red wine with gravy or red wine sauce.

Don’t Overdo the Sweet for Dessert

Most wine experts will say that when all else fails, you should match the character of the food to the character of the wine. Hence, a tart dish should go with a vibrant, acidic wine. A hearty or bold dish should go with a bold wine. 

However, there are some exceptions and sweetness is one of them. If you plan on drinking wine with your dessert, don’t double down on the sugariness by getting a syrupy port or sweet sherry. Instead, aim for a lighter dessert wine that’s mildly sweet and maybe slightly bubbly like Moscato d’Asti. 

Similarly, if the dessert you ordered is in fact not too sweet–like say a nut tart–then you can crank up the sweetness factor on the wine accordingly. The key is to achieve a sense of balance or interplay without turning your mouth into a sugar mill.

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