Food and wine have gone hand in hand for centuries with plenty of
wine-centric countries and cultures making delicious food and wine
pairings from local grapes and local grub in the context of regional
The right wine can enhance a dish to perfection. While there are no
hard and fast rules on matching food and wine because it's ultimately a
matter of personal taste, there are basic guidelines on what wine
connoisseurs and food lovers consider make good choices. Here are some
basic tips about how to make wine choices that will complement the
flavors of a meal.
Start with an open mind. If you prefer different
combinations, nothing is stopping you from enjoying them. The principal
purpose of guides on pairing food and wine is to enlighten your
understanding on commonly agreed matches and the reasons behind them.
It's about taking some of the guesswork out of matching food and wine
until you're comfortable enough to rely on your own experience.
Ultimately you'll learn to tune into your own palate as the best guide
to what wine works with what food.
- A basic guideline is to 'Match' and 'Complement' the
characteristics of food to the wine, or 'Contrast' or counterbalance
overpowering characteristics. For example: Spicy foods with sweeter
- Be aware that some wines can be spoiled by the introduction of
certain food flavors, just as they can be enhanced. If you find that a
wine you've always loved suddenly tastes less desirable, track down the
food you paired it with, and try drinking it without food, before
dismissing the wine outright.
- Know how to taste wine before embarking on the journey of pairing wine and food.
Know how to taste food and wine together. To enable you to
branch out beyond the generalities, being aware of how to taste the food
and wine together is vital. It is suggested that you do the following:
- Take a mouthful of wine and roll it around your mouth. Swallow.
- Ask yourself what you taste and smell. Look for familiar fruit, berry, and wood flavors.
- Decide whether you find the wine light or heavy.
- Consider the sweetness or acidity of the wine.
- Take your summation of the wine and try to match it to similar
characteristics in food. Find at least one aspect that corresponds with
the food, such as the sweetness, the flavor, the texture, etc.
- Try the food. Eat a small piece, chew, and swallow it. As with the
wine, consider how it tastes, as well as the aftertaste. If it's a
pleasant experience, you've hit on a winner; if not, the pairing isn't
made in heaven and it's time to try a different wine.
Know your taste experience. There four to five tastes -
saltiness, bitterness, acidity, sweetness, and the Japanese umami. These
are the tastes that you'll be combining together in the same way an
artist combines paint on the palette:
- Saltiness: This taste is the easiest to recognize and
it lingers. Saltiness brings out sweetness, hides tannins and increases
bitterness. Sweet dessert wines go well with salty foods, or very
- Acidity: Highly acidic foods are not ideal with wine
because they tend to cancel out the wine's flavor. As such, leave the
vinegars, vinaigrettes, and dressings to a minimum when pairing food and
wine. Acidity is a taste that lingers, it can hide tannin and
bitterness and make wine seem sweeter. An acidic wine should be paired
with a dish that is of lower acidity to prevent flattening the wine. For
example, add a little sugar to take the edge off a vinaigrette.
- Bitterness: Bitter foods include radicchio, olives,
rocket, etc. It's a taste that outlasts all other tastes. Bitterness is
able to cover up acidity in a wine, hides the tannins, and brings out
the sweetness. Young red wines work well with bitter greens, wild herbs,
- Sweetness: Another easy taste for many, although the
ability to taste sweetness declines with age. Sweetness doesn't last
long as a taste. It minimizes bitterness and acidity in a wine. Aim to
partner sweet wine with food that isn't overly sweet; to have both as
sweet as the other will cancel out the wine. If you have , enjoy a
liqueur Tokay or a Muscat rather than a sweet wine.
- Umami: This is the taste that emanates from broth
style or earthy food, such as soups, miso, stock, consommé, roast meats,
etc. Umami takes off the edge of tannins and brings out the sweetness,
making it a good choice for wines high in tannin.
Start pairing wine and food. It is possible to make
generalities, and you'll often find suggestions for pairing food and
wine at the wine store. However, as already noted, such generalities are
very broad and don't necessarily account for the manner in which the
food is cooked or what else is accompanying it, such as spices or a
cream-based sauce. As such, while the following offers general guidance,
it is still important to rely on your own palate and to continue
exploring the matching process lifelong:
- Beef and lamb: Select red wine for beef and dishes.
Usually a full-bodied red such as a shiraz or cabernet/shiraz blend
works well. Suitable wines include Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
- However, if it were asparagus alone, as shown on the picture, a grassy Sauvignon Blanc would had been a sensible choice.
- Chicken: White wine is the usual pick. For grilled or
roast chicken, try a Chardonnay. For chicken cooked in a rich sauce,
try a Shiraz or a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Fish and seafood: Select a white wine for fish and
seafood. These wines would include Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio,
Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer. Grilled firm-flesh fish matches well
with Chardonnay or an aged Semillon, while a hearty fish stew is
excellent accompanied by Pinot Noir. For flaky fish, choose a dry
Riesling or a Chardonnay.
- Spicy: Choose Riesling and sweet Gewürztraminer if
your meal is spicy. The sweetness of these wines can be drank quickly to
offset the spiciness of the food. Avoid adding a Chardonnay to spicy
food as it will taste bitter.
- Game: Choose a spicy red like Sangiovese or Shiraz for game such as venison, bison, or kangaroo.
- Tomato (acidic) based meals: Serve Barbera, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel with tomato-based meals (for example, spaghetti and pizza).
- Duck, quail: Try a Pinot Noir or a Shiraz.
- Cheese: Full-bodied wines go well with hard cheese,
such as a full-bodied Shiraz with cheddar cheese. Soft cheese partners
well with dry Riesling, Marsanne, or Viognier. Sweet wine is a good
match for blue cheese.
- Dessert: Sweet wines are a good choice, provided that the dessert is not as sweet as the wine.