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10 Basic Food and Wine Pairing Tips for Beginners

Jennifer lives in wine country and is passionate about wine. She has also worked in the wine and restaurant industry for over 10 years.

Food and wine pairing is all about finding the right balance to enhance the flavour of both the food and the wine. The wine should not overpower the food and the food should not overpower the wine.

With that being said, food and wine pairing is not an exact science and there are no rules. It's important to pair your food with wine that you actually like. Here are 10 simple tips for pairing food and wine to help make your dining experience more enjoyable.


1. Match the Flavour Intensity

Always keep the intensity of the flavours of food and wine in balance so one does not overpower the other. A rich, full flavoured dish should be matched with an equally bold, full-flavoured wine. While a lighter-flavoured dish should be paired with a mild and refreshing wine.

For example, full-bodied red wines pair well with boldly flavoured meats (red meats). White wine and light-bodied red wines pair well with mild-intensity meats (poultry and fish). Finding the perfect combination of flavour intensity will make the dining experience so much more enjoyable.

2. Wine Should Be More Acidic Than Food

The wine you are serving should be equal to or slightly more acidic than the dish. Food with higher acidity needs to be paired with a wine with higher acidity. Otherwise, the taste of the food will overpower the taste of the wine and will make it taste flat and lifeless. For example, tomato dishes like pasta should be paired with a wine with a good amount of acidity, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel.

3. They Should Be Similar in Weight

The weight should always be taken into consideration when pairing food and wine. This is not to be confused with flavour intensity. A big bowl of pasta with a light sauce is heavy in weight but light in flavour intensity. Lighter, low-fat meals should be paired with lighter-style wine. While heavier more filling meals should be paired with a equally full bodied wine.

For example, a rich heavy meal like a casserole with red meat and cheese would pair well with a full-bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon. It is more important to consider the weight of the wine than the colour. So even a full-bodied white wine, like oaked chardonnay, would pair well with richer, heavier foods. While lighter-bodied red and white wines both pair well with lighter foods like poultry, fish, and salads.

4. Wine Should Be Sweeter than Food

When pairing wine with sweet food, make sure the wine is always sweeter than the meal. If you try to drink dry wine with sweet food, it will end up tasting bitter and tart. Sweet wines with a good level of acidity are a good match for rich foods like desserts. The acidity in the wine helps to cut through the fat, while the sugar in the wine will complement its richness. The best wines to pair with sweet desserts are dessert wines, ice wines, and port wines.

5. Pair Spicy Food With Sweeter Wine

Full-bodied wines, specifically reds, that are high in alcohol and tannin, are no match for spicy foods. That's because the alcohol and tannins actually react with the spice and increase its intensity. White wines that are light, refreshing and fruity make the best match for spicy foods. An off-dry wine like Reisling would be ideal for a spicy dish. The sugar in off-dry wine actually compliments the dish and helps to balance out the spice.

6. Fatty Foods Pair Well With Acidic Wine

Pair high acid wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, with fatty, fried foods that are cooked with a lot of oil. The acid cuts through the fat while adding flavour to complement the dish. High acid wines are used to cleanse the palate when eating rich, oily food because it helps to remove flavours that are left behind. In addition, the acid helps to add richness to the food and rounds out the flavours in your mouth.

7. Salt and Tannins Don't Mix

Light, crisp wines help balance salty foods. Wines with a hint of sweetness help to enhance the flavour of salty foods. But beware of mixing salty foods with wines that are high in tannins. Tannin actually clashes with salt making the tannin seem harsher. This will leave your mouth feeling dry with a bitter taste.

Another reason not to mix salt and tannin is that they both have the same effect on your mouth. They make your gums pucker and leave your mouth feeling dry. A lighter refreshing wine paired with salty foods, on the other hand, will leave your mouth feeling refreshed, cleansed, and ready for the next bite.

8. Protein-Rich Foods Pair Well With Tannins

Highly tannic wines, like full-bodied reds, are sometimes difficult to pair with food because they are so powerful and dry. That makes it difficult to find food that will match the strength of the wine. Tannic wines need to be paired with protein-rich foods like meat and cheese. The proteins in the food that are left in your mouth bind with the tannins which help to soften them and bring out the fruitier characteristics of the wine. At the same time, the tannins help to strip the protein molecules from your mouth, which cleanses your palate between bites.

9. Pair Wine With the Sauce, Not the Meat

It's better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat. A wine that does not match the intensity and acidity of the sauce will make the wine taste bland. For example, if you are making a dish with tomato sauce and chicken, you should pair it with a wine that has good acidity to match the acidity in the tomato sauce. A good match would be a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. You can go up in body if you are making a dish with tomato sauce and beef.

10. Pair Smoked Foods With Oaked Wine

Oaked wine refers to wine that is aged in oak barrels. Usually, it's a red wine that is aged in oaked, but certain white wines can also be oaked, like Chardonnay. Oak-aged wine can be difficult to pair with food because most food can not compare to the flavour intensity of the wine. Smoked foods have a very powerful flavour and similar characteristics that can stand up to oaked wine. Smoked meats and cheese can make an excellent companion to your barrel-aged wine.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.