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Food and Wine Pairing Chart: Find the Perfect Wine for Your Meal

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Consult this handy chart for perfect wine pairings at home!

Consult this handy chart for perfect wine pairings at home!

What grows together goes together.

— Joyce Goldstein, American restaurant consultant, food scholar, author, and true culinary icon

The Science of Food and Wine Pairing

Great restaurants know that much of their success is not just the skill of the chef or the expertise of the sommelier; rather, it is the combination of the two, working together to create a harmony of flavors that complement one another. Now, the question—is it an art form, or is it science?

The perception of flavor is more than simply the taste of your food. Taste is an experience of the five flavor cues (bitter, salty, tart, sweet, umami), but that's just a small part of the process. Our perception of flavor is mostly an olfactory experience, the aroma of what we eat and drink.

The aroma of wine begins as a reflection of the type of grape from which it came. But in the fermentation and aging process, wines pick of secondary characteristics which are called the "bouquet." A wine's bouquet can be described in almost a countless number of ways. "Fruity" can be further defined as hints of "apple, pear, citrus, or blackberry" for example. Some wine-tasters remark on the herbal quality of some wines, noting that they taste of "tobacco, grass, or coffee." And others detect subtle notes of black pepper and cinnamon, or vegetal notes of beet, rhubarb, or mushroom.

I will admit that my palate is not nearly that well-refined, so I have relied on numerous sources to compile the information in this article.

How to Use This Chart

You will notice two markings in the chart:

  • X = This wine is the best choice for the food item in question.
  • Dot ("•") = This is an acceptable choice (but it won't blow your socks off).

Which ingredients should I consider first?

  1. Begin with the primary ingredient in your dish—this will most likely be the protein (beef, chicken, fish, etc.). If cheese is an integral part of the meal (not just a garnish dusting on top) take that into consideration too.
  2. Next, note which herbs or seasonings might play a prominent role.
  3. The sauce is next, but not near the end of the list in importance. In fact, the sauce is often the hidden star of the show. The meal might be "chicken," but it's the type of sauce that creates all of the flair and flavor. A meal that features chicken with pesto will taste decidedly different from chicken with peanut sauce.
  4. Finally, consider the vegetables that will be a part of the meal.

Now that you've made all of those selections, which type of wine has the most "ticks?" That's the one you want to have with your meal.

Example

Let's say that you are planning a comforting meal of chicken Parmesan. Obviously, you'll first look for the best wine to pair with chicken breast. According to the chart, you could choose:

  • Medium reds (Chianti, Merlot, or Zinfandel)
  • Light reds (Chianti, Pinot noir, Gamay, or Grenache)
  • Rich whites (Chardonnay, Semillon, Viogner)

That's quite a few to consider. Maybe you can narrow down your choices with the next obvious ingredient, that Parmesan topping. Parm is a hard aged cheese. It gets high marks under

  • Bold reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Shiraz)
  • Medium reds (Chianti, Merlot, or Zinfandel)

And then, there's the marinara sauce. Again, we find that the best choice for that rich tomato sauce is:

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  • Medium reds (Chianti, Merlot, or Zinfandel)

We have a winner—in all three categories (chicken, cheese, and sauce) it's the medium red wines that are your best match.

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Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

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