Wine Pairing Done Simply

Updated on September 9, 2017
Mark Mikhail profile image

Mark is a professional winemaker and is working on his WSET diploma. He has also taught wine tasting and pairing classes at a college level.

What wine will pair well with dinner tonight?

Just not sure what wine will pair well with dinner tonight? Or even the opposite, if you want to showcase a certain wine? Hopefully, I can shed some light on some basic ideas behind wine pairing.

A glass of Cabernet Franc
A glass of Cabernet Franc | Source

Wine is meant to be with food - that's the point of it!

— Julia Child

I Need a Wine Guy!

Wine pairing always looks like it's an incredibly complex task. You'll typically hear something like, "This 2013 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc pairs beautifully with these Baja style Fish Tacos with Mango-Pineapple salsa." Unless you're a professional wine taster, buyer, or sommelier, this can be an incredibly daunting task. It really comes down to a couple basic ideas.

First of all, what wine to pair with what food is absolutely subjective. There is no point in pairing a Chardonnay with lobster if you don't like Chardonnay. Stick with what you like. Furthermore, don't overdo it. Every flavor in the wine doesn't necessarily have to show up in the dish. Like the earthy, mushroom notes in a Pinot Noir doesn't necessarily have to be in your main course. Though, I'd highly recommend it.

For starters, a simple assumption to make is that white wine pairs well with fish and chicken dishes, and that red wine pairs well with meat dishes. You can go even further than that. Light white wine, such as Pinot Grigio and Riesling, pairs beautifully with fried foods and various vegetable dishes. Heavy red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, pair incredibly with steak or grilled meat dishes.

Another simple method for pairing is to pair the wine from the region to the matching cuisine. Spanish Rioja pairs with Paella, and Spanish Albarino pairs with traditional tapas. Chianti goes great with tomato sauce based pasta dishes, and Cortese from Piedmont pairs well with pasta with white clam sauce. one of my personal favorites is pairing California Zinfandel with a good juicy cheeseburger. So stick with the region your dinner is coming from and it will pair well every time.

Pair the wine from the region to the matching cuisine.

Pairing White Wines

When it comes to white wines, its crucial to understand how acidity plays a fundamental role in pairing with food. Wines that are high in acid, such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, pair with foods high in fat. This is because the acidity cuts through the fat and end up complimenting each other. Foods that are low in acid, such as Semillon or Gewurtzraminer, pair great with all sorts of steamed and sauteed dishes. If you have the ability to pick out flavors in your favorite wines, the you could pair dishes with those, such as the sweet citrus notes in Australian Riesling, then you could pair that with something such as orange chicken.

Pairing Red Wine

When it comes to red wine, you have to consider the body and mouthfeel of each of these red wines. Red wines that are light in body, such as Pinot Noir, can pair well with grilled white meat dishes or even dishes such as risotto. Heavier bodied wines such as Barolo or Syrah, pair well with stewed dishes and casseroles of all kinds. Syrah sometimes will even get peppery notes that pair fantastically with black pepper salami.

Consider the body and the mouthfeel of the wine

Red and White Pairing Summary

Food To Pair With
High Acid White Wine
Food high in fat
Pinot Grigio with Fried Flounder
Low Acid White Wine
Sauteed dishes and steamed fair
Chardonnay with Lobster Scampi
Lighter Body Red Wine
Tomato based dishes and grilled fish & chicken
Pinot Noir with Grilled Chicken Salad
Heavy Body Red Wine
Red meat and stewed dishes
California Cabernet Sauvignon with Grilled Ribeye Steaks
A quick summary and some examples

Questions & Answers


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