Are you having a hard time figuring out what to eat with wine? By following these six rules of wine pairing, you’re sure to create food and wine magic.
Rule #1 🍷 Pair Bold with Bold, Light with Light. Serving meat as your main course doesn’t automatically mean “pour the Zinfandel”. If the protein you’re serving is on the lighter side like seafood, poultry or pork, it should be paired with a light-bodied wine. But light-bodied doesn’t always mean white wine! Many red wine varieties are famed for their lightness, including Pinot Noir, Barbera, or Gamay. Most seafood – shellfish, salmon, flaky white fish – pairs well with whites, but heavier, meatier fish (like tuna steaks or swordfish) or fish that really tastes like the sea (think anchovies) pair perfectly with light-bodied reds. Big flavors like steak and red sauces, or powerful spices like paprika and cumin call for fuller-bodied red wines such as Zin, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. While it’s a white wine, Chardonnay is still considered full-bodied and goes great with heavier sauces like Alfredo or Hollandaise. Overwhelmed yet? Not to worry – just follow the title of this rule, and if you’re looking for a quick guide to glance at, check out this awesome chart by Wine Folly.
Rule #2 🍷 Balance the Acidity. Let’s say you’re dipping crusty bread in balsamic vinegar, having tacos with pickled red onions on top, or serving a salad with creamy, tangy slices of goat cheese. When the food you’re eating has that certain bite – you know the one – that tang that makes your jaws tingle and your mouth water? Pair it with a wine that also has an “acidic tang” to it. Sauvignon Blanc (especially New Zealand Sauv Blancs), Albariño and Garganega are dry white wines with high acidity. Higher-acidity reds include Sangiovese and Pinot Noir, which go great with acidic tomato sauces.
Rule #3 🍷 Don’t Let The Wine Overpower the Food (or Vice Versa). It’s all about finding balance. Perfect food and wine pairing starts at the characteristics of a wine and the components of a dish. These tried-and-true methods will consistently make for great pairing: the wine should be sweeter than the food, the wine should have the same flavor intensity of the food, bitter wine + fatty food, sweet wine + salty food, and it is always better to match the wine to the sauce rather than the meat. No matter what you’re serving, when cuisine is served with a perfect companion wine, where neither one dominates the other, you’re guaranteed to make food and wine fireworks.
Rule #4 🍷 Offset Spicy Food with Sweet Wine. Spicy cuisine such as Thai, Indian or Mexican needs a sweeter wine that has a little bit of sugar to cool it off. Sweet wines such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner and even Moscato (all whites) are sure to take the edge off of those hell-ishly spicy dishes like Pad Prik, Vindaloo or Salsa Verde Chicken. Avoid wines that have high oak (such as Chardonnay) which can detract from the food. And definitely avoid high alcohol content (such as Bordeaux), which can actually accentuate the heat negatively – ever had a spicy meal turn painful? No fun. Stick to wines with an ABV under 12%.
Rule #5 🍷 Serve Your Wine at the Right Temperature. You wouldn’t serve cold chili con carne, right? Just as the food you serve is piping hot, chilled to perfection or whatever the recipe calls for, serving wine at the appropriate temperature enhances not only the wine, but the food you’ve prepared, too. Champagne and sparkling wine, Rosé and most (but not all) white wines should be served chilled, between 45 – 49ºF. A misty fog of condensation should form on the glass when it’s poured. It is a common misconception that red wine should always be served at room temperature – this idea is actually misunderstood. When wine was first created, it was stored in underground cellars, which are always slightly cooler than room temperature. Red wine is meant to be served on the cool side, somewhere between 55-63ºF. This handy blog from Kendall Jackson has a really helpful chart that shows when you should stick your wine in the fridge before pouring!
Rule #6 🍷 Match the Cuisine Region to the Wine Region This isn’t much of a “rule” so much as a fun option that adds a little more interest to the table. There’s something to be said about grapes from the same region as the cuisine – they’re destined to be enjoyed together! So if you’re serving beef bourguignon, pour on the French Bordeaux! Having Paella? A deliciously dry and fruity Rosado from Spain will make all the flavors pop. And pizza night is just calling for a bottle of Chianti.