How to Pair Wine With Food

19 Oct, 2021

A great food and wine pairing will emphasise various components of a dish, as well as the characteristics of a wine. But getting the balance right can be tricky. You generally have to know quite a lot about wine before you can confidently match a particular bottle with a meal.

That’s not to say that you can’t easily master the basics of wine pairing. There are a number of simple methodologies you can use to pick a complementary wine for your meal. We’ve outlined a few of the basics below, to help you get started!

5 Simple Wine Pairing Rules

If you’re a wine pairing novice, until you get a little more familiar with different wines, you can stick to the general rules below. And once you’re feeling confident about the basics, you can start experimenting a bit more, and breaking a few rules!

1. White wine typically goes well with fish and white meat, while red wine is usually paired with rich red meats.
2. The wine should either be sweeter or more acidic than the food, but always be on par with the flavour intensity level.
3. You’re usually better off matching wine to a sauce than the meat, or other main component of the meal.
4. More bitter wines, which are generally red, should be balanced with fat, to bring out other flavour notes.
5. Red wines normally create congruent pairings, while white and rosé wines typically create contrasting pairings.

In regards to congruent and contrasting pairings, these are pretty straightforward once you know the terminology! A congruent pairing is one that emphasises shared flavours, such as a tart, fruity flavour in both the wine and the meal.

A contrasting pairing, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like – you create balance between the food and the wine by drawing attention to contrasting flavours. For instance, sweet food could be paired with a piquant (spicy) wine.

Basic Wine Flavour Notes

There are so many different flavours that can be found in food, but wine flavours have been condensed into six basic categories. These are as follows:

  • Acid
  • Bitter
  • Fat
  • Piquant
  • Salt
  • Sweet

The three main flavours to pay attention to are sweetness, acidity and bitterness, as these are the dominant components in the majority of wines. As a general rule, dessert wines have a strong sweet flavour, red wines tend to be more bitter, and white, rosé and sparkling wines have more acidity.

So once you’ve decided on your meal, you need to consider the dominant tastes. Is the food salty, or perhaps acidic? Is the sauce sweet, or a bit spicy? Once you’ve determined the main flavour, as well as the intensity of this flavour, you can then start thinking about congruent or contrasting wine pairings.

Wine Pairing Example

As an example, let’s consider a meal of spaghetti carbonara. You can either choose a contrasting or congruent flavour, when considering the creamy egg sauce, or the salty taste of the pancetta. If you’re opting for a congruent flavour, you want a wine that picks out the creamy texture, such as a Chablis or a Chardonnay.

In terms of contrasting flavours, as a carbonara is quite salty, you may wish to choose an acidic wine, like a Pinot Grigio, Montepulciano, Chianti or a Gavi di Gavi. These wines cut through the rich sauce, without overpowering the main flavours.

Wine and Cheese Pairings

When it comes to pairing cheese and wine, this can be just as difficult as meal pairings, as cheeses have such diverse flavours. And contrary to popular belief, white wines generally complement cheeses better than reds. The trick is to serve a wide range of wines, so that you have one on hand for each cheese on the cheese board!

A few classic wine and cheese pairings include a goat’s cheese with a dry, crisp white wine, like a Sauvignon Blanc, or a blue veined cheese matched with a sweet or fortified wine, such as a Port or Icewine. The possibilities are endless, and experimenting with different pairings is a very enjoyable way to spend an evening!