There’s something about wine that can feel a little intimidating. It could be all those fancy-sounding names (some of which are hard to pronounce), it could be the overwhelming array of choices available (what’s the difference between a Malbec and a Rioja again?), or it could be the fact that, unless you’re a sommelier (and let’s face it — how many of us are?), you have no idea which wine is best paired with which dish.
For those who just want to wind down with a glass (or two) at the end of the day, wine and food pairing might not really be on your mind. But if you’re planning something a little more special, like a romantic date or a dinner party, you might want to put in some effort.
Truth be told, there is something to be said for learning the basics of wine and food pairing. Not all wines are created equal, and even those of us with untrained wine palates can tell. One thing’s for sure — the love of wine is universal.
You don’t need to be a sommelier to tuck some basic wine and food pairing tips under your belt, and not only will they come in handy when it’s your turn to play host, but it could make the whole wine drinking experience much more enjoyable for you.
Without further ado, we’ve selected some wine varieties and paired them with food flavours they complement.
Pairs well with juicy red meats. Try wines with firm tannins like Bordeaux, Bordeaux-style blends or California Cabernets. They will refresh the palate after each bite of meat, such as steak or lamb chops.
Pairs well with anything salty. Try dry sparkling wines, such as brut Champagne and Spanish cava, which have a touch of sweetness, making a refreshing pairing for extra salty foods.
Pairs well with fatty fish or fish with rich sauces. Try silky white wines like Chardonnays from California, Chile or Australia.
Pairs well with rich, cheesy dishes. Try a dry rosé, which has the acidity of white wines and the fruit character of red wines. While some cheeses go better with white and some with red, almost all pair well with dry rosé.
Pairs well with dishes with fresh, herby flavours. Try wines like Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Albariño from Spain or Vermentino from Italy. These wines complement fresh, dishes with herby flavours.
Pairs well with sweet-spicy barbecue dishes. Try Malbec, Shiraz or Côtes-du-Rhône; their big and bold undertones go well with heavily-spiced barbecue sauces.
Pairs well with fruit desserts. Try moderately sweet sparkling wines like Moscato d’Asti, demi-sec Champagne or Asti Spumante; they will bring out the fruity flavours in desserts rather than the sugar component.
Pairs well with earthy flavours, like dishes made with mushrooms and truffles. Try light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir or Dolcetto.
Pairs well with tart dressings and sauces. Try wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde from Portugal and Verdejo from Spain. They will go well with tangy foods like scallops with lemon sauce or grapefruit dressing.
Pairs well with light seafood dishes. Try a delicate white wine such as Pinot Grigio, Arneis from Italy or Chablis from France, which complements light seafood dishes and gives them more flavour.
Pairs well with sweet and spicy dishes. Try slightly sweet Rieslings, like Gewürztraminers and Vouvrays, which help to tame the heat of highly-spiced foods like Thai and Indian dishes.
Pairs well with main courses as well as desserts. Try rosé sparkling wines, like rosé Champagne, cava and sparkling wine from California, whose depth of flavour and richness complements a wide range of main courses or desserts.
Pairs well with highly-spiced dishes. Try red wines with spicy notes, such as Syrah from Washington, Cabernet Franc from France or Xinomavro from Greece, to go with heavily-seasoned meat dishes.
Pairs well with mousses, patés and terrines. Try rustic and rich Zinfandels, like Nero d’Avola from Italy or Monastrell from Spain, to complement creamy chicken-liver parfait or paté.
- If you can use the same adjectives to describe a wine and a dish, such as “fruity” or “spicy”, the pairing will often work.
- The flavours of foods and wines that have grown up together over the centuries — for instance, Tuscan recipes and Tuscan wines — are almost always a natural fit.
We’ve also included a little appendix of the more common whites and reds, from lightest to weightiest, for your study:
- Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco
- Pinot Grigio (e.g. Italy)
- Rioja (white)
Light to medium
- Chenin Blanc, dry or off-dry
- Gewürztraminer, dry or off-dry
- Pinot Gris (e.g. Alsace, Oregon), dry or off-dry
- Riesling, dry or off-dry
Medium, leans toward herbal
- Bordeaux, white
- Grüner Veltliner
- Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé
- Sauvignon Blanc
Medium, leans toward minerally
- Champagne and other dry sparkling wines
- Chablis (or other unoaked Chardonnay)
- Greco di Tufo
- Burgundy whites, Côte d’Or
- Chardonnay (e.g. California or other New World, oaked)
- Rhône whites
- Beaujolais (or other Gamay)
- Valpolicella (not Amarone)
Medium, more acidity than tannins, tends toward red fruits
- Cabernet Franc
- Chianti (or other Sangiovese)
- Côtes du Rhône
- Pinot Noir (e.g. California, New Zealand, Oregon)
- Rioja reds (other Tempranillo)
Medium to full, balanced, tends toward dark fruits
- Brunello di Montalcino
- Malbec (e.g. Argentina)
- Rhône reds, Northern
- Zinfandel (also Primitivo)
Full, more tannic
- Barolo and Barbaresco
- Cabernet Sauvignon (e.g. California, other New World)
- Petite Sirah
- Ribera del Duero
SELECTED SWEET WINES:
- Gewürztraminer, late-harvest
- Moscato d’Asti
- Riesling, late-harvest
- Rosé, off-dry
- Sauternes and Barsac (other botrytized Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon)
- Vin Santo
- Vouvray, moelleux (late-harvest Chenin Blanc)
- Australian Muscat or Muscadelle
- Madeira (Bual or Malmsey)
- Recioto della Valpolicella
- Sweet Sherry (Cream, Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel)