A Simple Guide to Wine Pairings January 15 2015

The subtle art of good food is all about striking a balance between flavors and textures. And no more is that clear than when it comes to pairing your dish with the right wine. Of course, we've all been told that we're supposed to drink white wine with fish and red wine with red meat. And while this is somewhat of a safe assumption, there's a lot more to consider when it comes to choosing a bottle. Wine and food pairing is a balancing act, more of an art rather than an exact science. So while there are no hard and fast rules for food and wine pairings, these simple guidelines can help you with the process.

MATCHING FLAVORS AND TEXTURES

You want to join foods with wines that share similar flavors and textures or, at least, complementary ones. Simply put, a delicate dish should be matched with a subtle wine and a hearty meal with a sturdier wine. For example, the rich, buttery flavors of a Chardonnay pair perfectly with lobster in a creamy, buttery sauce. And the peppery scents of a Syrah or Petite Sirah easily complement most red meat.

WHAT GROWS TOGETHER GOES TOGETHER

This one's an old rule—an expression used by chefs and wine lovers alike—but a solid tip nonetheless. There's a natural, organic relationship between the food grown in a particular region and the wine that's produced there. The agriculture and grapevines share the same terroir (climate, soil and geography), so they both have flavors that complement each other. 

SMOKE WITH OAK

Grilled foods, barbecue or any items cooked in a wood-burning oven pair well with wines that have been aged in oak like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Tempranillo. Oaked wines can be a little bold (and overwhelming to some dishes), but char-grilled foods tend to tone down that woody intensity, bringing out the lighter fruit flavors instead.

SWEET WITH SPICE

For spicier foods, you want a wine like a Riesling or Vouvray, that has retained some of the natural sugar from the grapes. Known as residual sugar, the sweetness will help cool down the spice's heat, balancing out the flavors of the food and the wine. What you don't want is a highly alcoholic wine like a Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc—the spices will actually intensify the alcohol and ultimately, make the food seem even hotter.

CUT THE FAT WITH ACID

Fried, rich or fatty foods should be paired with a zesty, acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc or wines that are high in tannin such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The acids and tannins cut through the richness of the foods and essentially act as a palate cleanser so you're not overwhelmed by the heavier flavors. These also tend to work with dishes with a similar degree of acidity or bitterness like salads dressed with vinaigrettes, sharp cheeses or marinated meats.