17 Easy Wine & Food Pairing Tips for Beginners

Wine and food are destined to be shared together and when properly paired they complement each other, elevating both.

Wine pairing is the method of harmonizing food and wine to accentuate the taste in both.

Although food and wine pairing depend solely on one’s individual taste, there are universal guidelines.

1. Match Food and Wine according to Weight

Pare lighter foods with light-bodied wine, and heavier (richer or fattier) foods with bigger and bolder wines. The wine and the dish should be equal partners, with neither overwhelming the other. If you balance the two by weight, you can ensure that the pairing will succeed. This is the secret behind many memorable wine-and-food matches.

2. Match flavor intensity and character

Similar wine and food flavors complement each other. Fish in lemon butter pairs well with a high citrus-flavored white wine while a peppered steak pairs well with a bold red.

3. Structure and Texture

A wine’s elements are in equilibrium but can be greatly influenced, for better or worse, with the food pairing. Elements in a meal can accentuate or diminish the acidity and sweetness of a wine, and the bitterness of its tannins.

  • Red wines pair best with bold-flavored meats such as steaks
  • White wines pair best with lighter meats such as chicken or fish.

4. Match Colors

This means red wine with red meats (beef, lamb etc.), and white wine with white meats (fish, chicken etc.). It is important to point out the foods can be prepared in different ways and my pair differently with wines. Go for tastes that complement each other

5. Match Regions

Try to match a particular food with wine from the same country or region. If you are eating a pasta dish, serve an Italian wine.

6. Serve a Wine at Least as Sweet as the Food being Served

The wine should be as sweet or sweeter as the food that you are serving. Sweetness in the meal can make a dry wine taste sour, but however, pairs well with a sweet wine.

7. Pair with the Sauces

Pair your wine to the sauces, not the meat.

8. Match the Wine to the Most Prominent Element in the Dish

This is essential to fine-tuning wine pairings. Identify the dominant character in the meal; often it’s the sauce, seasonings or cooking method, rather than the main ingredient.

9. Pair Spicy or Sweet Wines with Spicy Foods

Wines high in acidity such as Riesling and Semillon pair well with spicy foods and fried dishes. A spicy red like Shiraz is great with spicy Asian food Avoid wines that are too high in alcohol or tannins, as they will highlight any spicy heat present. Sweet wines are good to pair with spicy foods and let the spice flavor come forward instead of the heat.

10. Pair Tannins with Fats & Meat for Balance

Tannins are the astringent structural components in red wines, expressing somewhat bitter characteristics.

When the tannins are evident in the wine, food with a high-fat content will soften the mouthfeel for a gratifying effect. Tannins intermingle with fats, salt, and spicy flavors. Rich, fatty meats such as steak diminish the intensity of tannins, making a bold wine such as a Cabernet seem smoother.

The tannins bind with the protein from the steak, acting as a buffer between the tannins and your tongue causing the wine to taste smoother and the meat seems more tender. Also, very salty foods increase the  strength of tannins and can make red wine taste bitter and astringent

11. Tannins and Alcohol Exacerbate Spicy Food

Wine with high alcohol or high tannin will intensify the spiciness and heat of a spicy dish.

12. Match Aromas

Include ingredients in a dish that echo the aromas of the wine. It could be fruits, herbs, or butter.

13. Acid Cancels Out Acid

A tangy or tart dish is neutralized by a high acid wine. Tomato sauces are quite acidic and pair best with high acid reds. Lemon sauces or vinaigrettes need high acid wines to avoid having the wine will taste flat.

14. Starchy Meals

Starchy potato, rice and pasta dishes call for high acid wines

15. Aged Wines

As wine ages, the boldness eventually subsides and the tannins soften, and give way to more delicate and graceful flavors. Original fruit aromas may give way to earthy and savory notes, as the wine continues to evolve.  Avoid serving these wines with rich and bold flavors and look for simpler fare.

16. Desserts

Sweet desserts pair best with sweet wines or dessert wines

17. Quality

Match the quality of the wine to what you are serving. It you are serving tacos you may wish to save that special bottle for later.

Types of Wine Pairing

  • Congruent

A congruent pairing is when you pair two similar flavors together that complement each other and accentuate each other’s flavors.

  • Contrasting

A contrasting pairing is when one flavor is dominant and balances the richness of the other.

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