How to Pair Food & Wine? The Food and Wine Pairing Guide for Beginners
To me, food is just way more delicious with a glass of wine to accompany it. I love pairing ribeye with my favorite Bordeaux blend because they make each other even better! Flavors from food and different wines complement and contrast with each other, creating exciting & delicious flavors. When the wine & food pairing is perfect, a meal can become a culinary experience! There are wonderful combinations and pairings whether you’re eating a thick rib-eye, a juicy salmon filet or pizza. Food and Wine Pairing is an easy way to enjoy your time around the dinner table even more.
In this handy-dandy wine pairing guide, we're going to discuss the secret behind food and wine pairing, talk red wine versus white wine pairings, and give a few examples of different foods you can pair with various wines. Here’s your deep dive guide how to pair food and wine today!
How to Choose a Food and Wine Pairing?
Food and wine pairings can be as straightforward or complicated as you want. The most important things to consider are which protein you're using, and what body you'd like your wine to have. You’ll surely agree some foods are heartier than others. Well, the same happens with wine; there are wines that are light in body and others that are fuller in body.
Once you determine the food’s richness and flavor intensity, considering the cooking method, the seasonings and sauces used, choose a wine in the same 'weight' category (light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied), or quite the opposite, wine with a contrasting weight.
To Contrast or Complement?
When pairing food and wine by the wine's 'weight' or body, you must choose if you’re complementing rich food with bold wine or contrasting it with the opposite, a light and crisp wine. The same goes with light food; complement it with light-bodied wine or go all-in with more robust flavors in the glass.
Complementing and contrasting food with wine are two popular strategies amongst sommeliers. A thick steak can be delightful with a big Napa Cabernet, but it can also be quite tasty with a glass of sparkling wine, the ultimate palate cleanser. Isn’t that exciting?
It comes without saying when it comes to food and wine pairs, there’s no right or wrong answer. We all like different things, and we’ll all find some pairings tastier than others. Experimentation is key!
What Foods Work With Whites?
White wine is often light-bodied and refreshing, but there are also varietals like Chardonnay that can have a full-bodied profile. This means that you can generally pair white wine with light food in complementing pairings and with rich food if playing the contrast game.
Traditionally, steamed, poached, simmered and lightly grilled foods go best with white wine. And white meats are definitely more compatible with whites than with reds.
Popular food and wine pairings with white wines include:
- Fresh cheese
- Steamed veggies
- Lean pork
- Starchy veggies
- Cream sauces
- Lightly seasoned food
Of course, not all white wines are created equal. Most modern whites are clean and light-bodied — they rarely see the inside of an oak barrel. Still, a few white wine styles are quite robust, especially oak-aged Chardonnay, which can tackle heartier food, much more than an herbal Sauvignon Blanc.
What Foods Work With Reds?
Red wine usually has a heavier body than its white wine counterpart — it has more alcohol and tannins, the gritty particles that cause a drying sensation in your mouth. This makes red wines complementary with heartier, more flavorful food.
Grilled, smoked, roasted and stir-fried foods go best with red wine. Red meat and hearty dishes like stews and casseroles are bold enough to balance a robust red wine as well.
Popular food and wine pairings with red wines include:
- Fatty pork
- Meat stews
- Meat pies
- Tomato sauces
- Grilled veggies
- Roasted poultry
- Smoked meat
Red wine also comes in different weights. Wines made with Pinot Noir are famously light-bodied, wines made with Merlot are medium-bodied, and others made with Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah are pretty broad-shouldered. Of course, there are hundreds of grape varieties in the world, so getting to know them intimately pays off!
For a practical food and wine pairing example you can try today, let’s discuss some exciting foods to pair with wine — salmon and pizza.
The Best Wine Pairing With Salmon
The Best Wine Pairing With Salmon is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and here’s why. Although people often pair fish with white wine, and with good reason, that’s not always the best approach, especially for oily fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, eel and sardines.
Poached salmon will work best with a light-bodied white wine since it’s delicate, but if grilled or pan-fried with butter, the fish can tackle bigger wines. Chardonnay is a fantastic pairing with salmon, as long as the wine spent time in oak barrels. The boldest white wine on earth has what it takes to complement salmon and its fatty flesh.
Then again, the lightest red wines will also shine with salmon. Pinot Noir is the most popular alternative. Bigger red wines will clash with the oily fish, but not Pinot Noir. The Burgundian grape lacks tannins, which might taste metallic when served along fish.
The Best Wine Pairing With Pizza
The best wine pairing with pizza depends on the type of pizza, of course. As you know, there’s a significant difference in style between a Margherita and a Meat Lover’s pie.
What all pizzas have in common is that tasty tomato sauce. Tomatoes are sweet and tangy, interestingly incredibly compatible with Italian wines, known for their tight acidic backbones. After that, you must consider the pizza toppings — meat toppings call for more robust wines.
The best wine pairing with pizza might just be a youthful Chianti, made with Sangiovese, as the wine’s acidity will cut through any topping while complementing the spicy tomato sauce.
What about white wine and pizza? To pull this one off, you need a big white wine, and if you don’t want to go with Chardonnay, several Italian white wines made with Trebbiano and Malvasia are up for the task.
Wine and food pairings are all about trying new things. You never know how successful a pairing is until you try it! Yes, red wines pair better with red meat and white wines are fantastic with white meat and seafood, but that’s just the beginning. Complement and contrast your food in the never-ending quest to find the perfect food and wine pairing. Like they say, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Of course, when a wine and food pairing is larger than the sum of its parts, you know you’ve found an exceptional combination!