Simple Tips on Pairing Food and Wine

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Wine knowledge is important in luxury service, and so is wine and food pairing. The goal of a successful pairing is to ensure that the flavors in the food do not overshadow the wine. Let’s focus on some tips for good pairings.

First of all, decide whether to match the wine with the food, or contrast it. One well-known tip is to match white wines with fish and chicken, and red wines with red meat. However, the way the food is prepared is often more important. We’re better off matching the weight or body and intensity of the food with the wine.  Is the food  super light or super rich, and is the wine is light or bold?

There are over 20 different taste components in food, but we only need to focus on six when we are pairing wines and foods: salt, acid, sweet, bitter, fat and spicy. Certain elements of wine need to be considered as well: sugar, acid, fruit, tannins and alcohol.  We don’t taste fat, spiciness and saltiness in wine, but it does contain acidity, sweetness, and bitterness to a degree. Let’s use three different categories to group wines.

  1. Red wines have more bitterness (from tannin)
    2. White, rose and sparkling wines have more acidity
    3. Sweet wines have more sweetness.

The secret to good pairing is thinking about how the flavor elements are going to work, and creating a balance between the components of the dish and the characteristics of a wine.

Chicken or fish served in a light lemon sauce pairs very differently from chicken or fish served in a heavy cream sauce. A light lemon sauce needs a wine with the right balance of acidity, while a creamy sauce needs a fuller-bodied, more complex wine. Smoky with oaky is a good match, so grilled fish will go well with an oaked Chardonnay. A dark, fruity Australian Shiraz would go well with rosemary-spiced lamb or BBQ ribs.

Here are some of the basic rules of wine pairing:

  • Hors d’oeuvres go great with a dry rose.  A rose has the light crispness of a white and the fruitiness of a red, so it will go with many different flavors and textures
  • Acid needs acid.  A food with a high acidic level goes great with a light, acidic white wine. Chicken piccatta or a roasted fish with citrus needs a wine that matches the acidity. A fresh, citrusy pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc will be like a squeeze of fresh lemon in your dish.
  • Tannins need fat.  Foods with a high fat content like a marbled steak,  rich duck, or grilled sausages need a wine with texture elements to balance it out. The tannins of a big red wine such as a Syrah or a Cabernet Sauvignon balance out the fat elements and add texture.
  • Heat needs sweet.  If you’re serving a dish with a spicy kick to it, a lighter, slightly sweet wine pairs well with it. A sweet or a dry Riesling is very popular with Indian and Thai food.
  • Salty loves bubbles.  It can be a hard to pair salty or fried foods with a wine, but the carbonation adds a whole new texture and flavor. A Cava or Prosecco can pair in the same way that beer would.
  • Earthy goes with earthy.  If you have an earthy food like truffles, gamey meats, duck, or lamb, they’re going to go great with an earthy wine, like a Syrah of a Pinot Noir.

Have fun with it and don’t make it too complicated. People have different tastes, and we shall honor that. As wine educator Kevin Zraly says: “The best wine to pair with your meal is whatever wine you like. No matter what!”