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Home » Blog » How to Pair Wine with Food Like a Sommelier

How to Pair Wine with Food Like a Sommelier

Wine pairing can transform a simple meal into a gourmet experience. A well-matched wine enhances the flavors of food, creating a symphony of taste on your palate. But how do you achieve that perfect pairing? With a bit of knowledge and some guidelines, you can pair wine with food like a sommelier.

Understanding Wine Basics

Wine Glasses

Before diving into pairing, it’s essential to understand the basic characteristics of wine:

  1. Acidity: Wines with high acidity feel crisp and refreshing. White wines and lighter reds often have higher acidity. Acidity cuts through richness and pairs well with fatty and salty foods.
  2. Tannins: Tannins are compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and oak barrels used for aging. They create a drying sensation in your mouth. Red wines typically have more tannins. Tannins help balance the fat and protein in rich meats.
  3. Sweetness: Wines can range from bone dry to very sweet. Sweet wines complement spicy foods, as the sugar helps mitigate the heat.
  4. Body: The body refers to the weight or fullness of the wine in your mouth. Wines can be light, medium, or full-bodied. Matching the body of the wine with the weight of the food is crucial. Light wines go well with light dishes, while full-bodied wines stand up to hearty, robust meals.
  5. Alcohol Level: Higher alcohol wines feel warmer and heavier. They pair well with rich, flavorful dishes but can overpower delicate foods.

General Wine Pairing Rules

Wine Pairing

While there are no strict rules, some guidelines can help you create harmonious pairings:

  1. Match the Intensity: Pair light wines with light dishes and robust wines with hearty meals. For instance, a delicate Pinot Grigio complements a light salad, while a bold Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with a steak.
  2. Consider the Sauce: Often, the sauce dictates the pairing more than the protein. A creamy sauce might pair better with a buttery Chardonnay, while a tomato-based sauce could complement an acidic Sangiovese.
  3. Sweet with Spicy: Sweet wines, like Riesling, balance the heat in spicy dishes, providing a cooling effect.
  4. Acidity Balances Fat: Acidic wines cut through rich, fatty foods, cleansing your palate and enhancing the flavors. A high-acid wine like Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with fatty fish or creamy sauces.
  5. Tannins and Protein: Tannic wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are excellent with red meat as the protein and fat soften the tannins, making the wine taste smoother.
  6. Regional Pairing: Often, wines and foods from the same region naturally pair well together. Think Chianti with Italian cuisine or Rioja with Spanish tapas.

Pairing by Food Type


Wine and Cheese

Cheese and wine are a classic pairing, but with so many varieties, it can be daunting. Here are some matches to consider:

  • Soft Cheese (Brie, Camembert): Pair with Champagne or a light Chardonnay. The acidity and bubbles in Champagne cut through the creaminess.
  • Hard Cheese (Cheddar, Parmesan): A robust red like Cabernet Sauvignon or a full-bodied white like Chardonnay works well.
  • Blue Cheese (Gorgonzola, Roquefort): Sweet wines like Port or Sauternes balance the strong flavors of blue cheese.


Wine and Seafood

Fish and shellfish generally pair best with white wines, but there are exceptions:

  • Light Fish (Cod, Sole): Crisp white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio are ideal.
  • Fatty Fish (Salmon, Tuna): Richer whites like Chardonnay or light reds like Pinot Noir complement the fattiness.
  • Shellfish (Shrimp, Lobster): Sparkling wines or light, acidic whites like Chablis enhance the sweetness of shellfish.


Wine and Poultry

Chicken and turkey are versatile and can pair with both whites and reds, depending on preparation:

  • Roasted Chicken: Chardonnay or Pinot Noir are great choices.
  • Fried Chicken: Try a sparkling wine like Prosecco or Champagne. The bubbles cut through the grease.
  • Turkey: A medium-bodied red like Zinfandel or a fuller white like Viognier pairs well with turkey, especially with all the Thanksgiving trimmings.


Wine and Beef

Beef’s richness calls for bold red wines:

  • Steak: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Malbec match the robust flavors and high protein.
  • Beef Stew: Hearty reds like Bordeaux or an aged Rioja complement the deep, slow-cooked flavors.
  • Prime Rib: Pair with a tannic wine like a Napa Valley Cabernet or a Barolo.


Wine and Pork

Pork can be paired with a variety of wines depending on the preparation:

  • Pork Chops: Medium-bodied reds like Merlot or a full-bodied white like Chenin Blanc work well.
  • Roast Pork: Try a Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel.
  • Pulled Pork: A spicy Syrah or a sweet Riesling can balance the rich, savory flavors.


Lamb pairs well with wines that have good acidity and tannins:

  • Roast Lamb: Bordeaux or Rioja are classic matches.
  • Lamb Chops: Try a Syrah or a Chianti.
  • Lamb Stew: Pair with a robust red like a Shiraz or a Grenache.

Vegetarian Dishes

Vegetarian meals can be light or hearty, influencing the wine choice:

  • Salads: Sauvignon Blanc or a light Pinot Grigio complements fresh vegetables and vinaigrettes.
  • Vegetable Stir-Fry: A crisp Riesling or a light red like Beaujolais pairs well.
  • Mushroom Dishes: Earthy reds like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo match the umami flavors.
  • Spicy Vegetarian: A slightly sweet wine like Gewürztraminer or a chilled Rosé balances the heat.


Wine and Dessert

Dessert wines are typically sweeter than the dessert itself to maintain balance:

  • Chocolate Desserts: Port or a rich red like Zinfandel complements chocolate’s bitterness.
  • Fruit Desserts: Moscato or a late-harvest Riesling pairs well with fruity sweetness.
  • Cheesecake: Try a Sauternes or a sweet Riesling.
  • Pastries: A light, sweet sparkling wine like Asti Spumante or a Moscato d’Asti enhances the flavors.

Specific Pairing Examples

Classic Pairings

Wine Pairings
  1. Oysters and Champagne: The briny, delicate flavor of oysters pairs beautifully with the acidity and bubbles of Champagne, creating a refreshing and elegant combination.
  2. Chèvre and Sauvignon Blanc: The tangy, creamy goat cheese finds a perfect match in the crisp, citrusy notes of Sauvignon Blanc, especially from the Loire Valley.
  3. Steak and Cabernet Sauvignon: A classic pairing where the tannins in the Cabernet cut through the richness of the steak, enhancing both the wine and the meat.
  4. Duck and Pinot Noir: The earthy, fruity notes of Pinot Noir complement the gamey, rich flavor of duck, making for a balanced and delightful pairing.

Adventurous Wine Pairings

  1. Thai Green Curry and Riesling: The sweetness of Riesling balances the spicy heat of the curry, while its acidity cuts through the coconut milk’s richness.
  2. Pizza Margherita and Chianti: The acidity and light tannins of Chianti complement the tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil, enhancing the overall flavor.
  3. Sushi and Sparkling Wine: The effervescence and acidity of sparkling wine cleanse the palate between bites, enhancing the delicate flavors of sushi.
  4. Barbecue Ribs and Zinfandel: The bold, spicy flavors of Zinfandel pair well with the smoky, tangy barbecue sauce, creating a mouthwatering combination.

Seasonal Wine Pairings

  1. Spring: Asparagus and Grüner Veltliner: Grüner Veltliner’s herbaceous and peppery notes complement the fresh, green flavors of asparagus.
  2. Summer: Grilled Vegetables and Rosé: A chilled Rosé pairs beautifully with the smoky, charred flavors of grilled vegetables, offering a refreshing contrast.
  3. Autumn: Roast Turkey and Gewürztraminer: Gewürztraminer’s slight sweetness and spice complement the savory flavors of roast turkey and stuffing.
  4. Winter: Beef Bourguignon and Burgundy: The earthy, complex flavors of Burgundy mirror the rich, slow-cooked beef, creating a harmonious pairing.

Tips for Perfect Wine Pairing

  1. Experiment: Don’t be afraid to try unconventional pairings. Personal preference plays a significant role in wine and food matching.
  2. Consider Temperature: Serving temperature affects both the wine and the food. Whites should be chilled, and reds slightly below room temperature.
  3. Note the Occasion: Casual meals might call for simpler pairings, while special occasions can inspire more sophisticated matches.
  4. Think About Balance: Aim for a balance between the flavors, weight, and intensity of both the food and the wine.
  5. Use Local Wines: Local wines often pair well with the region’s cuisine, as they have grown and evolved together over time.

Pairing wine with food like a sommelier involves understanding the fundamental characteristics of wine, considering the elements of the dish, and experimenting with different combinations. By following these guidelines and tips, you can enhance your dining experience and impress your guests with perfect pairings. Whether you’re enjoying a simple weeknight meal or hosting a grand dinner party, the right wine can elevate your food to new heights. Cheers to discovering the joys of wine and food pairing!

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Maya Clark
Maya Clark