Wine and Food Pairing Basics

Whether you love to host gatherings for your foodie friends or want to plan the perfect at-home date night for you and your partner, learning the basics of wine and food pairing will help elevate everyone’s experience. Plus, it’s fun to create your pairings!

Sure, pairing food and wine can be complex. However, the basics are quick and simple to grasp. 

If you’re just getting started and want to learn the basics of wine and food pairing, there are some simple rules you can follow. The following tips are sure to consistently yield great pairings.

As you increase your knowledge and become more experienced, you can step outside of the box and experiment with breaking these rules — but one thing at a time. Let’s get started!

White Wines Pair Best with Delicate Meats and Flavors

When it comes to wine and meat, white wine is often paired with chicken, fish or seafood in a rich sauce. For example, Chardonnay pairs perfectly with roast chicken, smoked trout or salmon steaks. 

 The best white wines to pair with fish typically include rich whites, dry whites, such as a Pinot Grigio, and sparkling wines. However, these can also pair well with vegetables, starches, cheese and cured meats — charcuterie, anyone?

While rich white wines pair well with chicken, so do light-to-medium reds

Here is a cheat sheet:

  • Dry whites are light and acidic, pairing best with citrusy dishes, grilled chicken, delicate fishes and spring vegetables.
  • Sweet whites go well with both hard and soft cheeses, as well as cured meats and desserts. 
  • Rich whites pair well with rich fish, white meat, soft cheese and starches. The bigger and creamier the body, the more that wine can stand up to bigger flavors. That is why salmon and Chardonnay are such a classic pairing. 

Red Wines Pair Best With Bold Flavors and Dishes

Red wines differ from white wines in two main ways — tannins and flavors. Unless a white wine has been oak-aged, it will not commonly have high tannin levels. These tannins provide a wine with structure and bitterness. 

There is a whole spectrum of reds, ranging from light to bold. Keep this in mind when pairing dishes. 

When people think of red wine, they think of red meat. For example, Syrah pairs very well with grilled meat, ranging from barbecued spareribs to grilled steak or chops. When starting, always opt for a medium or bold red when serving red meat. 

Light reds open up so many opportunities, pairing well with everything from crab to earthy vegetables. For example, Pinot Noir pairs well with mushrooms and truffles, making it the perfect wine when serving beef with a mushroom sauce. With that being said, Pinot Noir is incredibly versatile, making it an ideal pairing for grilled fatty fish, roasted duck, ragù or even chocolate-covered strawberries!

Here is a cheat sheet:

  • Light reds go with many dishes depending on the varietal. These wines tend to go best with fattier fish and white meat, roasted vegetables and leaner red meats. They are also the perfect choice for many types of cured meats. 
  • Medium reds go best with red, white and cured meats, as well as hard cheeses, starches and roasted vegetables. Don’t be shy to serve a medium red with a well-thought-out cheese plate, followed by a tomato-based Italian pasta dish. 
  • Bold reds are rich and tannic enough to cut through fatty dishes, pairing best with red meat, hard cheeses and cured meat. You can’t go wrong with spiced BBQ chicken, grilled lamb or braised beef. 

Related: Tips for Wine and Meat Pairings

If You’re In Doubt, Serve a Rosé

A good rosé is a wine you can always count on, being a highly versatile choice. Offering the crisp acidity of a white, with the fruitiness of a red, rosés open up so many pairing opportunities. For example, a brosé, such as this 2019 Grenache, pairs perfectly with everything from braised stews to shepherd’s pie, grilled vegetables to game meat. 

When it comes to cheese, any dry rosé is a winner! Serve your favorite dry rosé with a cheese platter, gourmet mac and cheese, or for a more casual wine-filled lunch, you can’t go wrong with a triple-decker baked Italian cheese sandwich

Read more: How to Pair Wine and Cheese

Additional Pairing Tips

  • If you’re going to go for it, pairing wine with every course, and are a fan of desserts, you’ll want to have a sweet wine on-hand. A sweet white or dessert wine will work beautifully. 
  • Explore congruent pairings. Just as a sweet wine is best paired with a sweet dish, a smoky wine can be served with smoky meats or vegetables. The same goes for a wine’s body. For example, a full-bodied Syrah will pair well with the profile of grilled meats. Love a wine that leaves a buttery after-taste? Pair it with buttery pasta. 
  • Then move into complementary pairings. Instead of pairing wine and food based on similarities, focus on contrasting elements that balance one another out. Sweet white wine or sparkling wine with a spicy Asian dish is a great example — the same goes for salty foods! Pair your favorite glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio with fried foods or a bowl of popcorn. 

Whether you’re hosting an upcoming event or want to treat yourself to a three-course meal with several glasses of delicious wine, Sweet Oaks will help you elevate any wine and food pairing. 

Browse our selection of exquisite wines today!

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