Matching wine to your meal can be an extremely rewarding experience. But it can also be confusing and overwhelming, especially when you're standing in front of a wall of wine deciding what to buy.
One of the key principles behind the best pairing is to understand both the food you are serving and the wine, by analysing their basic components in order to enhance your dining experience.
The idea is to try to find the right balance where neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other.
The three most important rules when it comes to wine-and-food pairing are:
1. Drink and Eat What You Like
Choose a wine that you would want to drink by itself, rather than hoping a food match will improve a wine made in a style you don’t like. That way, even if the pairing isn’t perfect, you will still enjoy what you’re drinking; at worst, you might need a sip of water or bite of bread between the dish and the glass. The same holds true for the food: After all, if you detest liver, there is no wine pairing with it on earth that will work for you.
2. Look for Balance
Consider the weight—or body, or richness—of both the food and the wine. The wine and the dish should be equal partners, with neither overwhelming the other. If you balance the two by weight, you raise the odds dramatically that the pairing will succeed. This is the secret behind many classic wine-and-food matches.
How do you determine weight? For the food, fat—including what comes from the cooking method and the sauce—is the main contributor. For a wine, you can get clues from the color, grape variety and alcohol level, along with the winemaking techniques and the region’s climate. (Wines with less than 12 percent alcohol tend to be lighter-bodied; those with more than 14 percent are heavier.)
3. Match the Wine to the Most Prominent Element in the Dish
This is critical to fine-tuning wine pairings. Identify the dominant character; more often it is the sauce, seasonings or cooking method, rather than the main ingredient. Consider two different chicken dishes: Chicken Marsala, with its browned surface and a sauce of dark wine and mushrooms, versus a chicken breast poached in a creamy lemon sauce. The caramelized, earthy flavors of the former tilt it toward a soft, supple red, while the simplicity and citrus flavors of the latter call for a fresh white.
What's The Right Wine To Use...?
- Beef - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeaux, red Zinfandel, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, Australian Shiraz, Super Tuscan, Barbaresco or Barolo
- Lamb - Bordeaux (especially Médoc), Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, Barbaresco or Barolo Pork Riesling, Cru Beaujolais, Rioja, Côtes du Rhône or New World Chardonnay
- BBQ - Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, Shiraz, Petite Syrah or red Zinfandel
- Hamburger or Sausage - Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, Shiraz, Petite Syrah or red Zinfandel
- Chicken - California or Australian Chardonnay, Riesling, dry Vouvray, white Burgundy, red Burgundy, Gigondas, Côtes du Rhône, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, red Zinfandel or Valpolicella
- Feathered Game (guinea fowl, pheasant, squab, etc.) - Red Burgundy, Pinot Noir or Rioja
- Pasta - Pinot Grigio, Vernaccia, Barbera, Dolcetto, Chianti, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc
- Pasta with Tomato Sauce - Chianti, Morellino di Scansano, Salice Salentino or Montepulciano d'Arbruzzo
- Fresh Water or Lighter Fish (trout, sole, etc.) - White Bordeaux, Meursault or other good white Burgundy
- Oily or Heavier Fish (mackerel, swordfish, tuna, etc.) - Rich Australian Chardonnay or Semillon, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir or Beaujolais
- Shellfish (clams, mussles, scallops, oysters, etc.) - Muscadet, Vinho Verde, Verdicchio, Sauvignon Blanc, Albarinho, Chablis or Champagne
- Lobster - Semillon, white Burgundy, Champagne or Sauternes
- Salmon - Rich Chardonnay, white Burgundy, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Beaujolais, Chinon, California or Oregon Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir
- Smoked Salmon or other Smoked Fish - Champagne or Riesling
- Soft, Creamy Cheeses with washed rind (brie, camembert, etc.) - Beaujolais, North American Pinot Noir or well-aged St.-Emilion
- Hard, Aged Cheeses (cheddar, aged gouda, manchego, etc.) - Cabernet Sauvignon, red Zinfandel, Merlot, Rioja, ruby Port, Fino or Manzanilla Sherry
- Goat's Cheese - Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Vouvray or white Bordeaux