Simple rules to get started pairing food and wine.
1. Drink what you like.
What you like to drink always takes precedence over any recommendations.
2. Start by thinking about the dish or meal as a whole.
What are its dominant characteristics?
- Is it mild or flavorful?
- Is it fatty or lean?
- Is it rich or acidic?
3. Keep flavors in balance.
Match mild foods with mild wines. Match big, flavorful foods with big, flavorful wines. For example, pair a bold-flavored Pepper Steak with a spicy, bold red Zinfandel.
Similarly, you generally want to match the richness of the food and the richness of the wine. For example, pair a rich Chicken in Cream Sauce with a rich Chardonnay.
You can refer to Food And Wine Pairing’s Wine Board to see what different wines taste like.
4. Cleanse the palate with tannins or acids.
If you’re eating a relatively rich, ‘fatty’ dish and thinking about drinking a red wine (when you eat a beef steak, for example) you probably want a wine with some good tannins in it to help cleanse the palate.
If you’re eating a very rich, ‘fatty’ dish and thinking about drinking a white wine — when you eat fried chicken, for example — you probably want to contrast the meal with a refreshingly crisp acidic wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc. You can ignore this rule for dishes that are just relatively fatty – such as Chicken in Cream Sauce – which will probably do better with a rich Chardonnay that can match their rich flavors.
5. Match Acids with Acids
Acidic wines and cream don’t mix. Rich cream sauces will usually clash with an acidic wine like a Sauvignon Blanc. Think about it this way…If you squeezed lemon juice into a cup of milk, would it taste good?
So, If you’re eating a dish with a strong acidic content (such as Shrimp with Lemon or Pasta with Tomato Sauce) pair it with an acidic wine that can keep up with the acids in the food.
6. Wine and Strong Spices
Strong spices, such as hot chili peppers in some Chinese or Indian food, can clash and destroy the flavors in a wine. In most cases, wine is not the ideal thing to drink. However, if wine is what you must have, consider something spicy and sweet itself, such as an off-dry Gewurtztraminer or Riesling.
7. When In Doubt…
Remember that foods generally go best with the wines they grew up with. So if you’re eating Italian food, think about having an Italian wine. This isn’t a requirement, but often helps simplify the decision.