Pairing Wine with Food: The Basics

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Learning how to pair Wine and Food doesn’t need to be scary or intimidating. By understanding just a few key tips, you can learn how to pair wine and food like a pro simply by understanding the basics. Let’s go!

Wine Glasses image from Fire and Wine cookbook

As a food and wine writer, sommelier, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook, I’m often asked advice on pairing wine and food.

And while I love to geek out beyond the fundamentals in some of my classes and events and delve into the subject, I decided to keep this simple and focus on the basics. If you want even more detail on wine check out my article on how to taste wine like a professional or check out my cookbook (there’s an entire chapter on the subject!).

This post is dedicated to those who don’t have time to attend one of my lengthier classes where we geek out and dive in deeper on the fundamentals and science of food and wine pairing. Instead, I am presenting this information (below) as a basic starting point for any beginner.

I have also included an easy-to-use, downloadable, wine and food pairing chart. Simple, yet fundamental, suggestions as you get started on your wine and food pairing journey. I hope you enjoy it!

Rule One For Paring Wine With Food

Drink what you like!

Ribeye steak sliced with a glass of red wine.

First and foremost, I believe wholeheartedly that you should drink what you like! Even if you are drinking Sauvignon Blanc with steak. If that’s what you’re craving then by all means go for it. There are no right or wrong answers when your palate is craving something. But if you want to try to heighten your food and wine experience then here are some simple guidelines.

The Basics of Pairing Wine and Food

Synergy: Don’t Overpower the Food

Food and wine pairing is about synergy: the food should not overpower the wine, nor should the wine overpower the food.

Key word – BALANCE.

Two ways to achieve this synergy is to pair wines with foods that can either complement or contrast each other:

  • Complement means understanding you want to pair like kind with like kind. The taste of the wine should complement the taste of the food in style, body, and weight, thus ultimately enhancing the flavors of each other.
  • Contrasting refers to pairing opposites. An example of this would be pairing sweet wine with a salty dish, or sweet wine with spicy dish, thus toning down the dominating flavor (whether that flavor may be spicy or sweet).
Easy smoked salmon filet on a serving platter

Acidity Level

  • Complement: The acidity of the dish should be matched by the acidity in the wine, like pairing Sauvignon Blanc with ceviche. Both with ample levels of acidity.
  • Contrast: Pair high acid wines with fatty foods, like duck, pork, charcuterie, cheese, to cut through the fat and richness of the dish. Sparkling wine with rich melted brie (seen below) is a great example of a lean high acid wine cutting through the richness of the fatty cheese.
grilled baked brie cheese in cast iron pan with almonds.

Sweetness Level (i.e. sugar)

  • Complement: The sweetness of a dish should be matched to the sweetness of the wine. Be careful because the perceived sweetness in a dish may not match that of the wine.
  • Contrast: Sometimes sweet wine can go with spicy food creating the contrast and a cooling mechanism for the hot and spicy food. Or pairing sweet and salty (think chocolate covered pretzels… yum!). A favorite example to demonstrate this idea with wine is pairing a sweet dessert wine, like late harvest white wines or ice wines paired with blue cheese.
Grilled pumpkin pie and slice with whipped cream.

Body/Weight

The weight of a dish should be matched by the weight of the wine.

  • Full with full: Rich, heavy meat with full-bodied red wine.
  • Light with light: Light white fish with unoaked, light-bodied white wine or rosé. 
glasses of easy classic ceviche

Intensity

If a food is intense in flavor, then the wine should also be intense in flavor and vice versa.

Bowl of Texas Chili.

Easy to Use Free Wine and Food Pairing Chart

(suggested pairings, a good place to start on your food and wine pairing journey) 

Wine & Food Pairing Chart

These are just the basics.  If you really want to geek out with me and learn the ins, outs, whys, and hows of wine and food pairing, please search throughout our website

or visit our Facebook page for ideas. You can also read the chapter on pairing wine and food in my cookbook, Fire + Wine.

If you have any specific questions on pairing wine with food I’d love to hear them!  Or, if you have a perfect pairing that you would like to share please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your ideas!

For a downloadable version of this chart please click on the link:  Download Wine & Food Pairing Chart


About Vindulge

Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.

cookbook cover

Now on 2nd edition

Fire + Wine Cookbook


“This book is a one-stop guide for anyone truly interested in elevating their BBQ experience into a culinary work of art.”
5 out of 5 Stars
San Francisco Book Review

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mary cressler headshot

Vindulge

About Mary


I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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