While preparing for a recent Intro to Wine and Food pairing class I polled a few friends and family members from outside the area to ask what would they want to learn about if they took a class on wine and food paring. Their responses were quite humbling to me.
I was prepared for them to ask detailed and scientific questions regarding how to pair things. Instead, they just wanted to know the basics. Too much information seemed overwhelming to them, and they wanted simple answers: “What wine would work best with a simple roasted chicken, shrimp scampi, lasagna, mac and cheese” and “What should I pair with a California Chardonnay, etc”.
You see, many of my friends and family are very busy, with lives, jobs, and children, all outside of the wine industry and enjoy wine simply for the fun and pleasure of it, and when it comes to pairing wine and food they just want to know… well, the basics.
While I love to geek out beyond the fundamentals in some of my longer classes and delve into the subject, I decided to do something simple for the sake of those who may not be interested in the long version. So this post is dedicated to my friends and family who don’t have time to come to one of my lengthier classes where we geek out and dive in deeper on the fundamentals and science of food and wine pairing, and 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.
The #1 rule for pairing wine with food: Drink what you like!
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.
A. 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 compliment or contrast each other:
- Compliment means understanding you want to pair like kind with like kind. The taste of the wine should compliment 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).
B. Acidity Level:
- Compliment: The acidity of the dish should be matched by the acidity in the wine, like pairing Sauvignon Blanc with ceviche.
- Contrast: Pair high acid wines with fatty foods, like duck, pork, charcuterie, cheese, to cut through the fat and richness of the dish.
C. Sweetness level (i.e. sugar):
- Compliment: The sweetness of a dish should be matched to the sweetness of the wine. Be careful because 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.
D. 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.
E. Intensity: If a food is intense in flavor, then the wine should also be intense in flavor and vice versa.
EASY TO USE WINE & FOOD PAIRING CHART
(suggested pairings, a good place to start on your food and wine pairing journey)
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