A Basic Guide To Wine and Food Pairings

Wine and food can be quite confusing to pair, especially if you’re a novice. For one, there are too many types of wine out there you don’t know which one to take—reds, whites, rosé, sparkling, dry, and so on. 

And here’s another dilemma: you have zero idea on how your Chardonnay will impact the steamed salmon you’re having and vice versa. You’re wondering if it’s even the right match. 

If you don’t know which wine matches perfectly with the food you’re planning to have for dinner, you’re not alone.  

So, we’re giving you a rundown of five basic rules that you need to know about when pairing food and wine. Take these tips to heart so you’ll enjoy a great dining experience in no time. 

5 Food and Wine Pairing Tips You Should Know

To come up with a successful food and wine pairing, below are the fundamental principles in matching what’s on your plate and what’s in the bottle. You might want to check these tips out before calling your favorite shop for a wine delivery. 

  • Congruent Pairing 

In geometry, congruence means having the same shape or size. In food and wine pairing, it means choosing the two based on their shared flavor profile. For instance, a buttery seafood plate can be paired with a buttery Chardonnay. And a smoky, grilled meat works well with a full-bodied, deep red wine such as a Malbec.   

The principle behind congruent pairing is that the food enhances the flavor of your wine and vice versa. Just remember to avoid choosing strong-flavored wine so as not to overwhelm the taste of your food. If this happens your dinner will become bland and you can’t enjoy your dinner.     

  • Complementary Pairing 

As you may have guessed, this is the opposite of congruent pairing. The principle behind matching food and wine this way is to promote a contrasting balance. This means you have to opt for food and wine that don’t share the same flavor profile but rather work together because they counteract each other in a nice way. 

A concrete example would be choosing a rich, creamy macaroni and cheese sauce to chomp down with a zesty, white wine such as Riesling. Additionally, a Pinot Grigio pairs well with salty, fried dishes like bacon. The wine’s fruity taste is balanced by the saltiness of the food.  

Spicy food can also taste better when taken with chilled white wine. To make your pairing even better, check out these tips in choosing white wine.    

  • Pairing Red Wines and Red Meat and Vice versa

This is one of the most common rules in matching food and wine. Red wine pairs well with red meats like beef or lamb steak, because it can enhance the proteins and fats in the meat. 

Tannins, which are chemical compounds found abundantly in grapes, also softens the meat. 

On the other hand, light-colored meats such as fish and chicken match well with white wine because the acids in the latter enhance the taste of the meat. Because of the acidity they share, white wine can have the same impact as squeezing lemon on fish or chicken meat, including the enhanced flavor it provides.  

  • Matching With the Sauce Not the Meat

When fish is cooked using dry heat, it can lose its flavor and juiciness, resulting in a bland taste. This is often remedied by preparing a heavy and flavorful sauce that immediately picks up the dish. In these instances, you can forget about pairing fish with white wine and use the sauce as the basis for the match. 

Put simply, you can choose red wine to pair with fish with a heavy sauce. Additionally, salmon, whether poached or steamed is perfect when paired with red wine, specifically, Pinot Noir. The two also make for a very healthy combo.

Italian antipasti wine snacks set. Cheese variety, Mediterranean olives, crudo, Prosciutto di Parma, salami and wine in glasses over wooden grunge background

Pairing Through Food Flavor Profiles

Still confused about congruent and complementary pairings? This method may be easier for you. Simply categorize food in one of the six main food flavors discussed below. Get familiar with the wine that matches best with each profile and you’re good to go.  

  • Salty foods like fried foods and pasta sauces. They are best paired with sparking and highly acidic wines such as Gamay. Salty foods influence the taste of wine, hence, a wine with high acidity levels offers a great complementary match.   
  • Acidity levels make both food and wine taste fresher. They’re both great for either complementary or congruent pairing. The key to achieving great balance is to choose a type of wine that has higher acidity levels versus your food. So, grab your Sauvignon Blanc to match your salad dressing.    
  • Bitter foods benefit from complementary pairings. This means that it’s not a good idea to match bitter food with bitter wine. Connoisseurs suggest taking bitter foods with acidic wines like Zinfandel, for instance.   
  • Sweet meals need to be matched with even sweeter-tasting wines if you don’t want them to taste bland. Sweet foods enhance the bitterness in wines, that’s why complementary pairing won’t work on this one. Additionally, bitter wines are rich in tannins, so you’d want to avoid them when you need a beverage to pair our desserts with. 
  • Spicy foods can work using both complementary and congruent matchings. Considerations should be given to the food’s capacity to enhance the bitterness and acidity in wine, as well as its impact on the sweetness of the drink. A dry red wine or a Beaujolais would work best when paired with spicy meals.        
  • Fatty foods pair well with tannins, and the latter is responsible for giving the wine a bitter flavor. Complementary matching works well in this case, as the tannins in wine bring out the best flavors in fat-laden meat. Pairing Cabernet Sauvignon and steak or fatty foods is a wise choice.  

How Wines Taste

  • Acidity- Wines with high acidity levels possess a sharper and crisp or tart taste. Inversely, wines with lower acidity taste smoother.    
  • BitterRed wines typically leave a bitter taste on the palate versus other types. Tannins, and flavonoids, as well as phenols all contribute to the bitterness of this drink. 
  • DryThis refers to wines that contain almost no sugar.
  • Full-bodiedThese types of wine possess a strong and powerful aftertaste. 
  • Sweet- These wines have high sugar content, which winemakers can control by regulating the fermentation period during the production process. Grapes that are fermented in a short period typically produce sweeter-tasting wines.

The Bottom Line

Wines have different flavors and there are so many ways in which food and wine pairings could work. The aim of presenting these tips is to give you an idea of how pairings work. That being said, these points serve as a guide, and you’re always free to explore and determine which pairings work best for you.       

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