Pairing wines and food is too often stressed about (and debated). True, in these days we no longer abide by rules like “ONLY white with fish” (ever had a coriander and coffee encrusted ahi with Syrah? Amazing!) but we are often confused about how to pair certain flavors and elements of a dish. The following are some guidelines for pairing a few common wines.
Remember, pairing is a funny thing, because every dish will have more than just one component. You might try to pair a wine with chicken… but it’s not JUST going to be chicken, is it? Of course not! It will have herbs or spices, a side dish of veggies, etc. There are many things to think about when pairing a dish, but in the end, you have to choose which part of the dish you want to emphasize and then match the wine to that element.
Happy cooking and drinking!
This crisp, lighter white wine is known for having a high level of acidity and a lot of citrus. It is a great wine to pair with dishes that are lighter yet still packed full of flavor, and the herbaceous qualities often found in the wine often bring out the herbs in a dish. Here are some foods/flavors that go exceptionally well with Sauvignon Blanc:
Cheese/nuts: feta, goat cheese, pine nuts
Meat/poultry: chicken, turkey, pork
Seafood: fatty white fish, oysters, scallops, lobster, shrimp, sushi
Fruits and Veggies: citrus, green apple, asparagus
Herbs and Spices: chives, tarragon, cilantro
Sauces: citrus and light cream sauces
Desserts: sorbet, key lime pie, meringue, mango
The most difficult thing about pairing Sauvignon Blanc? With this wine, I find that “like” does not always go with “like”: vinaigrette acidity kills the flavors of the wine and numbs the tart flavor in the vinaigrette.
Chardonnay can be made into many styles, and this should always be kept in mind when pairing the wine with food. Are you drinking a full-bodied, California-style Chardonnay with a lot of oak and butter presence, or one that is lighter on the oak… or maybe not even aged in oak at all? Make sure you factor this in to your pairings.
The best thing about Chardonnay? It’s a decadent wine with sensual body, so it stands up against dishes and flavors when other white wines might fall flat. Despite its body, it still has great acidity, making it perfect for cutting the richness of cream dishes.
Cheese/nuts: mild, semi-soft cheeses with unoaked Chardonnay; asiago, havarti, Stilton or other blue-veined cheeses with oaky Chardonnay; almonds and nearly any toasted nut
Meat/poultry: veal, chicken, pork
Seafood: halibut, shrimp, crab, lobster
Fruits and Veggies: potato, apple, squash, mango
Herbs and Spices: tarragon, sesame, basil
Sauces: cream sauces, pesto
Desserts: banana bread, vanilla pudding
Top tip when pairing Chardonnay: make sure your wine doesn’t overwhelm a dish with more subtle flavors. It is known to do so!
Riesling might be one of the more misunderstood wines. In the U.S. it varies a lot in style, and many produce a very sweet Riesling that has almost become the “norm” for Riesling style in the U.S. Truth is, Rieslings from Europe are often very minimally sweet, and this wine’s balance of acidity and sweetness actually makes it a very food-friendly option. The thing I love best about Riesling? It balances spice incredibly well, making it a perfect accompaniment to Thai food or other spicy dishes.
Cheese/nust: Havarti, gouda, candied walnuts or pecans
Meat/poultry: smoked sausage, duck, foie gras
Seafood: sea bass, trout
Fruits and Veggies: apricots, chili peppers, pears
Herbs and Spices: rosemary, ginger, Thai or Indian spices
Sauces: BBQ, spicy, chutney
Desserts: apple pie, caramel sauce
Pinot Noir is a funny, funny grape that makes funny, funny wines. Only Pinot Noir can have fruits like cherry alongside descriptors like “forest floor” and “mushroom”. It is truly a beautiful juxtaposition of flavors and aromas.
Although lighter in body, Pinot has some weight behind it and can stand up to some meat dishes. And don’t be afraid to–gasp!–pair it with a heartier fish. I happen to love salmon and Pinot Noir, particularly if it is a winter dish with heartier accompaniments like mushrooms.
Cheese/nuts: goat cheese, brie, walnuts
Meat/poultry: lamb, sausage, filet mignon, chicken
Seafood: ahi tuna, salmon
Fruits and Veggies: mushrooms, dried fruits, figs, strawberries
Herbs and Spices: truffle, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove
Sauces: mushroom sauces, light-medium red sauces
Desserts: creme brulee, white chocolate
It is hard to pinpoint Syrah. As one of the world’s more popular varietals, it is made throughout the globe and in many, many different styles. Although hard to generalize, overall, it’s a big wine that often exudes pepper on the finish. It is great with herbs, and often has enough fruit to balance a bit of spice.
Cheese/nuts: sharp cheddar, Roquefort/bleu-veined cheeses; hazelnuts, walnuts
Meat/poultry: roasted game, pepperoni, spicy sausage, braised pork shoulder
Seafood: ahi tuna, salmon
Fruits and Veggies: currants, stewed tomatoes, beets
Herbs and Spices: oregano, sage
Sauces: BBQ, heavy red sauces
Desserts: black forest cake, rhubarb pie, coffee-based desserts
Avoid lighter dishes when drinking Syrah. No white fish, no oysters, no shrimp. No excuses.
Merlot has fallen out of fashion over the last few years… but its sales numbers prove that although it might not be “trendy”, it is still being drunk. We often forget about this grape and the soft berry flavors and beautiful eucalyptus nose its wines often have. I love that you can find characteristics like mint and juniper in a Merlot and think its fun to play up these flavors and aromas by pairing it with a dish that contains the same elements.
Cheese/nuts: Parmesan, Pecorino-Romano, chestnuts, walnuts
Meat/poultry: grilled meats, steak
Seafood: grilled meatier fish, ahi tuna
Fruits and Veggies: caramelized onions, tomatoes, plums
Herbs and Spices: mint, rosemary, juniper
Sauces: bolognese, bearnaise
Desserts: dark chocolate, berries, fondue
Top tip: if drinking Merlot with chocolate, make SURE that the wine is sweeter than the chocolate. If not, the wine will taste sour. (Chocolate is tough to pair with!)
Cabernet is king in the U.S. and in many other parts of the world. We crave its bold tannins and fruit and it certainly pairs well with many of the dishes we as Americans love: including beef! But Cabernet Sauvignon has a softer side, and goes well with some cheeses and even lavender.
Cheese/nuts: cheddar, gorgonzola, walnuts
Meat/poultry: venison, rib eye, beef stew
Seafood: grilled ahi tuna
Fruits and Veggies: black cherries, tomatoes, broccoli
Herbs and Spices: rosemary, juniper, lavender
Sauces: brown sauce, tomato sauce
Desserts: bittersweet chocolate
I hope this aids you in pairing foods and wines! Above all, have FUN experimenting with all of these flavors!