Wine pairing is a real skill that takes time to master. That being said, sharpening your skills and developing your palate will never be a waste of time. The right combination of food and wine can transform a meal and take it to another level.  When you start learning how to pair food and wine, the most important thing you can do is to experiment. There is no way to know if something will work for sure unless you try it. Wine pairing is a skill that others always find fascinating, and it will help you to start lots of conversations with new and interesting people. It has a reputation for being an elitist skill, but it is something everyone can enjoy – even if you don’t know very much about wine. We have put together this guide to help you dive into the world of wine pairing. Now, you can make the pairing choices yourself, rather than relying on notes on the bottle or stranger’s recommendations on the internet (Photo by Kampus Production)

Basic Tips

Before we take a deep dive into the rules of wine pairing, let’s cover some of the basics.

We also have different taste buds and different taste pallets, so what one person finds delicious, another person might not enjoy. It is important to bear this in mind when you first start learning to pair wine and food.  The more pairs you try, the more you will learn about your personal tastes and the preferences of the people around you.

You may find it helpful to keep notes on your journey to becoming a wine tasting master.

Pair Low-Alcohol Wines With Spicy Dishes. If you are eating a spicy meal, the last thing you want to do is pair it with a bottle of strong wine. And not just because there will be too many flavors.  Alcohol actually makes the experience of eating spicy food a lot more intense. It won’t dampen down the burning in your mouth – if anything it will make the sensation harder to bear.

If you still want to pair a wine with your spicy food, then we suggest picking out something with lower alcohol content.  Look for something between 9% and 11%.

Play A Game Of Matchmaking

When you first start wine pairing, start by looking for food and wines that are considered by most to be a good match. These pairs will often share characteristics. For example, you might want to pair a light and citrusy fish dish with an airy white wine with notes of lemon. Or you may want to pair a rich, dark dessert with a red wine that has notes of dates and cocoa.

As you are getting used to flavor profiles, start by pairing robust wines with bold and flavorsome meals. And pair white wines with light meals you might want to enjoy on a summer’s day.

Pair Red Meats With Red Wines – Some people consider this to be a cardinal rule of wine pairing – but trust us, red meats can pair well with many types of wine.  However, this is a good place to start when you are first getting used to pairing dishes and bottles. Red meat has a high-fat content, which is what gives it a lot of flavors. If you want a wine that is going to stand up to those flavors, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of red wine. The tannin in the red wine gives it a bold flavor profile.

For Desserts, Look Toward The Light – Another rule of thumb (which we believe should be broken often) is to pair lighter, mostly white wines, with dessert. If a dessert is full of fruit then you are going to find that many sweet and fruity white wines will pair really well with the dish. You don’t want to pick a wine that is going to change the way the dessert tastes in your mouth.

That being said, a chocolate-based dessert might pair well with something a little richer. Or you might even be tempted to serve your dish with a dessert wine. It is best to try these combinations before serving them to guests.

Earthy Foods Go Best With Earthy Wines – Many people struggle to find wines that compliment foods with earthy flavors. So, pairing earthy foods with a bottle of wine often requires a little practice.  The best thing you can do is to taste the dish first and write down the key flavor notes and then start looking for wines that contain similar flavors. Test the pairing, and if that doesn’t work start looking for a new wine.

Acidic Wines Cut Through Fattier Dishes – If you are serving a dish with a high-fat content then you are going to want to look for a wine that is going to cut through that – rather than make the flavors more intense. An easy way to find a wine to do this is to get one with acidic notes.

Most red wines will have acidic notes because of their high tannin content. But you will also find that some of the dryer white wines can do the job just as well. You can use the other rules on this list to help guide you toward the right wine. Acidic Wines Do Not Go With Dairy. There is a sugar in dairy called lactose.  This sugar does not mix well with acidic flavors. Mixing acid into a cup of milk would cause it to curdle. Therefore, you do not want to mix acidic wines with dairy-heavy dishes. It will create a strange and unpleasant mix of tastes and textures in your mouth.  If you are trying to find a wine to pair with a dairy-filled dish, then look for something on the sweeter side – with notes of stone fruits or something similar.

Do Not Mix Bitter With Bitter – If you wanted paint to be less red, you wouldn’t mix another red paint into it. So, if you are looking to make a dish less bitter overall then you are not going to want to pair it with a glass of bitter wine. If you are cooking up a dish with lots of tannins in it, then you are not going to want to pair it with a red wine. Instead, you will want to look for something light, sweet, and fresh to pair with it. A wine that will almost act like a palate cleanser that allows you to enjoy your meal more.

Pair Wines And Foods From The Same Region – Our final piece of advice is to choose your wine based on the type of cuisine you are cooking. Are you serving up a Japanese dish? Then pair it with sake. Are you enjoying an Italian fish dish, then pair it with a glass of Italian white wine? A traditional, heavy French dish might pair with a rich Bordeaux wine.  Using this method to pick the wine will give you a more authentic dining experience. It will allow you to enjoy the meal in the way the locals would.

Summary – Wine pairing is a skill that can help you to improve every evening meal you eat – or lunch if you like a glass of wine at midday. It is a skill you can use to impress your friends and to make new ones. Now that you have learned how to pair wines with food – it’s time for you to head out to your local wine shop and grab yourself a couple of bottles. For research purposes of course.

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About the Author

Mason grew up in the heart of the Willamette valley in Oregon, which is famous for it’s fertile soil and the high quality grapes produced there. Living just minutes from world renown wineries, he developed an appreciation for wine early on. Today, he enjoys spending his time discovering new wines and sharing his love for wine with others.