Food Pairing 101


I've said before that I'm a firm believer in drinking whatever one's heart desires; the rules can bend or break no matter the occasion, weather, or meal. However, it's no secret that wine and food make quite a couple. When the two are put together the possibilities are endless.

You see every dish is dynamic…they are all made up of parts that sum up a truly tasty whole. The same goes for wine. It's grown in soils, in different parts of the world, in different climates, in different barrels, for all different amounts of time. These ingredients make up the whole that is then placed into a bottle that lands on your table, onto your taste buds and so on. When food and wine are combined, the dynamics in both can change, resulting in a new and completely individual experience.
When pairing food and wine there are several things that can happen…

One possibility is for the food to exaggerate a characteristic of the wine. For example, think about eating blueberries and washing it down with a California Zinfandel. You may as well be drinking a container of Juicy Juice with all that berry overload.

On the flip side, the food could also diminish a characteristic of the wine. When you have a bold tannic wine, such as a Barolo or a Bordeaux, you will want to pair that with a protein so that it can soften the tannins and round out the flavors.

Another possibility is that the flavor intensity of the food can cancel out the flavor of the wine (and vice versa). If you're drinking a very spicy Mexican dish, with a soft Pinot, you will most likely only taste the spicy hot Mexican dish.

Ideally, the food and wine can interact perfectly, creating a whole new experience that's better than having the two separately. This is what we are all in search of when trying to pair food with wine.

I've taken the liberty to list general taste “classes” of wines with general pairing options below. Take a look and try them out if you want.

Generally, acidity is a characteristic used when talking about racy white wines such as a sauvignon blanc or sancerre. These wines tend to enhance salty flavors, therefore can be paired well with oysters or any kind of shell fish. Even a salad with vinaigrette dressing would play nicely against the dry acidity of these wines.

Alcoholic wines such as big California or fortified wines are typically grown in warm climates, which ripen the fruit more and give the wines a bigger, bolder taste. Generally, these wines couple well with foods that are just slightly sweet. Because they have a strong, raisiny flavor, you would probably want to steer clear of any type of dish that's lightly flavored. These wines tend to have ripe fruit notes, so something that's just slightly sweet would pair well, dark chocolate being a good example.

Most of us know that dry, tannic red wines are perfect with red meat proteins. As was mentioned previously, protein diminishes tannins and thus the flavor of the wine is rounded out. These wines tend to take away the perception of sweetness, therefore go ahead and try them out with your richer fattier dishes like BBQ ribs.

Moving on, we have wines that often carry a sweetness to them and can include dessert wines (Cali White Zin and many trocken Rieslings). These wines make saltier foods more appealing and can also go well with light desserts. Try having an Amarone while noshing on salted peanuts or pretzels sometime. The effect can be that it makes the wine more fruity than sweet.

As I said before, there are no real rules in wine but this is a time when the phrase, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” comes to mind. There's no sense in messing up something that is already perfectly wonderful. While I encourage everyone to go forth and explore, I still want you all to know that there may be nothing better than an aged Barolo with a Peter Lugar Steak done medium rare. YUUUUUUUM.

New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!

Mentioned in this article


  • Callie

    Hey, Thanks everyone!!! You've all been so nice and I just want to say that I've really been enjoying writing this blog a lot. It's definately helping me to learn the ropes too!

    Jun 23, 2008 at 3:45 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Callie - i really think this is a great article. Specific food and wine pairings are all very well, but they are often so specific that you cant use them when you're sat in a restaurant scared by the wine list. Having a few simple rules and being able to pair by salt, acidity, or fatty proteins is really the way to be able to make a sound decision on the fly. Great stuff!

    Jun 23, 2008 at 10:18 AM

  • Gabriella

    This is a topic that is broad up time and time again, and often, it's written by foodies that have very strong opinions on what does and does not pair well. Here, you've given some great, very general, suggestions, while emphasizing the fact that it's a very personal call. Thanks for such a great post!

    Jun 23, 2008 at 10:38 AM

  • Snooth User: Chris Carpita
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    33093 5,546

    When can we expect the Exas pocket guide? I agree that a few simple rules is what people really need, so if they understand a few red/white varietals, they can order with confidence. It doesn't take more than 15 minutes to impart this. Specific pairings are marketing gimmicks.

    Jun 23, 2008 at 11:30 AM

  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,448

    I've heard that asparagus is the anti-wine pairing food … not that I have experienced it but I have read that it makes wines taste tinny and metallic. Anyone have this experience?

    Jun 24, 2008 at 1:11 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Not specifically, but ive been at a restaurant and they told us not to drink wine during the starter (which was asparagus based).

    I think the issue is a sulfur compound called “methionine”, which makes any sweetness or oak very jarring. I've not tried it, but a steely, unoaked, dry wine would fare better

    Jun 24, 2008 at 2:05 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    PS. Brussel Sprouts have this compound in them as well, just not as strongly

    Jun 24, 2008 at 2:05 AM

  • Snooth User: Kirstin
    46671 68

    I've experience asparagus, brussell sprouts and artichokes all tamed into submission by Gruner Vetliner and Tocai Fruiliano, to start

    Jun 24, 2008 at 3:04 AM

  • Denise Clarke

    Great blog, I enjoyed reading it. I always say that blogs are a lot like children. Once a day you need to check on them, give them a little tweak and send them on their way … LOL!

    Keep up the good work …


    Jun 24, 2008 at 5:55 AM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    On the asparagus and friends topic, none other than Julia Child identified problematic ingredients (vinegar, asparagus, watercress, quiche, spinach, artichokes, eggs, etc) as enemies of wine in the middle of the 20th century.

    Fortunately, we've moved beyond and overcome these primitive notions of wine and food pairing!

    Jun 25, 2008 at 1:30 AM

  • mossface

    Getting off the asparagus train (which I avoid with or without wine), this is truly a great “beginners” post. For someone who doesn't know a whole lot about wine, like myself, these simplified guidelines will definitely help in the future. Great post!

    Jun 25, 2008 at 1:45 AM

  • Gabriella

    Asparagus and brussel sprouts are a typical addition to catalan cuisine, and have been wrestled into submission with cava. Although, I have to admit that depending on the style of cava, ranging from brut natur (very dry) or a dulce (sweet), the results will differ greatly.

    Jun 25, 2008 at 5:12 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Us Brits eat our fair share of sprouts as well, but once you've served it with meat, gravy, and various other sides I dont recall it ever tasting awkward with a fruitier wine. Asparagus has caught me out as ive had it as a solitary starter.

    Speaking of Gruner Veltliner i tried this yesterday:

    Nothing special, except that it came in a 1 liter bottle and was sealed with a beer bottle cap - anyone seen that done before?

    Jun 25, 2008 at 10:35 AM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    I think the others covered this, but at the risk of being late to the party once again — Great post, Callie!

    Jun 25, 2008 at 11:02 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    RBoulanger - did you get that snippet from the CSW exam? I just finished the food and wine pairing module

    Jul 04, 2008 at 7:30 AM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    Philip - Of course!

    I thought it was interesting to see how food & wine pairings have evolved over the last 50 years.

    Jul 07, 2008 at 11:57 AM

  • Snooth User: rossy
    1098709 19


    thanks for the sharing about the wine-food pairing. I am an Indonesian and I work in an Indonesian restaurant. Lots of my guests in here, they've been asking about what's good to go with typical Indonesian food (it's almost similar with Indian, though). Really need a suggestion on this matter. Thanks

    May 15, 2012 at 4:38 AM

Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network