How to Pair Wines With Foods

Written by Rachel O’Conner

Have you ever wondered why food is so much more enjoyable with wine?

One could argue that everything is more enjoyable with wine, but that’s a story for another day.

Today, we’re talking about why wine pairs so well with certain foods and how to create the perfect pairings for all your meals.

This way, when you’re hitting the scene at the Napa restaurants, you can order with confidence.

wine and food

Why wine pairs so well with food

There are a few reasons why wine has been the go-to pairing for food for centuries. First, there’s a lot of variety. From a velvety port to a dry cabernet, you have so many options to choose from. Not every wine will pair well with every dish, but you have enough choices to be able to choose the right pairing for every dish.

Another reason why wine pairs so well with food has to do with tannins. You’ll find tannins in other types of alcohol, but the tannins found in wine are different than most because they don’t break down. As a result, they can be more astringent, but the type of food you pair with can actually change the taste of the wine.

A note about tannins

You can actually feel the tannins in a highly-tannic wine because the texture is gritty. The taste is rather astringent. Tannins come from the skins, stems, and seeds of the grape.

And this is significant when you’re pairing wine with food because the tannins in wine bind to proteins and create a smoother taste than if you were to consume the wine on its own.

In addition, you can have fun playing with the various flavors in food and wine and how they work together to create a comprehensive tasting experience.

wine and food

Basics of wine tasting

The first thing to consider when choosing a wine to go with your meal is whether you want to offset or compliment a specific taste in the dish.

congruent versus complimentary pairings

  • Congruent pairing – The congruent pairing matches similar taste profiles in the wine and the dish. For example, you may pair a full-bodied chardonnay with a dish that features a creamy bechamel sauce. In this way, the wine would mirror the creaminess of the dish.
  • Complementary pairing – A complementary pairing would provide a flavor to help balance a flavor in the dish. For example, you might pair a highly acidic wine with the fat of that same dish with bechamel sauce.

There are actually 20 different tastes we can identify as humans, but when it comes to wine and food pairings, you only need to focus on the following 6:

  • Salt
  • Sweet
  • Acid
  • Bitter
  • Spice
  • Fat

So whether you’re looking for a congruent or complementary pairing, you should know that red wines tend to be more bitter, whites and roses have more acidity, and then there are sweet wines that are obviously sweet.

Pairing intensity

Another thing to keep in mind when creating wine and food pairings is that you should try to match the intensity of the food and wine.

Food intensity

Some foods are obviously intense, while some are more subtly intense. You could taste a spicy chipotle taco that knocks your socks of with spicy intensity. And then you can eat a salad that you’d want to label as mild, but the dressing packs an acidic punch.

To determine a food’s intensity, take a moment to evaluate whether there’s one standout taste (e.g., salt, spice, acid, etc.).

If yes, there’s intensity to this dish, and this is where you can begin to find your wine pairing.

Wine intensity

If you don’t quite trust your wine tasting capabilities yet, go with the basics and read the wine label.

You can start with the following rules of thumb:

  • Chardonnay: Medium body and acid
  • Sauvignon blanc: Light body high acid
  • Pinot noir: Light body and typically smooth (light bitterness)
  • Cabernet sauvignon: Full body with more bitterness (tannin)

There are many other types of wine, but if you’re just starting to play with wine and food pairings, this is a great place to start.

Time to have fun

Don’t let the wine snobs in your life intimidate you. What really matters with wine and food pairings is your own enjoyment.

It’s true that there are some general guidelines (as we’ve covered here), but the ultimate goal is to maximize your own enjoyment of the tasting experience.

This process should be fun as you experiment with various food and wine pairings to see how each wine pairs with various flavors in the food.

If you want to become a pro, try this: Get a bottle or two of the same wine and pair it with a different dish each week. As you enjoy the tasting, make notes of how the experience changes with the various types of food. Maybe the wine is smoother when you had steak and more bitter with the vegetarian dish.

It’s all about having fun with tasting. So what’s your favorite wine and food pairing?

wine and food