There are no official rules to pairing food with wine; basically matching food and wine is an ongoing process of sensory adaptation, there is no right or wrong answer- however there are some fundamental “rules” that may help one select the perfect wine to accompany a dish.
Trust your senses; consider the “overall impression” of the dish such as its weight, intensity, texture and temperature. Match the weight of the dish to the weight of the wine; if it is a light, medium, or heavy dish, match it to a wine of equal weight. Next, the intensity of the dish should be taken into account: a delicate poached fish with a white sauce would be paired with a different wine than a fish rubbed in spices, grilled and served with spicy jalapeño salsa. Matching texture can also be important; crispy, fried foods pair well with bubbly beverages, such as fried chicken paired with sparkling wine. Temperature is also a key component; tuna can be served raw as sushi or hot off the grill, each with considerably different flavor, temperature, texture and pairing options (Sake vs. Pinot Noir).
Balance the flavors; think about the food as having the characteristics ofsweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness, and think about the wine as having sweetness, sourness, and bitterness as well as alcohol, oak and tannin. Some basic ideas of balancing flavor components of wine and food are:
- Acidic wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, or Chianti): pair with high-acid foods (salad with vinaigrette, pasta with tomato sauce). Contrast with fatty, oily or rich foods (pâté, smoked salmon) or with salty foods (caviar, oysters).
- Tannic wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, or Syrah): contrast with fatty dishes (marbled steak, fatty duck or lamb). Pair with bitter foods (grilled eggplant, walnuts).
- Oaky wines (oaked Chardonnay): pair with grilled dishes (grilled chicken, pork or seafood) or buttery and creamy dishes (lobster in cream sauce; rich, buttery foods and sauces). Avoid light dishes, raw/uncooked food, and salty food.
- Sweet wines (sweet Riesling or dessert wines): pair with cheeses, fruits and rich dishes (if pairing with a sweet dish, the dish should not be sweeter than the wine). Contrast with spicy dishes (Asian cuisine) or salty dishes (blue cheese).
Select regional wines to accompany a regional dish; pairing a dish with a wine that is native to the same region almost always makes for a perfect pairing. Many of the same basic ingredients are eaten all over the world with each region adding its own flavor profile. Chicken, for instance, may be herbed and roasted in France or stir-fried and soy-sauced in Asia, so matching each dish with wine can be a matter of selecting one from nearby. Some examples of regional pairings are:
- Italian red wine (Chianti) with pizza or pasta with red sauce
- Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) with beef bourguignon
- Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) with lamb, pâté, sausage or truffles
- German Riesling with pork or buttery cheeses