How to Pair Wine and Food Like an Expert, Every Time

How to Pair Wine and Food Like an Expert Every Time Blog Post Image
There’s nothing better than sharing a delicious meal and the perfect wine to pair with it.

Figuring out how to pair your wine with dinner can be as easy as a couple of taps on your iPhone. There are many apps and websites available that can tell you exactly what wine to pair with your food, but where’s the fun in that?

Having someone tell you what to pick is much less enjoyable than finding the right wine yourself!

The number one rule of food and wine pairing is that you should trust your own palate, so why not learn the best guidelines on pairing so that you can make your taste-buds happy and always be the star dinner host?

We’ve done our best to put together an exhaustive but simple guide that will help you choose the right wines to pair with different kinds of dishes.

There are no specific recipes here, because we want these to be skills you use for every meal. Soon enough, you’ll be a professional at finding the perfect wine to go with dinner.

If you aren’t interested in the dirty details, we have some quick pre-tips that will give you the most basic guidelines for picking wines to match with meals below:

Follow these pre-tips and you’ll be good to go for an impromptu dinner with wine.


Pairing Pre-tips

  • If you have very little knowledge or experience with pairing foods and wine, the most basic rule you should remember is that white meat pairs best with white wine, and red meat pairs best with red wine. Remember this and you will be unlikely to make a bad choice.
  • An extension of pretip #1: If you cook your dish with white wine, pair it with white wine. If you cook your dish with red wine, pair it with red wine. If you cook with wine, serve that wine to drink with that dish. Unless you used cooking wine; nobody wants to drink that!
  • With lighter meats cooked in a flavorful sauce, focus on pairing the wine with the sauce, not the meat.


Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, we can move on to the expert session. If you want to become an expert at wine and food pairing, read on!


Complement or contrast, but never overpower

To pair wine and food successfully, they must complement or contrast each other in just the right way, or you might end up with a disastrous taste in your mouth. The trick is to make sure that neither food nor wine detracts from the taste of the other. You should be able to give attention to and enjoy both equally. That’s the joy of pairing!

Cross-reference food and wine characteristics

When deciding which wine to pair with your food, you first must figure out which characteristics of the wine and the food are important in creating the flavor. We’ve listed them below:

How to Pair Wine and Food like an Expert Wine Cheese and Meat PhotoFor Wine:

  • Fruit
  • Acidity
  • Alcohol level
  • Sweetness
  • Tannin

For Food:

  • Fattiness
  • Acidity
  • Saltiness
  • Sweetness
  • Bitterness

In addition to these characteristics, successful pairings take into consideration the richness, weight, and texture of both wine and food.

  • If you are eating a heavy dish, a more full-bodied wine would be appropriate.
  • Always remember to match texture to texture: light wine to light food and heavy wine to heavy food

Be careful about making the flavors in your food too complex if you are trying to pair it with a wine. If you don’t keep it simple, the flavor of the food will dominate the flavor of the wine.



Fatty FoodIf your dish is fatty

Meat and dairy products usually have high levels of fat, and if you wish to pair fatty foods with wine, you should search for one that can balance the fat with acid, with tannin, or match its richness with alcohol levels. The fat in the food will mellow out the harshness of the acidity or tannin, and allow you to taste the other flavors in the wine.

Once you’ve narrowed down your wines to the ones with the right characteristics to balance the fat, make your choice based on the flavors in the wine that will be highlighted (I personally like a fruity wine, but that’s my preference).


(Acidic Food) How to Pair Wine and Food like an Expert

If your dish is acidic

It is somewhat difficult to pair acidic food with wine because oftentimes it can overpower the wine’s flavor. The level of acidity in the wine you pair with this food should be equal to or more than the food itself so that the wine can still stand on its own.

Acidity can also hide tannin and bitterness in a wine and bring out sweetness, which can be great for those bold reds.



Salty FoodIf your dish is salty

Saltiness in a food will bring out sweetness, obscure tannin and elevate bitterness levels. Avoid high alcohol wines if you can because salty food will bring out its bitterness.

Obviously, sweet wines with salty food will complement each other well, and sparkling wines can be a great way to clean the salt from your palate.



Sweet FoodIf your dish is sweet

Dessert wines exist for a reason, but pairing sweet with sweet is a little more nuanced than you would think. Just like when you drink orange juice with sweet breakfast foods, the sweetness of your food disrupts the sweetness of the orange juice, and all you taste is tart and pulp.

The same thing goes for wine: if you are serving a dessert make sure that your wine is sweeter than your dish. The sweetness of each cancels the other out and you are left with tart or bitter-tasting wine.

If you are serving a savory dish with a sweet sauce, go for wines with higher levels of alcohol, as these can seem sweet and will balance the sweetness in the sauce.

(Bitter Foods) How to Pair Wine and Food like an ExpertIf your dish is bitter

Bitterness in a food can mask acidity in a wine, hide tannins, and allow you to taste the sweetness. Avoid pairing bitter wines with bitter foods, as they do not cancel each other out.

If you pair a bitter wine with a bitter food, they bitterness will just compound and create more bitterness. While some people enjoy bitter tastes, I think most of us can agree that bitterness is our least favorite flavor.

There’s not much else to say here, just, seriously, don’t pair a bitter wine with a bitter food.


Spicy Food*Bonus: If your dish is spicy*

We all have learned that horrible lesson when drinking spicy food to avoid carbonation and more acidity. At least, I know I did when I accidentally consumed a Chinese Red Pepper, panicked, and gulped down some ginger ale (it didn’t work out well, in case you were curious).

Therefore, if you’re cooking up a spicy dish, look to pair it with wine that is low in alcohol or something with a touch of sweetness (but not too much) to combat the fiery taste. White wines are usually best for spicy foods, but lighter reds can also be an option.


While these guidelines are relatively tried and true, it’s best to remember that everyone’s palate can be different.

Wine Folly has an interesting article about the different kinds of tasters that exist (most of us are average, but some of us are supertasters or non-tasters) and how that affects our dietary choices. If your tastebuds can dictate the kinds of foods you like to eat, then there’s no doubt that they can affect the wine you enjoy

Also, it’s important to experiment to find out what you like and not what others tell you to like. What is important is that you enjoy your food and wine together, so trust your palate and enjoy yourself.


If you’re ready to start cooking up a storm and picking out wines to match, Laurel Gray is offering FREE shipping on six or more bottles of wine and sauces. Learn more about the promotion here.


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