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Pairing Food and Wine

Updated on November 24, 2007
Photo credit: Google images
Photo credit: Google images

It's a classic scene from any "fish-out-of-water" story: our hapless hero is dining in a super snooty, high-class dining establishment, and is presented with a wine list shortly after ordering some sumptuous banquet. His eyes are wide as he scans over the myriad of foreign names, and he begins to flush the same charming shade as very fine claret. What ever should he do?

Never fear, with the following tips and examples, matching food and wine will be an adventure with a guaranteed happy, and delectable, ending.

The Basics

Expertly pairing food and wine is, of course, a very refined culinary art. However, by following a few guidelines, any one can treat their friends, family, or other loved ones to a delicious meal.

1.) Light foods go with light wines. Heavy foods go with heavy wines. Delicate meals need a light wine. Heavier meals need a bigger wine.

This is fairly straight-forward; remember that a heavy wine is one that is rich in flavor and dominates one's palette, whereas a light wine has a more delicate, unobtrusive taste. For instance, filet of Sole or most other fish dishes would be paired with a Sauvignon Blanc, not a Zinfandel, which would overpower the fish. Conversely a pesto pizza with a lot of cheese would taste excellent with the Zinfandel, not the Sauvignon Blanc, which would be dominated by the pizza.

2.) Sweet wines with sweet foods

Consider this, during dessert, a sweet, heavy pudding is supposed to coat the palate, and overload it with sugar, completely changing the way a dry wine tastes. Therefore, the combination of a sweet wine with pudding is an example of food and wine complimenting one another, both working together in a sweet, sweet way.

3.) Methods of cooking impact the flavor of one's dish

Steaming, poaching and boiling result in light dishes and impart minimal flavors; Sautéing produces a little more body and imparts slightly more flavor; Roasting, braising and baking results in a heavier dish; Grilling adds an intense, smoky flavor that caramelizes or browns the food, and deep-frying obviously produces a heavy dish that coats the mouth.

Here's a little list of traditional pairings:

* Sauvignon Blanc - White or light fish, mild cheese, and fruit

* Chardonnay - Grilled chicken, olives, salmon, shellfish, and grilled fish, anything with a cream sauce

* Pinot Noir - Light meats, chicken, lamb, grilled anything, game birds (like quail) salmon

* Merlot - Pasta, red meat, duck, smoked or grilled foods

* Zinfandel - Tomato pasta dishes, pizza, pesto, red meats, chicken with heavy sauces

* Cabernet Sauvignon - Red meats, especially a juicy barbequed steak, grilled and smoked foods

* Syrah - Red meats, spicy pizzas, herbed sauces on red meat, turkey

* Chianti- Pasta, chicken

* Dry (as opposed to sweet) Rosé - Salads, pasta salads, barbeque chicken or fish, light spicy foods

Around the World in 80 Dishes

There are also a few suggestions for eating international cuisine:

Asia- Pair cold sesame noodles, coconut milk, curry shrimp soup, and steamed vegetables with Sauvignon Blanc.

France- Apple, sage and onion soup with cheddar-bacon, steak and thyme, and roasted fingerling frites with Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone.

Spain- Serve Amontillado Sherry with tomato and garlic rubbed toast, shrimp with garlic, and paella; Spain's other signature wine, Rioja Reserva, is also a winner.

Italy- Chicken Saltimbocca, pesto pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and broccoli and grilled panetone should be enjoyed with Pinot Grigio.

Middle East- Technically, for those of the Islamic faith, the consumption of wine and spirits is discouraged. However, you're still invited to try babaganosh, a savory eggplant appetizer, cumin, cardamom, and lemon with chicken tajine and some couscous with white raisins and dates paired with El Coto Rioja or a Lebanese Chateau Musar.

A Perfect Couple: Wine and Chocolate

The same rules apply, light dishes with light wine, and heavy with heavy.

* Fluffy desserts like a rich, chocolate mousse: Italian light sweet sparkling wine (Asti Spumante); Unfortified sweet wines from the Muscat family, or a ripe California Cabernet or Merlot

* Medium weigh desserts like chocolate cake: Muscat de Beames-de-Venise, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat vins doux naturals from Languedoc-Roussillon, or Muscatels de Valencia

* Heavy desserts like a double chocolate cake or truffles: Ruby port, Australian liqueur, or Malaga

Practice, Practice, Practice

Much more enjoyable than learning your scales on whatever childhood instrument your parents made you play, practicing matching food and wine is something I recommend you do as often as possible. Here are some suggestions as to how:

Experiment with two or more wines: Cook or have someone else prepare a tasty meal and open a few bottles of wine that follow the pairing rules. Taste each without the food, and vice versa (food without the wine). Then, taste one wine and then the food and taste the other wine, then the food. Does one wine match better with the food? Remember, this is great for parties and other friendly get-togethers!

Plan a meal around a special bottle of wine: Do you have a bottle of wine stashed away for some special occasion? Perhaps it's something you received as a gift from a friend, or maybe it's one you purchased just for your own indulgence. Whatever the reason, it's time to uncork it and have some fun. If is a Cabernet, barbeque a steak with buttery sauce, and if it's a Chardonnay, think about shellfish or a heavy cream sauce on a chicken. However, if you're having guests, make sure that they're interested in the type of wine you'll be drinking. A good host's first responsibility is always to one's guests.

Go to Restaurant that has a food and wine pairing menu: No, I'm not suggesting you go to Chez Francoise or anything terrifying like that. However, you'd be surprised how many good-quality restaurants now offer food and wine pairing meals. It's simple; all you have to do is pay a set price and sit-back and relax. You'll then receive three or four different servings, each of which is paired with a different wine. Consider it a fun field-trip during your wine education.



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    • profile image

      Rose Barrett 8 years ago

      I attended a food and wine pairing seminar a few years ago and it was truly memorable. I love the adventure of finding the right wine to go with a filet mignon or lobster tail. Nice hub.

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 8 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      this is a great advice for wine pairings. great lens

    • profile image

      Malaga Golf 10 years ago

      Some fine advice indeed especially for us novices! Thanks.

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 10 years ago from Sydney

      Good Food ans some Sparkling or maybe a little of the real Champs.

      Great finish to 2007.

      See me after the 6th Dec.