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Simple Wine and Food Pairings: How to Choose Wine to Complement Your Meal

Updated on August 21, 2013

How to Pair Food and Wine

When paired together properly, the right wine can bring out subtle flavors of a meal in such a manner that your dinner will be unforgettable. It used to be that people thought: white wine for white meats or fish, and red wine for red meats.

Put aside those rules, because they no longer apply. Wines should be chosen to complement food based on a number of factors: the wine's age, fruitiness, dryness and complexity, and the food's spiciness, amount of fat, sauces used in preparation, etc.

Do you need to hire a sommelier to learn proper enjoyment of food and wine?

Absolutely not.

Nor do you need to think about purchasing $50 bottles of wine, or buying or preparing gourmet dinners. Any meal is an appropriate occasion to experiment and decide what works best for your palette.

Pairing red wine with Stuffed Calamari
Pairing red wine with Stuffed Calamari | Source

Expert Advice on Wine/Food Pairing

Primary Varietals of Wine Sold in the United States

  • Pinot Gris
  • Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin Blanc
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel
  • Syrah
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Rosé
  • Sparkling Wine

Choosing Wine to go with Your Meal

The basic tip for food and wine pairing is to consider the tastes and flavors of each. Since the meal is going to be the focal point, start there. Do the ingredients require rich sauces or lots of garlic? If so, you will probably need a red wine that can stand up to such a dish. A soft Pinot Noir may not do the job, but a nice Zinfandel (the red, not the white version) could be just the right match.

More delicate flavors such as white, flaky fish and sauteed vegetables, would not fare as well against a bold wine. And bold is not just red, but also heavy oak-y Chardonnays, as well. Consider a lighter, cleaner Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio in Italian) or even a Sauvignon Blanc.

Knowing the complexities of a meal may come naturally, but many people don't understand the basics of wine varietals and their nuances. You really do not need to talk in snobby "wine talk," to describe a Merlot as "jammy, or with a smoke nose." Again, this is about figuring out what you enjoy, and what tastes best when you eat dinner.

How to Host a Wine Tasting Party

Wine and Food Pairings

Wine Tastings to Determine How to Match Wine and Food

From heavy tasting to light, you can generally (but not everytime) expect the wines mentioned above to be arranged as follows:

Whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio). Gewurztraminer is a sweeter wine, and thus has to be paired very carefully so as not to be cloying.

Reds: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir.

If you are just starting wine tasting and appreciation, a good bet is to get a small notebook in which you can jot down your thoughts after trying particular wines from certain vineyards. This will also help you keep track of the best values for your buck. You may be surprised to find many wines under $20 a bottle that can easily compete with those 2-3 times more expensive.

Tastings are available at vineyards, but if you don't happen to live in a wine region, then keep an eye on your grocery store or local wine cellars. Often, you can register ahead online to find out about special tasting programs, which may even be free if you buy a bottle of one of the featured wines!

Wine tasting to determine what wines go well with food
Wine tasting to determine what wines go well with food | Source
Champagne, like other wines, can be an excellent complement to a dish, dessert or meal
Champagne, like other wines, can be an excellent complement to a dish, dessert or meal | Source

Wine Bargains for All

Not only can you find some great wine bargains, but pairing them with food also can be economical. Summertime is a great season to prepare simple meals such as grilled chicken, fruit salad, and light rolls. With the longer days ahead, you can try a number of soft reds, whites and even some roses (not white zinfandel, but true French roses - there is a difference)! In cooler seasons, many wine aficionados change over to sweaters and deep reds. But some meals demand a Chardonnay instead - particularly creamy pasta, or some salmon dishes (though others may instead pair better with a Pinot Noir). A beef soup, or even simple spaghetti can be complimented well with rich red wine. Whatever you are cooking in the kitchen can be matched with a good, inexpensive wine. So, how are you going to get that bottle open?

The best thing about wine and food pairing is that there truly is no right or wrong answer when it comes to personal taste. If you enjoy your meal and drink, then that's what matters most. So, I raise a glass to you! Cheers and happy tastings!


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    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Teresa, that sounds like a fun event. I'll have to try the minimal food approach to a wine tasting/wine pairing. However, I'm with you - I love a nice meal to go with the wine. Best, Steph

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 6 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Great article. We just had a wine tasting in which we used an apple slice covered in sugar, a lemon wedge and salt to illustrate the process of pairing wine with foods. This saved us the cost and effort of preparing food for our food and wine pairing. It worked, but I would much rather have a meal to enjoy my wine with. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

    • Caregiver-007 profile image

      Margaret Hampton 9 years ago from Florida

      Great work, Steph. Wines can be a fascinating subject when you really get into them. For entertaining, the right match is important and can be an artform - unless your guest is fixed in his/her ways and has an absolute favorite, bar none.

      Then again, for personal consumption, just finding your favorite and sticking with it for a daily touch can do quite well. I like a dry wine, so Pinot Grigio and some Chardonnays do well for me - good in sauces for chicken or fish, too. For reds, I love a good Bordeaux, but for "everyday" with red meat I like a Pinot Noir.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks preettrendz - I'm just writing about what works for me. :-)

    • preettrendz profile image

      preettrendz 9 years ago from Mumbai, India

      hey great work it was great since I have written official articles on wine pairing, corkscrews, european wines......regional pairings.....