Wine Pairings Guide: How to Pick Wine for Your Meal?

Let’s be honest – the Covid pandemic has put the kibosh on our dining out. First you could, then you couldn’t, then you could but only if you were outdoors and in your bubble, then you couldn’t again and, at the time of going to press, you could but everyone suspects that soon we won’t be able to. It’s snakes and ladders the whole time. With the rules changing on an almost daily basis, if you’re anything like me you will have turned to dining in. 

However, diner parties as we once knew them have died. The seated dinner party, such as our parents might have given, is a thing of the past. No one replies to a written invitation (although I still love to get these through the letterbox), and no hostess has the time to dream up a multi-course, formal dinner party, with different china and linens, cocktails and canapes. Adults today — specifically, millennials and Gen X’ers — don’t have the money, time, or space for the types of fancy dinner parties their parents might have hosted in the 1970s. 

But that doesn’t mean that the humble dinner party is dead – far from it. It’s just evolved. Today what we want from a dinner party is casual but well thought out: a good group of like-minded friends; good food and of course, excellent wine. 

Get that right and you’re guaranteed a great night. But get it wrong and the exact opposite will happen. So, in order to make sure your night is top not flop, we have put together this quick note on the perfect wine pairing tips. Bon appetit! 

General Tips for Pairing Wine and Food

A little bit of homework is needed when serving food with wine. In order to get the best out of your wine flavors and you’ll need to know a few basic tips:

  1. What is the basic taste of the dish? Are you serving salty, sweet, spicy…? 
  1. Remember that the perfect pairings rely on the wine being sweeter than the dish. We also like to suggest that wines should be as rich in flavour as the main ingredient.
  1. Traditionally, red wine tastes better with meat, while white wine with fish or light meats such as chicken.
  1. Bitter wine pair better with fatty meals.
  1. When serving a dish with a sauce (such as pasta dishes or stews), match the wine to this, rather than the meat. 

The Two Methods of Pairing Wine and Food

Food and wine pairings can go one of two ways. Either you go congruent, or you go contrasting. 

Congruent Pairings

Congruent pairings are when the wine chosen enhances the dish by amplifying the flavours. For example, pairing pasta carbonara with a creamy white wine like Chardonnay is ideal, as you intensify the tastes in both the plate and the glass. The idea of a congruent pairing is to focus on a single flavour component that two foods have in common. Similarly, dessert wines are sweet wines, made for elevating and accentuating the sugar in both. Red wines work particularly well with these types of wine pairings – the breadth of flavours is so vast you are sure to find your pairing paradise.

Contrasting Pairings

A contrasting pairing creates balance by contrasting tastes and flavours. Also called a complementary pairing, this sort of pairing is when one flavour cuts through the others and balances out the richness. Think of a sweet white wine with spicy dishes (the sweetness balanced the spice), or acidic wines with your dessert menu. A glass of creamy Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio will pair perfectly with salty popcorn and will cut through the grease of fried dishes.

How to Pair Wine With Food?

If you listen to the experts, you’ll realise that some advice for pairing wine with food can seem unnecessarily strict. Here at Vindome, we like to take a more casual approach – we have already extolled the virtues of light, red wines with fish and a bold white with meat. Even if you want to think a little bit outside the box – and please do – there are a few tried and tested rules that mean you’ll get it right each and every time. 

Pinot Noir – Great With Mushrooms

Pinot Noir pairs well with a wide range of foods thanks to its softer tannins and great acidity. A full bodied Pinot Noir works exceptionally well with the earthy tastes of mushrooms, but don’t dismiss salmon or other fatty fish, roasted chicken or pasta dishes. The bigger, bolder tannic Pinots are amazing with hearty dishes – think stews, game and even tomatoey pizzas. 

Chardonnay – Perfect For Fatty & Creamy Dishes

Chardonnay is so versatile, it can pair well with most things. Dry, medium-bodied Chardonnays pair great with light meats, fish and seafood. Having said that, a general rule of thumb is food that goes well with butter is complemented by Chardonnay, while food that works well with tart dressings – such as when you put lemon on smoked salmon – is better with a more acidic wine. Italian Chardonnays are great choices to serve with pasta dishes with traditional Italian food such as polenta, pasta and risotto.

Champagne – Pair With Salty Meals

While many people think of Champagne as a pre-dinner tipple, you should not overlook its potential as a wine to have with food. The subtle flavours of many sparkling wines – Champagne included – have notes of sweetness in them, perfect for complementing salty foods. Champers is also a great match with citrus desserts, greasy foods like fried chicken or potatoes (yes, really), and of course, caviar and oysters.

Cabernet Sauvignon – A Good Match For Red Meat

A rich wine needs a rich dish. Thus, Cabernet Sauvignon finds its perfect match with the strong taste of red meat. In fact, almost any red meat, especially when served rare, is going to do the trick. However, if you’re a veggie and a Cab Sav lover don’t despair. Cabernet Sauvignon – notably the lighter, European ones (new world wines tend to be higher in alcohol and thus stronger tasting) goes well with porcini mushrooms and strong cheeses. Blue cheeses pair notably well.

Pinot Grigio  – Goes With Seafood

Pinot Grigio’s light, fresh flavours work well with summery dishes like salads, chicken and seafood. We also like it with antipasti, light pasta dishes which are seafood or vegetable based and meaty seafood like octopus. Another pairing that works beautifully (so wrong it’s right) is Pinot Grigio and sushi.

Malbec – Suitable For Ribs

Malbec, along with other big tasting wines such as Shiraz and Côtes-du-Rhône are good choices for strong meats, particularly those that are grilled or barbecued. You’ll also find Malbec a great match for steak, pork, and lamb, as well as fattier fish like salmon and poultry with dark meat. The strong taste of game meat works wonderfully with Malbec.

Rosé – Great For Cheesy Dishes

Rosé hasn’t always been taken very seriously on the investment portfolio or the wine lover’s dinner table. Perhaps this is because it epitomises the carefree south of France lifestyle of sunshiny days and long aperitif hours. While all this is certainly true, we say just go with it. Rosé works fantastically with many foods because it has the acidity of white wine while still maintaining the fruity notes of red. So, next time you’re serving something summery such as grilled chicken, Niçoise salad, veggie skewers on the barbecue, lamb and even charcuterie and light cheeses, break open a bottle of pink. 

Now you’re up to date on which wines pair best with which foods, why not brush up your tasting skills with our how to taste wine blog here! 

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