Easy Tips for Pairing Food and Wine for the Best Flavors

Pairing the best wine with a dish is a relatively simple process. Food and wine pairing has much to do with food weight, texture, and ingredients.

Pairing the right food with the right wine can be a hotly-debated topic that is actually far less complex than many people believe. Although a popular guideline is to pair white wine with white meats and red wine with red meats, following this adage to the letter can be limiting in many cases. Spices, sauces, and methods of preparing certain dishes all play a role in selecting the best wine to complement them. Other factors that professional chefs and sommeliers consider are the textures and weights of foods; they often classify these as very light, light, medium, medium-to-heavy, and heavy foods.

Very light foods include seafood such as clams, oysters, and sole are usually paired with white wines such as Chablis or pinot Blanc. Lighter and sweeter champagnes are another option that works well. Light foods generally include shrimp, scallops, and pasta with marinara sauce; these are best paired with white wines such as pinot grigio or bardolino. Many light foods can also be enhanced with lighter red whites such as rioja or pinot noir.

Medium foods are typically chicken, duck, veal, and salmon dishes. The best white wines to pair with these include full-bodied champagne, chardonnay, or sauvignon Blanc. Red wines that go best with medium foods are shiraz or burgundy. Medium-to-heavy foods include lobster, ravioli, and many different types of cheeses; their associated wines include merlot, zinfandel, or cabernet sauvignon. Heavy foods such as steak or game meats are best paired with full-bodied Bordeaux or cabernet sauvignon.

These pairing guidelines are not set in stone; they simply serve as general reference points. The main factor to consider is the intensity of flavor that comes from various sauces used to flavor the meat or seafood. Many dishes get their primary taste from sauces that need to be considered for the best wine selection.

Heavier sauces made from cream, butter and eggs tend to go well with wines such as chardonnay or white burgundy. These sauces include alfredo or carbonara that are served over chicken, veal, or pasta. Red sauces such as vodka tomato or puttanesca have primarily tomato, oil, and garlic as their primary ingredients. These tend to be paired best with red Chianti or Syrah. Sauces that have various spicy ingredients often go well with wines such as merlot or chardonnay. When pairing a wine with a sauce, a good rule of thumb is also to consider the overall flavor combination of the whole dish rather than its individual components.

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