There are so many aspects to good dining – décor, ambiance, and of course terrific food. However, if you want to give your guests a truly special experience, it’s important to learn the fundamentals of food and wine pairings.
First, the basics. Some of the more common wine varieties, listed from lightest to heaviest, include:
Whites: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier
Reds: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet, Zinfandel
Each of these varietals has unique flavors. Some of these flavors can be subtle while others can dominate your taste buds.
Pinot Grigio – apple, pear
Sauvignon Blanc – citrus, herbaceous
Riesling – lime, citrus, tropical fruit
Chardonnay – apple, pear, tropical fruit, vanilla, butter
Pinot Noir – light red fruit (strawberry, cranberry, raspberry), earthy (mushroom, cedar)
Merlot – cherry, black fruits, vanilla
Syrah – spice (pepper), blueberry, black fruits
Cabernet – cassis, black fruits, vanilla
Zinfandel – wild black fruits (brambleberry, blueberry)
When it comes to pairing wine with food, you want to pick wine that will either complement or contrast the primary flavors and/or “mouthfeel” (think weight on the palette) of the food being served. These flavors do not usually come from the actual “meat” of the dish, but rather the sauce or preparation. Therefore, it is possible to break the generalization of red wine with red meat and white wine with fish, poultry, or pork.
The general pairings below are suggested by the weight of the wine – in other words, the first wine suggested is the lightest and the last the heaviest. The asterisk denotes the most “traditional” pairing for both a red and white.
Beef – Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet*
Duck/Game – Pinot Noir*, Syrah, Merlot
Lamb/Veal – Pinot Noir*, Merlot
Pasta – Pinot Grigio*, Sauvignon Blanc, Chianti*, Merlot
Pork – Pinot Grigio*, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah*, Merlot
Poultry – Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc*, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir*
Salmon – Pinot Grigio*, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir*
Crab/Lobster – Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier*
Tuna – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot
White Fish – Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir
Vegetarian – Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc*, Pinot Noir*, Merlot
Creating menus that include appropriate wines can really take your get-togethers to the next level. Of course, there’s a skill to learning to pair food with wine, but the fun of learning is in the practice!