Woman holding a glass of wine during dinner

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!