Food and Wine Pairing Guide
The art of food and wine pairing has been around for centuries, and for good reason: Food and wine craftily paired can really elevate a dining experience. A favorite method of taking your dinner party to the next level and impressing guests, it can also be used as a way to elevate a simple weeknight dinner. But there are so many dishes and types of wine to choose from, how does one know which foods and wines go together to make the perfect pairing? To make your life easy, we’ve put together this handy food and wine pairing guide to help you learn the ins and outs and become a master of pairing food and wine.
Tips for Pairing Food and Wine
Pairing a bottle of wine with your favorite dish is a pleasant and sophisticated combination that will help enhance and highlight the flavor of each. Its mission is not to obscure the flavor or counteract it, rather, it should provide the diner with a rich sensory experience. This may make it seem like finding that perfect bottle of wine to complement a dish is a complicated task, however, it’s actually very simple if you know a few basic tips:
- Food and wine fall into different categories based on their flavor components: sweet, salty, bitter, acidic, fatty, and spicy.
- Any food can be paired with wine, the balance is knowing whether it requires a complementary or contrasting wine pairing. Complementary pairings will create a balance by having similar flavor profiles, while contrasting will create a balance through different flavor profiles.
- Red wines tend to have more bitter flavor components and go great with bold meats, while white wines are more acidic and are paired best with lighter meats.
Besides finding food and wine pairings that elevate the taste of each, there are a few factors that should also be considered when serving wine that will help complement your dining experience:
- Corked wine bottles: If the wine you’re serving is in a corked bottle, be sure to store it on its side before uncorking and serving. The cork helps protect the wine from oxygen, which causes premature oxidation and affects the flavor. Laying the bottle on its side will prevent the cork from drying out and letting air into the bottle.
- Decanting: This step will help to remove any sediment within the wine to prevent it from ending up in your glass. It will also allow the wine to breathe, helping to smooth out the bitter taste of wine.
- Temperature: The characteristics of each wine are affected by temperature, which helps to bring out its flavor profile. Whites are better served chilled, between 45° F and 50° F, while reds are better served between 55° F and 65° F.
Wine and Food Pairing Guide
While there are hundreds of options and no real wrong way to food and wine, some combinations are more suitable and traditional than others. There are no hard and fast rules as to which wines go best with a specific dish, but it can still feel daunting for those who are new to combining wine and food. Use this quick wine and food pairing list as a guide if you need a few pairing ideas to get started.
Wines and Seafood
You can’t go wrong when pairing a dish from the sea with a nice white wine, but not all seafood is created equal and this should be taken into consideration when finding the perfect bottle to match. Fish that is fatty or is served alongside a rich and buttery sauce like lobster, crab, or shrimp, is served best with an oaked chardonnay, which will help highlight those heavier flavors. If you have a fish on the leaner side, like tilapia, sea bass, or flounder, opt for a light but crisp white like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc.
Wines and Poultry
Much like seafood, the type of wine to pair with a poultry dish depends on the type of bird and method of cooking. Poultry prepared with spiced sauces, like BBQ chicken, go great with a bold wine like malbec or shiraz. If you’re doing a simpler preparation of turkey or chicken breast, pair the meal with a dry white, like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. Darker, gamier birds like duck are paired great with a medium-body red, like pinot noir or zinfandel.
Wines and Red Meats
Red meats are known for their bolder flavors and pair best with bold red wines with powerful, full-bodied flavors. The best wine for steak is a full-body red. Cabernet sauvignon features tannins that will cleanse and refresh the palate after each bite of a meat prepared with lots of herbs. A red wine with spicy notes, like Syrah, goes great with heavily seasoned burgers, so there is more than one option when deciding what wine goes with steak.
Wines and Cheeses
Wine and cheese are one of the most popular pairings and also one of the most simple to put together. An easy rule of thumb is to match bold wine with bold cheese, and mild wine with mild cheese. Popular cheese and wine combinations are cabernet sauvignon with sharp cheddar or aged Gouda, Chardonnay with a buttery cheese like Triple Créme or Brie, and pinot grigio with Ménage or feta. Mild cheeses, like Swiss or even a mozzarella cheese spread, can easily be paired with almost any wine. Check out our selection of wine and cheese gift baskets for some inspiration (or just let us do the work for you).
Wines and Desserts
Main courses don’t get all of the fun when it comes to food and wine pairings, and having a sweet dessert paired with a full-bodied wine is a great way to end an evening. Caramel and chocolate desserts pair fantastically with red wines like zinfandel, merlot, or a red winemaker’s blend. Fruity desserts, like pies and cobblers, go great with sparkling white, Champagne, or riesling.
Pairing Guide for the Most Popular Wines
If you’ve got a cabinet stocked with your favorite wine and are looking for the best foods to pair with it, check out these popular combinations.
Cabernet Sauvignon Pairing
Cabernet sauvignon goes great with steaks (especially well-marbled cuts like ribeye or prime rib), lamb, or a tender slice of filet mignon. For vegetarian options, pair with a dish created with portobello mushrooms.
Serve chardonnay with mild or buttery dishes. This wine goes best with meaty fishes, poultry, or pork dishes with subtle seasonings and flavors. Avoid serving with highly seasoned or spicy dishes.
Sauvignon Blanc Pairing
Being a refreshing white with herbaceous notes, sauvignon blanc goes best with foods that feature similar green herbs. Seasoned white meats and rich vegetable dishes featuring zucchini, asparagus, and dill are traditional favorites.
Pinot Noir Pairing
One of the best attributes to pinot noir is that it’s versatile and can be light or rich, depending on the region it was produced in. Light pinots pair well with cold meats and charcuterie boards, while full-bodied pinots go great with meats like lamb, grilled steak, or venison.
Merlot is a fruity, popular red wine that pairs easily with many dishes. This wine pairs nicely with lighter meats, like chicken or dark meats that are lightly spiced. It also goes well served alongside a plate of roasted vegetables.
The high acidic and low sugar levels of Champagne and sparkling wine make them some of the most versatile wines for food. While many people feel it’s only used to celebrate special occasions, it actually pairs nicely with dishes featuring mushrooms, pasta, and risotto with creamy sauces, or light fish dishes. Add a little flair by browsing our Champagne gift baskets.
Rosé is a dry, yet full-bodied wine that is refreshing and best served chilled. It generally goes well with delicate foods, such as a simple roast chicken, grilled fish, or couscous. It also pairs well with light appetizers such as hummus, salads, and olive boards.
Zinfandel can be a full-, medium- or light-bodied wine and the food pairing it goes with depends on the varietal. The flavors in lighter zinfandels are fresh and fruity, pairing well with roast turkey and dishes with tomatoes. Medium-bodied zinfandels are well-balanced and complex, complementing meats like pork, lamb chops, and sausage. Fuller-bodied zinfandels are rich and dense, completing any robust meal featuring hearty pastas, barbecue, and lamb.
If you’re planning on hosting a dinner party or just looking for a fun way to elevate your basic weekday dinners for the family, the information laid out in this wine pairing guide will help guarantee your food and wine pairing is a hit. This guide is best used as a starting off point — the possibilities are endless when it comes to finding the perfect food and wine pairings. Play around with some of your favorite dishes and wines to find the pairing that works best for you.
Hickory Farms has a wide selection of wine and foods that are perfect for pairing and will help make your job of finding a delicious pairing that much easier. Browse the Hickory Farms website today to find the perfect wine gift baskets for your next occasion.
Be sure to check out the other sections of our Complete Guide to the Wine Gift Giving Process.