Pair my wine! The Newbie’s Guide to Food Pairing

If we may quote the great Kevin Zraly here, “There’s only one rule when it comes to matching wine and food: the best wine to pair with your meal is whatever you like. No matter what!”

Wine has a couple functions when it comes to food pairings:

  1. To enhance the flavor of the food that you are eating
  2. To cleanse your palate in between bites or after a flavorful course
  3. To automatically increase your perceived “classiness” at the next dinner party you go to (don’t act like you don’t feel like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when you pick up that glass)

If you know what wine you like, then go for it! If you need a little help picking out a wine to go with a meal for other people (for whom you DON’T know their wine preferences), here are some basic pairing rules and guidelines.

Cut the Cream

Remember that acidic and crisp wines (usually white) like a German Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot gris (grigio), and some Gewurtztraminers can cut through heavy rich/fatty and creamy dishes. They help cleanse the palate from cheeses and heavy starch dishes. Grab that white wine that makes you pucker for that alfredo sauce pasta pairing! *p.s. bubbles are great palate cleansers too, try a bubbly!**

Don’t Bore Me

If you have a very flavorful meal like spicy Indian dishes, paella, Mediterranean lamb dishes, goulash, or even your Chipotle burrito make sure to pair it with an equally expressive wine. A simple, thin, and soft wine will come up flat compared to the meal. It will taste like watered down grape juice and bore your guests (plus you). Try to stick to full-bodied wines like Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Barolo. Get some spicy red Zinfandel to dance with your Mexican feast.

Red loves Red

The darker the meat, the darker the wine. Trying to pair your favorite Moscato with that juicy sirloin isn’t really going to work unless your palate is trained to taste Moscato no matter what you eat. However, as a general rule, lighter proteins like fish, chicken, beans, shellfish, and veal pair best with a range of white wines. Darker proteins like duck, steak, pork, lamb, and any game meats like venison and rabbit go with red wines.

Houston, we have a problem

Like most things in life, there is an exception to every rule. Some foods can successfully pair with White and Red at the same time. These crossover foods are duck, salmon, tuna, and roasted chicken. These foods pair well with “crossover wines.” These are wines with similar body that help white wine drinkers switch to red and vice versa.

Chardonnay = Pinot Noir

This is probably the most famous crossover pairing. If you like one then you are likely to enjoy the other (only after finding the right producer and vintage for you, of course).

Saucy is Bossy

Don’t fall for that menu trick where you see swordfish and you’re like “oh yay, so now I need a glass of white wine” then you read the fine print and the fish is blackened with jerk seasonings smothered in a Jamaican spice sauce. Think again my friends. Order a glass of light red wine instead. The sauces are the bosses! Forget the protein! If the seasonings are strong then so is the wine.

Opposites Attract

We’ve heard that sweet and spicy are a match made in heaven. Wanna try it out? Next time you are feeling spicy foods try pairing it with a sweet California rose, a sugary Moscato, or a White Zinfandel. Let us know what happens!

The Comfort Zone – Safe Picks

So what if you have absolutely no idea after all of these tips? RELAX Kevin Zraly has got you covered. This experienced wine expert has a list of safe picks that go well with “virtually any dish.”

  1. Rose wines
  2. White Zinfandel
  3. Sparkling wines/Champagne
  4. German Riesling
  5. Pinot Grigio
  6. Sauvignon Blanc/Fume Blanc
  7. Chianti Classico
  8. Merlot
  9. Pinot Noir

I still need help! SOS!

Don’t worry! We have trusted references to share.

Pick up a copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World complete wine coursebook. It will teach you everything you need to know about wine EVER.

Is that too intense? Try the amazingly user-friendly book – Wine Folly: the essential guide to wine OR use their website to search any information that you need fast. This is Kristen’s personal favorite wine blog out there!

Need a dummy’s guide to wine? That actually exists! 

Don’t worry we promise it’s easier than you think.


Stay tuned for a more posts about pairing wines with dessert and with specific cheeses!


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