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!


Six Hats: A Spicy Wine

Completing our first round of the Pamplemousse local wine club, we tried out Six Hats, a dangerously spicy and boozy wine11872820_892299377524782_79400050_n from South African. It’s a Shiraz, but don’t be fooled: this is no pre-dinner drink. This red packs a punch and demands the right food pairing to bring out its best flavors…and to save you from a premature buzz.

We made the mistake of trying this Fair Trade wine without food. The spicy zing startled both Kristen and I. By the time the landscapers needed us to move our wine party inside, we wondered, can we successfully move all this while pretending we’re totally sober? We shelved the wine for the rest of the day, it’s 14.5% alcohol content and strong flavors a bit too much for our casual afternoon get-together.

11900659_892299447524775_622132166_oWe gave the wine a second try, though, and it worked out much better. We paired the wine with some fresh BBQ, including steak tips, salmon, and grilled zucchini. The spicy burn to the palate was lightened by the meats, sauce, and charred flavors. This allowed the natural taste of the grapes to come through, and we experienced some of its fruity tastes. Still, even with a good meal, be warned of the alcohol content – it’s a bit higher than your standard wine.

Kristen: 3

Briana: 2

Average Rating: 2.5

5 Wines Paired with 5 Comfort Foods

Some days are so rough, you need comfort food and a glass. But it isn’t always easy to pair your fave indulgences correctly. Here are a few of our favorite comfort foods matched with a wine that will only add to the comforting experience, brought to you by our wine expert Kristen!

1. Mac and Cheese and Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc’s crisp tartness cuts well into the cheesy taste of this favorite comfort dish. Chardonnay could have been a good choice, but might be a bit too heavy to combine with the cheese sauce.

2. Pizza and red wines


We think we can pair pizza with just about anything if we put our heart to it, but there are a few rules to go by. We recommend pairing a white wine with white pizza, and red wine with red sauce. Easy enough to remember, right? However, we’re not matching colors, but tastes; a white wine won’t stand a chance next to a red saucy pizza, so we need to pair it with a fuller bodied wine. For your average pizza, we recommend Pinot Noir, red Zinfandel, or Cabernet Sauvignon.

3. Fried Chicken and crisp wines


Our wine expert Kristen has tried sangria with fried chicken because of its stronger mix of fruit juices to counter the greasy fried chicken. She also recommends Gewurztraminer-based wines, although they are difficult to find, its crisp flavor would cut the poultry taste well. We don’t recommend red wines for poultry, excepting a good duck!

4. Vanilla Ice cream and dessert wines: double the dessert!


Sweet wines pair best with vanilla ice cream. We would even suggest pouring a thick dessert red wine over a vanilla ice cream, especially if the wine is cherry or blueberry flavored!  Examples of these wines are Jackson-Triggs Ice wine, Sweet Baby vineyard Blueberry table wine, and Apfel Eis apple icewine from Harvard Ma winery (Still River Winery).

5. Dark chocolate gooey brownies and dark reds


Perhaps the greatest comfort food of all, we need a wine that can perfectly compliment a chocolaty brownie. In order to balance the deep sweetness of a brownie, we recommend dark reds like Shiraz, Merlot, or Temparnillo.

Did we miss any of your favorite comfort foods?

Image sources (CC Attribution):

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