How to Master the Art of Wine Pairing


Wine and food pairing is a centuries-old tradition. Culinary experts, chefs, and the wine and restaurant industry have broken the "art" down to a science. You don't have to be an expert to marry the perfect wine with your favorite meals. Consider these suggestions, and remember, the best wine pairing is ultimately about what tastes best to you.

Pair Wine with Red Meat:

  1. Red wine and red meat is a delectable culinary match. The type of red wine you choose, however, depends on the flavor of the meat and the way it is prepared.

  2. Grilled: Meat grilled over charcoals will take on a smoky flavor and will need to be paired with enough depth to stand up to the rich, charred taste. Open a bottle of cabernet for a nice complement.

  3. Roasted: Roasts are versatile -- almost any red wine would be a good pairing. A safe bet would be a pinot noir or Burgundy wine.

  4. Braised: Wine-braised meat, or meat served with a wine reduction sauce, should be paired with a wine from a similar region and grape.

  5. When in doubt: A crisp rose wine is a perfect match for sliced meat appetizers like beef carpaccio, but also versatile enough to complement smoked meats and tangy sauces.

Pair Wine with Fish:

  1. White wines are generally accepted as the best choice for most seafood dishes, but, as with all wine pairings, there are no hard and fast rules.

  2. Delicate: Fresh, light whites will serve almost any kind of seafood well and are especially delicious with delicate white fish.

  3. Strong: If the fish is strong and flavorful, whether in its natural taste or the way it is prepared, a strong wine should follow suit; a pinot blanc or dry chardonnay pair well with blackened, smoked, or savory dishes. Meaty fishes, such as swordfish or tuna, are strong enough to hold up against a light red wine, such as pinot noir.

  4. Fried: Fried dishes are best complemented by the light, crisp flavor of sparkling white wines like Champagne, Prosecco, or Cava. For the same reason light beers pair well with fried foods, the bubbles of sparkling wine cut through the weight of these entrees and provide a crisp finish.

  5. When in doubt: Though the right wine pairing depends much on the way the fish is cooked, a light white wine is generally a safe choice.

Pair Wine with Pasta:

  1. The flavors you mix with your plate of spaghetti (or rigatoni, or penne) will determine which wine should go in your glass -- red or white, dry or sweet.

  2. Meat sauces: Brunello, a Tuscan wine made from Sangiovese, has both the acidity to match the tangy tomato sauce and the richness to complement the veal, pork, and beef meatballs.

  3. Pesto: A simple, lively white will cut through the pesto's richness and complement its herbal and nutty flavors.

  4. Alfredo: A forcefully acidic white wine will balance this sauce's considerable richness. Plus, sauvignon blanc's grassy, green flavors go well with asparagus.

  5. When in doubt: Chianti, a staple of Italian cuisine, is a perfect pair for many traditional Italian pasta dishes and has the richness to stand up to cheesy baked pastas.

Pair Wine with Cheese:

  1. Wine and cheese is a match made in culinary heaven. With so many varieties of each, however, it can be difficult to find the best pairing. It may be wise to classify your favorite cheese and pick a wine to match its unique taste.

  2. Soft cheeses: White wine matches best with soft cheeses and stronger flavors. These cheeses have a layer of fat on them that typically does not pair well with red wines. Cheeses like brie, Camembert, goat cheese, and Gouda need to be paired with a highly acidic wine, like chardonnay, pinot gris, or pinot grigio, to cut through their rich flavor and mouth-coating texture.

  3. Hard cheeses: Shiraz is terrific with hard grated cheeses like cheddar, Asiago, and Parmesan.

  4. Mild cheeses: The key to perfect wine and cheese pairing is balance. As such, mild-flavored cheeses are most commonly paired with crisp, fruity or robust wines. A mild, un-aged cheddar or colby cheese is perfect juxtapositions to a sharp, sparkling Champagne or robust port.

  5. Strong cheeses: A strong cheese needs to be paired with an equally strong wine. Very sharp cheeses, like aged cheddar, take very well to a very dry red wine. Riesling or a Sauterne also works very well, so long as the wine is not too sweet. Many aged cheeses are salty enough to counteract the wines high in tannins. Blue cheese is an exception; it's salty, pungent, and spicy taste pairs best with a sweeter wine that clings to blue-veined cheeses.

  6. When in doubt: Still stumped? Follow these simple wine- and cheese-pairing rules:

    Cheese Pairing Tips:

    • Pair by region. For example, a good Italian Chianti with potent Parmesan will offer a taste bud-tingling mix.

    • White wines match best with soft cheeses and stronger flavors.

    • Red wines match best with hard cheeses and milder flavors.

    • Fruity and sweet white wines and dessert wines work well with a wide range of cheeses.

    • The more pungent the cheese, the sweeter the wine.

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