Basic Wine Pairing

Pairing Tips

Build your meal around the wine.

Get your wine first and get two bottles-one to taste while you're cooking and one to share. Red wine, such as Pinot Nair, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, complements red meat; fish and poultry go well with whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay.

Match weight & consider flavor.

A food’s weight and a wine’s weight should be similar (The idea is that a heavy food will overshadow a light wine, and vice versa). If they’re not paired that way, there should be a strategic reason why. Heavy foods are robust. A hearty pasta with red sauce or smoked ribeye pair best with a big tannic, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.

Complementary Flavors: When similar flavors interact, they can enhance each other.  An oaky chardonnay would pair well with a cedar wood-plank salmon dish. Or the cut-grass aroma of sauvignon blanc would pair well with a bean-sprout stir fry.

Contrasting Flavors: Where complementary flavors combine to excel in a specific area, contrasting flavors fill in each other’s gaps. Think of a lightly sweet grenache paired with a lemony chicken piccata. Or a creamy havarti cheese with a relatively acidic wine like a Chianti.

Let your wine breathe.

Wine, especially red wine, often is in the bottle for a long period of time, so a bit of air releases the aromas and flavors. With a red let the bottle sit open for 20 to 30 minutes before drinking, pour it into a wide-mouth glass, and swirl the wine several times. White wine is more delicate, so serve it in a glass with a more tapered mouth and only give it a swirl or two.

Start with your driest wine.

During a tasting or meal that involves more than one type of wine, start with the driest wine. Order of progression: dry whites; semidry whites; lighter reds; Pinot Noir; more full-bodied reds such as a Cabernet Sauvignon; and something sweeter, such as a Riesling, at the end.

Experiment. Again and again.

As you gain more wine tasting experience, the subtleties and complexities of an individual wine will become more evident and you can confidently bend the food-pairing "rules" to suit your tastes. Download and print our handy Wine Tasting Sheet, Wine Glass Guide, and Stock the Bar List to help further your home-based experiential learning.  

Remember: A standard wine "pour" is 5 ounces per glass. Therefore, a 750ml wine bottle has about 5 servings.


White Wines

Chardonnay

Buttery, often oaky, with hints of apples and pears. Chardonnay is delicious with creamy pasta dishes, fish, and chicken.

Chenin Blanc

A chameleon grape that thrives in France's Loire Valley. The wine is made dry, off-dry, dessert-style sweet, and even sparkling and tasting of peach, apple, and pear.

Gewurztraminer

For people who love full -throttle fruit and are not afraid of a specter of sweetness. A wild character that mellows with strong cheeses, smoked fish, onion tarts, and Chinese, Thai, or Indian foods.

Pinot Grigio

Light and crisp with hints of fruit; pairs well with many light foods, but just as drinkable alone.

Riesling

Sweet, romantic, and elegant, but with a nice acidic streak. Pairs well with ham, chicken, porkand fish.

Sauvignon Blanc

Crisp, grassy, and perfect with goat cheese or fish. New Zealand varieties are especially popular.

Viognier

An exotic profile that starts with heady aromatics-honeysuckle, apricot, spice-and leads into generous notes of melon, apricot, and peach. Goes well with lobster, creamy pasta, and simple chicken dishes.

Red Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon

Appeals to sippers who like a bolder wine with cassis, black cherry fruit, and mouth-drying tannins. Pairs perfectly with steak.

Chianti/Sangiovese

Cherry fruit and tart acidity that practically dance the tarantella with classic Italian red sauces.

Malbec

Deep purple wine that appeals to novice red lovers and fans of "serious" wines alike, striking a balance of dark fruits (blackberry, black cherry), gritty but manageable tannins, and hints of chocolate, earth, and toasty oak. Pairs well with grilled meat and pizza.

Merlot

Nicely fruit-forward with plum flavors and soft, velvety textures that make this wine easy-drinking and much-loved. Pairs well with anything.

Pinot Noir

A silky red with flavor characteristics including cherry, plum, and strawberry, with hints of nutmeg, chocolate, and vanilla. Delicious with any food. Try an Oregon variety.

Rioja/Tempranillo

Spain's best-known table wine, and often compared to pinot noir and chianti for its tangy fruit and mid-weight body. Pairs well with bold-flavored food and tapas.

Syrah/Shiraz

From jam my and light to-at the high end-spicy and peppery. Meshes well with onion, garlic, and herbes de Provence.

Zinfandel

The red, not the white. Bursting with fruit, and perfect with saucy barbecue, spaghetti and meatballs, and chili.

 Rosé Wines

Grenache Rosé

Brilliant ruby-red with hints of strawberry, hibiscus, orange, and subtle notes of allspice. Serve cold to keep it lively. Best with dishes featuring tomato, eggplant, and red pepper, including aromatic spices from the Middle East, Morocco, and East India.

Pinot Noir Rosé

Aromas of watermelon, crabapple, and raspberries, with hints of strawberry. Crisp and dry. Enjoy with salmon burgers, thyme-roasted chicken, corn dishes, and goat cheese with herb crackers.

Provence Rosé

Fresh, crisp, and dry, it pairs well with most dishes. Aromas of watermelon, rose petals, and fresh strawberries.


Champagne and Sparkling Wines

All champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are champagnes. Both range greatly in style and origin. Sparkling wine may come from a variety of regions; the name champagne is reserved for sparkling wines produced according to specific guidelines in the Champagne region of France. Some sparkling wines will be very dry, with crisp, toasty, and yeasty notes. Others will be fuller with the fruit. Look for citrus, apple, pear, and floral notes in white sparklers; find strawberry, raspberry, and cherry notes in pink sparklers. If you like a dry sparkler, look for brut on the label; this is the most common dry style. Extra dry or extra sec is dry, but with a little sweetness. If you prefer sweeter, lighter, easier-sipping sparkling wines, try prosecco and the somewhat sweeter Moscato d'Asti, both from Italy. Tip: If your opened sparkling wine is no longer bubbly, try adding a raisin to the bottle just before serving. Any remaining carbon dioxide will stick to the ridges of the bumpy raisin and release bubbles again.


Cooking with Wine

  • Use quality products. Heat will bring out the worst characteristics of poor-quality wine. Avoid using anything marketed as a “cooking wine”. In other words, in terms of quality, do not cook with a wine you would not drink.
  • After wine has been added, pay attention to cooking time. The longer a dish cooks, the more alcohol evaporates from the wine thus concentrating its flavors.
  • Brown/ sauté foods before adding wine to a dish such as a sauce or stew. This allows the surface of the foods to caramelize.
  • Acids in wine may react with aluminum or (non-enameled) cast-iron cookware.
  • The amount of alcohol left after a wine has been added to a dish depends on how and how long a dish is cooled (for example, flambé versus marinade).

Wine Storage and Temperature

There are a variety of ways to store your wines to preserve, protect, and age them properly (Wine refrigerators / chillers, home wine cellars, a dark corner of a pantry or cabinet, etc.). No matter how you choose to store your wines, the goal is to:

  • Minimize exposure to light
  • Minimize exposure to extreme temperatures
  • Maintain a temperature of 55° to 58°F
  • Minimize exposure to strong odors
  • Minimize movement and vibration
  • Keep the cork wet (a bottle of wine should be stored on its side or upside down)
  • Maintain an ideal humidity of 60 to 75%

Serving temperature is another consideration. Wine served too cold often lacks aroma and may taste sour. Wines served too hot may have a medicinal smell. Different wine varietals should be served at different temperatures--generally:

  • 38° to 45°F: Light White Wines; Sparkling Wines / Champagne
  • 45° to 55°F: Rich, White Wines; Fruity White Wines; Rosé
  • 55° to 60°F: Light Red Wines; Medium-Bodied Red Wines
  • 60° to 68°F: Medium-Bodied Red Wines; Rich, Full-Bodied Red Wines; Fortified Wines

Why (and how) you should aerate your wine

Because taste cannot occur without smell, the vast majority of wine tasting is related to discerning a wine's "bouquet" or aroma. Smelling a wine poured straight from the bottle may be the quickest method, but it is rather limiting. There are a couple of ways to increase, and even maximize, a wine's bouquet for a better tasting experience by first aerating the wine. To “aerate” means to “introduce air into” something. Aerating wine further releases the aromas of a wine.

An easy way is to allow the wine to sit exposed to air for a few minutes in a wine glass best suited for that varietal. Just before smelling, gently swirl the wine in the glass, then taste.

An even better way to aerate the wine is to pour the wine into a glass decanter before it is served in individual glasses. Decanters are an important part of any wine enthusiast’s glass and barware collection.

While they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the basic structure of all are designed to accommodate the contents of a full bottle of wine. The function of a decanter is to enlarge the surface area of wine that is exposed to air. This magnifies the amount of wine that is aerated.

While decanting is helpful for red wines, there are wine tools on the market that address the aeration of white wines as well. The most useful aerators are variable, allowing one to adopt it for a wider variety of wines. They are simple to use as they rely up on gravity, angled pouring directly from the bottle, and designs that allows air to mix with the wine as it flows through the tool into a glass.


How to tell if a wine is faulty, has "turned", or may be undrinkable (oxidized or too old)?

  • Off Color. Red wines will be faded. White wines will be darker than they should be.
  • Cork Position. The cork has pushed out too far.
  • Off Odor. Examples: moldy, wet cardboard, rotten eggs, burned, band-aid or antiseptic smell.
  • Off Taste. Examples: astringent, vinegar, or unpleasant chemical.