basic wine pairing wine varietals

Basic Wine Pairing

The basics for enjoying wine, particularly when cooking and pairing with food.

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 NoirSyrah 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.

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

White Wines


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.


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.


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

Sauvignon Blanc

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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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