Simple rules to get started pairing food and wine.
Drink what you like.
What you like to drink always takes precedence over any recommendation that we might make but don’t be scared to broaden your horizon. If you try a varietal you’re not fond of, try it again from a different country and producer. Every winemakers’ palate and terroir is different. You will be amazed how much difference there can be. Who knows? You may find your next favourite!
Start by thinking about the dish or meal as a whole. What are its dominant characteristics?
Is it mild or flavourful?
Is it fatty or lean?
Is it rich or acidic?
With these characteristics in mind, select a wine that will:
Keep flavours in balance.
Match mild foods with mild wines. Match big, flavourful foods with big, flavourful wines. (For example, pair a bold-flavoured Pepper Steak with a spicy, bold red Zinfandel.)
Similarly you generally want to match the richness of the food and the richness of the wine. (For example, pair a rich Chicken in Cream Sauce with a rich Chardonnay.)
Cleanse the palate with tanins or acids.
If you’re eating a relatively rich, ‘fatty’ dish and thinking about drinking a red wine (when you eat a beef steak, for example) you probably want a wine with some good tannin* structure in it to help cleanse the palate.
If you’re eating a very rich, ‘fatty’ dish and thinking about drinking a white wine (when you eat fried chicken, for example) you probably want to contrast the meal with a refreshingly crisp acidic wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc. You can ignore this rule for dishes that are just relatively fatty – such as Chicken in Cream Sauce – which will probably do better with a rich Chardonnay that can match their rich flavours.
Match Acids with Acids
If you’re eating a dish with a strong acidic content (such as Shrimp with Lemon or Pasta with Tomato Sauce) pair it with an acidic wine that can keep up with the acids in the food.
Acidic Wines and Cream Don’t Mix
Rich cream sauces will usually clash with an acidic wine like a Sauvignon Blanc. Think about it this way…If you squeezed lemon juice into a cup of milk, would it taste good?
Wine and Strong Spices
Strong spices, such as hot chili peppers in some Chinese or Indian food, can clash and destroy the flavours in a wine. In most cases, consider something spicy and sweet such as an off-dry Gewurtztraminer or Riesling. The residual sugar in the wine will also cool the fire in your mouth.
When In Doubt…
Typically, countries produce wine that is most suited to their native cuisine. So if you’re eating Italian food, think about having an Italian wine. This isn’t a requirement, but often helps simplify the decision.
* More About Tannins
Tannins can come from many places, including the skins of the grapes used in winemaking as well as the wood barrels a wine may have been aged in. Tannin tastes similar to the flavour you would get if you sucked on a tea bag. This astringent flavour is what helps strip the fats from your tongue and thereby cleanse the palate of the rich fats from a meal and provide a refined, refreshing drink.
Some studies have also indicated that tannin might help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Specifically, tannin might suppress the creation of a peptide that causes arteries to harden. The Tannat grape is proven to have the gretatest health benefits.