10 Do's & Don’ts of Food and Wine Pairing

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Two plates of simply prepared food on a table with red and white wine glasses

Have you ever spent hours planning and preparing the perfect meal only to find that it tasted bland when paired with your wine choice? Maybe you brought your favorite wine to a dinner party and felt confused if it tasted completely different than what you remember. 

Food and wine pairing is an art that takes a little knowledge and a lot of open-mindedness to get right. Enhance the flavors of both the food and the wine with these wine-pairing tips - you’ll be able to make a great match and create a memorable meal every time.

1. Do Match Intensity 

In general, you want to match light foods with a light wine and rich foods with a bold wine. Whether it’s the food or the wine that has the dominant flavor, be sure to pair accordingly with that flavor. 

For example, lamb has a richness that can clobber a white or rosé. However, lamb would complement a complex red wine well, like a  red Rhone blend.

Likewise, lighter-fare meals, such as fish, chicken, or vegetables, will sing with those whites and rosés. 

2. Do Match Acids 

Just like with cooking, you want a pop of acid to bring out the flavors. However, wine will taste dull if it’s paired with highly acidic food.  — even the versatile Pinot Noir can be rendered lifeless next to an especially vinegary dish. 

Creamy pasta dishes are low-acid, and a white like Trebbiano or  Chardonnay will offer a perfect balance. On the other hand, fish cooked with lemon is a high-acid dish, harmonizing with a highly acidic, full-flavored wine like Sauvignon Blanc

3. Do Pair Fatty Foods and Tannic Wines 

Tannins are the astringent compounds in the grape’s skin, seeds, and stems that make your mouth feel a touch dry. High-fat foods counter that dryness and highlight more of the wine’s flavor. 

So, if you’re dying to serve that Cabernet Sauvignon you love, serve it with something like prime rib, whose rich, melty fats will mellow the wine’s tannins and boost its essence. 

4. Do Pair Spicy Foods with Sweeter Wines 

It’s important to remember that a sauce can dictate the flavor profile of a dish. For example, Thai curries and Korean chili sauces will be more flavorful than the proteins or vegetables they’re covering. 

Spicy foods like these pair well with sweeter wines like Riesling or fruity rosés because the sweetness will help coat your tongue and fight off the burn. Whichever wine you choose, make sure to chill it down for maximum satisfaction.

5. Do Think “What Grows Together Goes Together”

If you aren’t sure how to start, “what grows together goes together” is a classic mnemonic device for good food and wine pairing. Foods and wines from the same regions generally complement each other and have been paired for as long as they’ve existed. This tip can come in handy when pairing wine with cheese

Fondue, for example, is often associated with the wine grape Chasselas, which grows in Switzerland, Germany, and Eastern France. Fondue is mostly made of cheeses like Gruyere or Comté and comes from the same regions, making it a foolproof match with Chasselas wines.  

6. Don’t Pair High-Alcohol Wines with Spicy Foods 

A high alcohol content makes spicy food taste even more intense. Not to mention that you’ll be drinking more than usual to cool down your mouth and stave off the burn! Staying under 12% will keep that spice to a manageable level, allowing you to drink a little longer.

7. Don’t Serve Food Sweeter Than the Wine 

It might sound counterintuitive, but if your food is sweeter than your wine, the wine will end up tasting bitter. This is why dessert wines are served almost exclusively with desserts. A common wine pairing mistake is serving Champagne with cake. Though both are celebratory and fun, the sweetness and richness of the cake (especially chocolate cake) will make a drier, more acidic Champagne taste off.

8. Do or Don’t Pair Red Wine with Fish 

You've probably heard it before, that red wine and fish do not pair well together. The reasoning is that some red wines can make fish taste too fishy. Additionally, heavier reds can be too overpowering for a delicate white fish. In general, this is sound advice but there are some exceptions, such as serving a light or medium bodied red with a meatier fish such as a grilled tuna steak or swordfish.

It’s worth noting that your options are not limited when pairing white wines with fish. Buttery sauces go with rich whites like Chardonnay, while light herby sauces go with crisp, dry whites like Gruner Veltliner

9. Don’t Just Stick to What You Know 

Even though you like a particular wine, it may not pair well with the food you’ll be eating. Experimenting is the best way to learn what pairings will work out best. 

Keeping a wine journal is a great way to keep track of what you like, as is taking a photo of the wine label next to your meal. Ask a sommelier or shop consultant for suggestions, and then ask them why they work. This will help you develop a sense for pairings in the future.

For further at-home research, consult out a  food and wine pairing chart. Pairing charts are useful tools that help you match foods and wines based on meal type, ingredients, cuisine type, or wine varietal. 

Use a basic chart to help you get the hang of pairing. A more advanced chart will help you pair based on more nuanced categories like food preparation methods or multiple ingredients.

10. Don’t Believe There Are Any Hard Rules! 

Trust your palate and go with what you like. Just because a wine and a food are known to go together doesn’t mean you’ll want that pairing. 

For a fun way to discover your own preferences and those of your friends, throw a tasting party with a few different dishes and two or three wines to taste with each dish. Take notes and compare them to see just how varied everyone’s palates can be.

Final Thoughts

There’s certainly much to consider beyond meal types alone when making food and wine pairing decisions. However, it’s not hard to present an outstanding for yourself and guests if you have help at your fingertips. For more information, visit JJ Buckley Fine Wines and speak with a consultant to help you decide on the best pairings for your palate. Whatever you decide, JJ Buckley will have what you need.