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Food and Wine Pairing Guide

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

A blonde woman holding a glass of red wine and smiling at a man with text that says, "Food and Wine Pairing Guide."

Trying to plan the perfect menu for your upcoming party or gathering? Choosing the right wines to accompany your dish is a strategic process, as you'll want to complement and round out different flavors to create the best possible dining experience for your guests.

If you aren't quite sure where to begin when matching wines to foods, we've created this handy guide to help you out. Read on to discover some of the best food and wine pairings to please your taste buds!

Why Is Wine and Food Pairing Important?

The main goal of wine and food pairing is to find combinations of flavor and texture that create a more enjoyable tasting experience overall. However, wine and food pairing can be subjective. What may be the ideal pairing for one person may not be as pleasant for another.

There are a couple of ways to create wine and food pairings. You can select a wine first, then seek out foods that match that variety. Or, you can select a recipe first, then research wines that would complement that meal. Ultimately, the best way to find the perfect wine and dish pairings is to taste them yourself.

To help you along, we'll provide some general recommendations for wines and food flavor profiles that accompany one another.

What Flavors Should I Pair With Wine?

Different flavor profiles of foods tend to complement certain wine varieties over others. When matched with the right dish, wine can enhance and round out specific tastes. Below are some flavor profiles and wines they tend to pair best with.

1. Fatty

Dishes that are rich in cream, butter or animal fat typically call for an equally rich, concentrated wine. Tannins are naturally occurring compounds in grape seeds, skins and stems that add bitterness to wine. Because high-fat foods such as steak diminish the perception of tannins, robust wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot take on a smoother, less intense taste when paired with these dishes. While white wines can have tannins, they're more common in red wines.

A general rule of thumb is to pair red meats and other fatty dishes with red wines. The acidity cuts through the food's richness to balance the flavors and serves as a palate cleanser.

2. Acidic

Acidic foods like goat cheese and grapefruit tend to pair well with wines that are acidic as well, such as a Sauvignon Blanc. Dishes that are rich in vinegar, lemon juice or other acidic ingredients complement acidic wines by softening and balancing their flavor. A helpful tip to remember is that the wine should be more acidic than the food.

3. Salty

Salty foods such as parmesan and feta cheese, olives, oysters and cured meats taste best when paired with dry sparkling wines or acidic reds and whites. Meanwhile, oaky and low-acid wines don't tend to mix as well with salty foods.

4. Sweet

Sweet desserts such as cake, pie and pastries complement sweet wines and dessert wines. Chocolatey desserts like mousse and truffles tend to pair well with berry wines, Ruby Port, chocolate wines and Shiraz. Creme brulee and vanilla-based desserts taste better with Moscato, Gewürztraminer, Sauternes or Barsac. Pairing wine with desserts tastes best when the wine is sweeter than the food.

Below are some other dessert and wine pairings:

  • Apple pie, apple crisp and pear desserts pair well with German Riesling, Gewüerztraminer, Prosecco and Moscato d'Asti.

  • Lemon meringue pie and tart desserts go well with ice wine, late harvest wines and champagne.

  • Pumpkin pie and warm spice desserts pair wonderfully with Tawny Port, Australian Dessert Muscat, Madeira and Tokaji.

5. Spicy

Spicier foods such as Mexican cuisine, hot sausage and pepperoni tend to pair well with sweet, fruity wines. If your meal is on the spicy side, go with a sweet Rosé, Riesling, Zinfandel or Gewürztraminer. The light, sweet flavors of these wines help balance out spicy dishes while complementing their subtle sweetness at the same time.

Methods of Wine Pairing

There are two general methods when it comes to matching wine and food — congruent and contrasting wine pairing. Let's explore these methods more in detail and some specific pairing examples of each one.

Congruent Pairing

A congruent wine pairing balances out wine and food by enhancing shared flavor compounds. For instance, mac and cheese or another creamy pasta matched with a similar wine — like a creamy white Chardonnay or Viognier — creates a congruent pairing. Another example of this concept is pairing a light, acidic Sauvignon Blanc with a delicate sauce or fish.

Contrasting Pairing

Meanwhile, a contrasting pairing occurs when you create a balance between opposing tastes. While the food and wine may not have similar flavor characteristics, their differences complement one another.

For example, a full-bodied acidic red can accompany the rich fattiness of a ribeye or leg of lamb to create a contrasting pairing. While these carry opposing flavors, they have similar intensity levels to create the right balance of flavor — the red wine is as acidic as the ribeye is rich.

Creating contrasting pairings can be challenging at times, as it isn't always clear when opposing flavors will work well together. Once again, the best way to determine this is by sampling different foods and wines together yourself. This way, you can see exactly how they interact with each other.

Other Considerations For Wine Pairing

In addition to food flavor profiles and wine pairing methods, below are some other considerations to keep in mind when wine pairing snacks and meals.

1. Wine Age

The age of a wine can also help you determine which foods to pair it with. As wine ages, the surface area of the tannins reduces, giving the wine a gentler, smoother and fuller taste. However, keep in mind that not every wine should be aged as thoroughly as others.

While varieties such as Port, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah tend to achieve the best flavors after several years of aging, other types like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and most rosés don't have the right structure for good aging. Determine which varieties of aged or unaged wines you prefer and try to choose complementary foods.

2. Food Texture

Consider the texture of your dish before choosing a wine to pair it with. For example, desserts such as pudding, mousse and cream pie are characterized by smooth, creamy textures — consider pairing one of these dishes with a sweet dessert wine. Meanwhile, savory dishes such as beef and roasted vegetables take on a firmer texture. With this type of meal, you'd likely want to opt for a dry red or white instead.

3. Dry vs. Sweet Wines

A wine's dryness or sweetness level can also largely determine the best foods to pair it with. While drier wine varieties generally complement savory dishes like vegetables, fish and meat, sweet and dessert wines pair well with cake, creme brulee and other desserts.

4. Red vs. White Wines

White wines are created from white grapes, and winemakers separate their skins from the juice before the fermentation process. Meanwhile, red wine is made from black or dark red grapes, and skins are kept on the grapes throughout fermentation. This causes reds and whites to have notable differences in flavor, aroma and tannins. While whites are typically characterized by crisp and fruity notes, reds tend to have deep, bitter and rich flavors.

For these reasons, whites and reds tend to complement different dishes and flavor profiles. The following section will explore some examples of red and white wine food pairings.

Red Wine Pairings

Searching for the right dish to pair with your glass of red wine? Below are some foods that pair wonderfully with reds.

1. Cheese

While cheese pairs wonderfully with nearly any wine, it especially complements a variety of reds. While white wines pair well with more mild cheeses, aged cheeses like gouda and cheddar help soften the intense tannins found in many reds.

2. Red Meat Dishes

A hearty dish of roast beef, pork, steak or lamb is ideal to enjoy with a medium to full-bodied red, such as a Cabernet or Merlot. The bold meat flavorings pair wonderfully with rich, complex notes found in these red wines.

3. Pasta and Red Sauce

While white wines tend to complement creamy white pasta sauces, red wines are excellent with red sauce. If your pasta dish is topped with tomato sauce, try pairing your meal with a rich Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon or Sangiovese. Add some beef to your sauce for an extra boost of protein and flavor!

4. Chocolate

While rich desserts can sometimes overwhelm the subtle notes in certain wines, a silky bold red wine can pair wonderfully with intense chocolate desserts. Below are some chocolate and red wine pairing recommendations:

  • Milk chocolate pairs with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Ruby Port and Madeira.

  • If you're eating dark chocolate, try Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Port.

  • Chocolate with sea salt is perfect with a Zinfandel or Malmsey Madeira.

  • Any kind of chocolate with mint is good with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

  • Chocolate with berries pairs well with Ruby Port, Brachetto d'Acqui and Banyuls.

5. Mushrooms

A robust Pinot Noir complements the rich, savory flavors of portobello mushrooms stuffed with spinach. Consider this delicious pairing for your next dinner party or gathering.

6. Pizza

Enjoy a slice of pizza with a glass of red wine for the ultimate Friday night meal! Keep in mind that garlic and tomato on pizza can sometimes create a slight metallic wine taste, so it's a good idea to pair pizza with a lightly acidic red wine to balance out flavors. Consider a Grenache, Pinot Noir or Syrah wine to enjoy alongside this classic dish.

7. Salmon

A smooth, refreshing glass of Merlot, Pinot Noir or Zinfandel calls for a savory salmon fillet. The wine's fresh fruity notes are excellent for toning down the “fishiness” of the salmon to smooth out its flavor. It also complements the texture and aromas of the fish wonderfully. Alternatively, you can swap out salmon with tuna for an equally effective wine and food combo.

White Wine Pairings

Next, below are some tasty white wine and food pairings to help inspire your next meal.

1. Lobster

Fresh, hot lobster pairs wonderfully with an oak-aged Chardonnay. Both carry a creamy, buttery flavor and texture, creating the prime congruent wine and food pairing. In addition, the wine's acidity and subtle oaky flavor help cleanse your palate while enhancing the dish for the ideal dining experience.

2. Apple Pie

Apple pastries and desserts tend to pair nicely with sweet whites for the ultimate dessert combo. Nothing says autumn quite like a warm slice of apple pie and a glass of crisp white. The rich apple flavor and warm spices combined with a buttery, flaky crust are comforting and delicious to enjoy on their own, but the right wine can enhance these flavors all the more. Try pairing a tasty slice of apple pie with some Gewüerztraminer, Riesling, Prosecco or Moscato d'Asti.

3. Cheese

While sharp, aged cheeses tend to round out the flavors of red wines, soft and fresh cheeses complement the light, crisp notes found in white wines. Try pairing some brie, creamy camembert or fresh mozzarella with a glass of Chardonnay, champagne or Prosecco for an ultra-refreshing evening snack or appetizer.

4. Roasted Vegetables

For a savory and nutritious meal, roasted vegetables tend to match nicely with dry white wines. Try pairing this meal with a delicious glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner or Pinot Grigio for the ideal blend of flavor.

5. Chicken Dishes

Red wines are known to complement the rich, hearty flavors of steak, beef and lamb — however, white wines enhance the softer flavors of chicken. Below are some white wine and chicken pairing recommendations:

  • Roast chicken: A savory, juicy roast chicken paris well with Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling.

  • Grilled chicken: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are perfect for dishes featuring grilled chicken.

  • Spicy chicken dishes: If you're having a spicy chicken meal, try Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer.

If you prefer turkey over chicken, white wine pairs wonderfully with this dish as well.

6. Pasta and White Sauce

Red wines may complement pasta with tomato sauce, but white wine paired with creamy white pasta sauce is the ultimate sweet and savory combo. Classic mac and cheese, fettuccine alfredo, spaghetti carbonara, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio and similar dishes are even more delicious when matched with a glass of Chardonnay, Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc.

7. Oysters

Finally, oysters are a wonderful complement to crisp white wine. The tangy acidity combined with the citrus notes of the wine balances out the oysters and brings out their prominent flavors. Try sipping a glass of Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, champagne, Chardonnay or Albariño with your oysters for a rich flavorful blend. If you're a fan of seafood, you're sure to enjoy this tasty pairing!

As a reminder, the only foolproof way to determine your favorite wine and food pairings is to test out these combinations for yourself. Try some different wine varieties with your favorite dishes to see which ones suit your taste preferences. Happy wine and food hunting!

Shop Wine Cabinets Online at HB Home Furnishings

Now that you've learned some of the food and wine pairing basics, you can create the ideal menu for your next party or gathering. Wine is the perfect celebratory beverage to enjoy with friends and family — and with the right cabinet that provides ample space to store your wines, it's much easier to host.

At HB Home, our elegant, functional wine and spirit cabinets provide plenty of room for bottles, mixing instruments and other accessories for hassle-free storage. Browse our selection of wine and spirit cabinets today!

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