Food & Wine Pairing: The Basics
How do you know which wine to pair with certain foods? Which white wine is the best? Is better wine usually more expensive? How much should I pay for a bottle of wine? Do I need to go a specialty beverage store for the best selection?
The good news is, there’s no fast and hard rule when it comes to wine, so you really can’t make a bad choice. However, there are ways to narrow down which wines to serve for each particular occasion.
With all of the choices, though, it can be overwhelming to find the right wine. Read on – I’ve got you covered!
I know a guy…
Full disclosure: my husband is a sommelier. He’s not one by trade, but he’s so passionate about wine, that he studied for one year to get his Level One Sommelier Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is my source of wine knowledge.
If there’s one thing to take away from reading this, it’s this: Drink what you like. Really! It all comes down to personal preference and what best suits your palate. However, if you want to enhance the food that you are serving, here are some guidelines.
Consider your cuisine
Light & Dry: If you’re serving a lighter dish like fish or a salad, you may want to stick with a lighter, drier wine, such as sauvignon blanc, albarino, or pinot grigio.
Richer Whites: Shellfish pairs beautifully with sparkling wine and champagne, while chicken is perfect with richer whites like chardonnay and viognier.
Medium Reds: A red pasta dish calls for a like-minded medium red selection, such as sangiovese, tempranillo, pinto noir or a merlot.
Bold & Heavy: A heavier meat dish pairs well with a heavier wine, maybe a cabernet, syrah or bordeaux.
Consider your guests
There will always be the beer or liquor drinker, while some may be experienced winos. My rule of thumb is to find out my guests’ alcohol or non-alcohol preferences beforehand. A well-stocked bar arsenal can be your best friend here. That way, there’s no awkwardness when it comes time to serving drinks. Plus, you know you’ll always drink the leftovers.
Consider your setting
Are you serving a brunch, a happy hour with hors d’oerves, or an elegant late night dinner?
The time of day may help dictate your wine selection:
- A chilled, beautiful rosé or prosecco would be appropriate for a brunch.
- If you’re having a cheese board on the front porch, an easy-to-drink, simple pinot noir or white burgundy would work.
- A rich, formal dinner calls for something big and more complex. Perhaps a well-rounded chardonnay, a full-bodied cabernet, a shiraz, or zinfandel. Click here for photos from a recent dinner I hosted in our backyard.
Even my husband will ask the wine steward at his favorite gourmet grocery store (or big box wine store) for advice or a new suggestion. They are usually very knowledgeable and if you give them a budget, however big or small, they can be a great resource for you. What’s an average price for a decent bottle of wine? Probably $25. However, you’ll find some beautiful summer rosé wines in the $10-$15 range, and you’ll find some amazing French Bordeaux wines in the hundreds.
Don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re serving, and what you’ve liked or disliked in the past — they can tailor a selection just for your event. Try something new – you may be introduced to a wine variety that you’ve never heard of, and it just may become your favorite.
If you want to do your research at home, there are a few great websites to help as well:
If you’re into documentaries, there’s a really cool one about going through the rigorous Master Sommelier wine testing process called Somm, and the follow-up film Somm: Into the Bottle.