I’m sure as a general rule, everyone knows that when it comes to pairing wine and food, that dark red wines should be paired with red meat and white wines with fish. But what about other foods? Obviously you never want one flavour to overpower the other, but compliment and balance one another to bring out the best in each. Of course, this may sound over complicated when all you are hoping for is just to enjoy a glass of wine with your meal. Good thing we’ve put together this ultimate guide to wine and food pairings so that you can get the most out of your meals, without the stress of trying to guess!
White Wine: Rich, Dry, Sweet
White wines are fermented from white grapes without the skin or seeds included, which results in a much more floral and fruity tasting wine. While many whites have a naturally sweeter taste, not all white’s will be as sweet as another. The taste of a white wine can be broken down into rich, dry, or sweet.
Dry refers to a wine that actually isn’t sweet such as a Pinot Grigio; rich refers to a wine that is full-bodied or loaded with flavour, like a Chardonnay; while sweet wines, as the title suggests, are naturally much sweeter tasting like a Riesling or Moscato. These are wines that have had the fermentation process stopped early, before the yeast eats all the natural sugar.
Each category of rich, dry, or sweet wine will also pair differently with certain types of foods or spices, and will compliment the flavour of the meal better or bring out more in the taste of the wine.
Rich White: Chardonnay
Pair with: As a rich white, Chardonnay is a full-bodied tasting wine, yet also has a certain light crispness to it. Pairing with fatty and/or creamy foods, will compliment it best.
Food: Seafood for Chardonnay includes much of the same as the other whites, such as crab, shrimp, lobster, salmon, and trout. Poultry also includes chicken, turkey, and duck, as well as goose. Meats are paired best with veal or pork.
Herbs/spices: Herbs such as basil and saffron, and nutmeg, while spices such as curry and ginger pair well with this wine. These are also well suited seasonings for some of the game poultry, so you won’t have to worry about complications between seasonings and food.
Cheese: Brie, gouda, and jack parmesan are the best choices due to their creamy texture, which balances well with the crisp Chardonnay.
Avoid: Smoked meats.
Dry White: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio
Pair with: With dry whites, you want to pair them with foods that are similar in lightness or crispness of flavour. This will bring out more flavours from both the wine and the accompanying foods, without overpowering one or the other. As such, pair them with light and/or tangy foods.
Keep in mind that Sauvignon Blanc is much more aromatic and silky in taste than Pinot Grigio, while the latter having a much crisper taste, serves well as a palate cleanser. Many of the foods below will pair well with both, though there are some suggestion for each specifically to note.
Food: Seafood such as shrimp, oysters, or clams pair well with both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio as well as mussels, sole, trout, and salmon for the latter. Poultry includes chicken and turkey for both wines. Meats such as veal and pork pair with Sauvignon Blanc, while ham and salami pair with Pinot Grigio.
Cheese: Goat and mozzarella pair with both of these wines, while parmesan and brie pair best with Sauvignon Blanc, and ricotta and provolone pair better with Pinot Grigio.
Herbs/spices: If you like to season your food, keep in mind that this will also play a flavour role. A herb that pairs with both wines are basil, thyme, and tarragon, as well as oregano for Pinot Grigio.
Avoid: Red meat and blue cheese.
Sweet White: Riesling, Moscato and Gewürztraminer
Pair with: Similar to general sweet foods, sweet white’s can be paired with either complimenting sweetness or a touch of spice. So pairing with sweet and/or spicy will both result in different flavour experiences. However, keep in mind that sweet food with sweet wine should never be sweeter than the wine.
Riesling and Moscato have similar tastes with regards to their levels of sweetness, as both are naturally quite sweet. Typically, if you like one you will also enjoy the other. Gewürztraminer, while also sweet, has a richer and silkier taste as opposed to the slight crispness of Riesling or Moscato.
Food: Seafoods like crab, mussels, salmon, and shrimp will pair with any of these wines. Poultry for Riesling and Moscato include chicken and duck, while Gewürztraminer pairs best with turkey. Meats such as pork, ham (baked ham with Riesling), and sausage are good matches for all. Moscato in particular, pairs well with cured meats such as prosciutto or salami which naturally balance the sweetness of Moscato.
Herbs/spices: Herbs such as cilantro pairs well, while spices such as ginger and curry, will also bring out more flavours.
Cheese: Unlike the dry wines, blue cheese does pair well, specifically for Riesling or Moscato, while jalapeño jack, smoked gouda, and smoked mozzarella pair with Gewürztraminer. And soft, creamy cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, pair with Moscato.
Avoid: While sweet foods will pair with these sweet wines, avoid pairing foods that are even sweeter than the wine, as well as dark chocolate.
Red Wines: Light, Medium, Bold
Unlike white wines, red’s are fermented with the skin and seeds of the grape left on, creating the red colouring. Red wines are often much softer and richer in taste than the crisp and aromatic white wines. The taste of a red wine can be broken down into light, medium, or bold, however unlike the breakdown of whites, with red wines this refers to the level of alcohol in the wine. The more alcohol there is, the heavier the wine becomes and therefore the fuller it will feel in your mouth.
Light red’s are typically lighter in colour and will leave your mouth feeling drier after drinking it. A medium red is full of flavour and is a darker colour. These pair particularly well as a wine and food choice, and the flavour offered by medium red’s can range to match many dishes. Bold red or full-bodied red is the darkest of the wines and can be paired with food or simply enjoyed on its own. Bold red’s also serve as great palate-cleansers, so you can pair these very well with fatty food like steak.
Light Red: Pinot Noir
Pair with: Pinot Noir is a very light red, yet brings with it a very loaded fruity flavour. Unlike other light red’s as well, this wine brings a fine balance between dry and sweet that doesn’t leave your mouth feeling quite so dried out after drinking. Because of its fruity flavour, it pairs best with earthy and/or woody foods.
Food: Seafood should be salmon or yellowfin tuna. Poultry includes chicken, duck and game hens. Meats should be beef, lamb, pork or veal.
Herbs/spices: Sticking to that woody/earthy taste, herbs such as fennel seed, rosemary, or anise work well. Spices include cinnamon or pepper.
Cheese: Goat, feta, Swiss, gouda, and brie works best due to their either nutty or lighter flavour that isn’t overly intense and risks masking the taste of a light red.
Avoid: Smoked or salty foods.
Medium Red: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
Pair with: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are two of the most popular choices when it comes to medium red wine and food. They both have similar, yet complimenting flavours that are often blended together to balance out the other or another. On its own, though, Merlot makes for a drink that can be enjoyed separately or with food, while Cabernet Sauvignon leaves a slightly drier taste, but pairs very well with hearty foods. As such, pairing with rich and/or savoury foods is recommended.
Food: Seafood is limited to just Merlot, with salmon or tuna. Poultry such as duck works well with both, as well as chicken and game hen for Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the previously mentioned hearty meats, such as beef, venison, veal, lamb, or pork, pair with both well.
Herbs/spices: Spices and herbs that pair with hearty meats, also pair with these wines, so the flavour will be well matched. Herbs such as mint, rosemary, and thyme work best.
Cheese: Merlot pairs best with smoked gouda, cheddar, or parmesan. While Cabernet Sauvignon will pair better with aged jack, brie, or gorgonzola.
Avoid: Spicy foods or raw fish.
Bold Red: Syrah, Zinfandel
Pair with: Syrah is an incredibly silky and dark flavourful wine, with a flavour of plums or blueberries. Zinfandel similarly has flavours of dark fruit, though it leans towards black cherry and raspberry. Both wines also have notes of spice to them and, similar to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the two are sometimes blended together. These wines should be paired with bold and/or fatty foods to compliment the boldness of the wines themselves.
Food: Zinfandel does not have any seafood pairings, but Syrah goes well with salmon or tuna. Poultry for both include duck, as well as chicken for Syrah. Meats, such as beef, lamb, pork, and sausage pair well.
Herbs/spices: Herbs include bay leaf, mint, and rosemary for both, as well as oregano and fennel seed for Zinfandel. Spices include cinnamon, clove, and black pepper for Zinfandel.
Cheese: Dry jack, smoked gouda, and parmesan will pair well with both.
Avoid: Egg dishes and light salads.
Dessert wines, as the name suggests, are wines that are often paired with desserts due to their particularly sweet taste. These wines are produced from extra sweet wine grapes, and the fermentation process is stopped well before the yeast is able to turn the natural sugar to alcohol. Dessert wines range from sparkling, degree of sweetness and fortified wine (which is what this section will focus on). Some previously mentioned wines, such as certain Moscato’s, Gewürztraminer or Riesling, can be used as a dessert wine and food pair.
Fortified Wine: Sherry, Port, Madeira
Pair with: Fortified wines add wine brandy to the wine, which both increases the alcohol content and makes the wine either drier or sweeter. Sherries ranges in taste from dry to sweet, depending on how they are prepared, but they tend to develop nutty aromatics. Cream sherry is the sweetest and tends towards fig and date flavours. Port wines are typically served in much smaller glasses, are very silky and very sweet. Madeira wine, is produced using up to four different grapes. This wine has a distinct walnut flavour, and a slicker taste. Because of the nature of these wines, they pair best with rich and/or sweet dishes.
Sweets: Dark or milk chocolates, as well as many desserts such as ice creams, almond cakes, or tarts will combine with the silky, sweet tastes of these wines very well.
Cheese/nuts: Stronger cheeses such as stilton, gorgonzola, or well-aged cheddar, will pair particularly well with these. As for nuts, walnuts will compliment the naturally occurring nut tastes as well as simply add a new flavour dimension.
Avoid: Seafood, white meat, and citrus.
Now that you know how best to pair your choice of wine and food, there are a few bits of wine etiquette that everyone should know, as well as some tips and tricks when it comes to wine care.
1. Always store your wine in a cool and dark place, and keep it on its side.
2. Red wine should be finished within two or three days after opening. White wine can last for five to seven days in the fridge. Dessert wines can last months in a cool, dark place.
3. If you are serving wine for a dinner, you can get about five 5oz glasses of wine per 750ml bottle. So keep that in mind when serving your guests and when deciding on how many bottles to buy!
4. Make sure you let your wine breath after opening. This allows oxygen to interact and incorporate with the wine, which will allow more subtle flavours and aromas to intensify, as well as possibly soften any excess dryness when drinking.
5. Have fun! And remember, you can never have too much wine!