The most important factor that goes into pairing a bottle of wine with food are the ingredients of the dish. Think of the stand out flavours, will it be light, high in protein, accompanied by a sauce etc.? A bit of thought and planning will help you decide which wine (or wines) complement your dish best. Wine pairing can seem a daunting task to many, but we hope the simple guidelines below will help you to understanding the underlying principles of it.
We want to take the opportunity to make clear this is not an exact science as it’s all about personal taste. There’s plenty of room for experimentation and personal taste.
Wine pairing rules
Pair modest with modest, and outstanding with outstanding
The most important fundamental rule of all. At its most basic, don’t pair a £30 bottle of red to accompany a bowl of macaroni cheese, nor cook an expensive cut of beef to have with a £5 bottle from the supermarket.
Rich with rich, and light with light
The second most important rule; A bold wine paired with a light meal will overpower the dish masking all of the flavours. Vice versa will make the wine taste weak and watery.
Tannic wines with meals high in proteins.
We’ve all heard this statement before, ‘Red wine pairs with meat and white with fish’. Although true most of the time, a more accurate rule would be, ‘full-bodied wines with full-bodied dishes’. The reason for this lies in the tannic character of the wine. Good pairings can happen between fish and certain red wines because these are low in tannins and have a high acidity too. Think of tannins like the grainy surface of a mortar and pestle grinding the proteins that are found in food. Big tannins and low protein foods, and the wine will taste harsh and overpower the dish. A wine too low in tannins and a meal high in proteins, the wine will taste bleak.
Complement or oppose?
Knowing the profile of the wine will allow us to pair it with a meal that has similar characteristics. For example the spiciness of wines made from Syrah grapes will go particularly well with dishes containing peppery flavours. If you want to create a contrast to highlight a characteristic of the food or wine, go ahead with caution as you might end up with an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
Origin with origin
Something that is worth taking into account is that wine and local cuisines have evolved in parallel, meaning they tend to complement each other (at least this is true in the ‘Old World’). A regional match is always your best match.
Think about flexibility
Some wines possess certain characteristics that make them easy to pair with a large range of foods. These wines are usually low in tannins, fairly acidic, and have a fruity profile. A Chianti, Beaujolais or Garnacha wine will match a lot of different dishes.
Saltiness versus acidity
When pairing especially salty dishes think of acidic wines. The acidity of the wine will balance the alkali from the salt, acting as a cleansing agent, and will clear the saltiness from your palate.
Always take notes
Being able to remember the taste of wines we drink along the way will definitely help us to pair them with food in the future. Write down your tasting notes for particular wines and refer back to these rules and you’ll be sure to master food pairings.