New Rules for Pairing Wine with Food

By Sarah Holmes

Up until a couple of decades ago, people decided which wine to serve with dinner based on these restrictive rules of thumb: White wine with white meats and fish, red wine with beef, and sweet wines with desserts, period. Fortunately, our minds and tastebuds have broadened, and we’ve realized that since food can have flavors every bit as complex as those found in wines, the possibilities for delicious pairings are almost infinite. And now, unencumbered by hard-n-fast rules for what goes with what, we’re free to experiment ~ and to find what best suits our individual palates. Just because no one else appreciates the beauty of champagne served with a bologna sandwich doesn’t mean the combination can’t be your personal favorite, right?

But if you’re the type of person who functions better with a few loose guidelines, no problem. First, it’s best to aim for one end of the spectrum or the other ~ that is, go with either complementary flavors or contrasting flavors. This advice may sound contradictory, but it works. Take for example a dish infused with citrus ~ it would be complemented perfectly by a fruity wine, just as a hearty beef stew would do nicely with a full-bodied red wine and a more delicate, unadorned dish, broiled filet of sole, perhaps, tastes best when accompanied by a crisp, dry wine. A meal topped with a sinfully rich cream and butter sauce would contrast nicely with a dry, acidic wine, while a filling loaf of bread and a heavy cheese can stand up to being served with a heartier red.

Here are a few more facts to keep in mind as you explore the Wine/Food relationship:

A wine high in tannins (like Bordeaux) mated with a food high in tannins (like walnuts) will result in the wine tasting almost unpalatably dry and bitter.
Protein tends to somewhat neutralize tannins, so rare beef might render a very tannic wine much more enjoyable.

Salty foods mute the sweetness and enhance the fruitiness of a sweet wine. Delicate foods ~ veal, for example ~ will be overwhelmed by a full-bodied red wine. By the same token, a hearty meat lasagna will overpower a dry, medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc.

Some wines will lend their primary flavor to a dish, giving the food a layer or nuance it didn’t initially have.

Wines with high acid content taste less acidic when served with salty or sweet foods; acidic wines can also offset oily foods.

Some wine and food combinations result in a flavor that was not originally present in either one ~ and for good reason. For instance, if you try white meat turkey with red Bordeaux, you’ll fine that the resulting metallic taste is very unpleasant.

Tannic wines make sugary foods taste less sweet; salty foods bring out the tannins.

So (and isn’t this wonderful advice to receive!), although there are certainly guiding principles, the best advice of all is to experiment, taste, combine, and enjoy every sip of the process of discovering your favorite food and drink combinations. There is nothing more glorious than realizing that the food and wine you have chosen to pair are absolutely, deliciously a match made in heaven.