If you practically have a panic attack when you’re tasked with picking the right wine to go with a big meal, you’re not alone. It can certainly seem like a daunting task, considering there are entire books dedicated to the topic, but it really doesn’t have to be a stressful situation. Below, our top five easy—seriously!—tips to keep in mind when’re pairing wine and food. You might want to bookmark this cheat sheet.
Trust Your Taste Above All Else.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should always drink and eat what you like, so throw out everything you’ve been told about wine and food pairings. When in doubt, pick a wine you love. That way, even if the pairing isn’t perfect, you’ll still enjoy what you’re drinking.
It’s All About Balance.
Wine and food should be partners, both helping each other, and neither should overwhelm the other. Rich foods need a rich wine that won’t fade in comparison to bold flavors, while light foods need a delicate wine so the flavors aren’t overwhelmed. When trying to determine the weight of your food, assess its fat content. For instance, a blue cheese salad, despite the fact that it is a salad, is a heavier dish. When assessing wine, take clues from its color, grape variety, and color. Wines that are less alcoholic tend to be lighter bodied.
Pair Wine With the Most Prominent Feature Of A Dish.
The most prominent feature of a dish—usually the sauce rather than the main ingredient—is critical in determining the best wine for said dish. Baked salmon with a cream sauce, for instance, will work with a different wine than a salmon with a light dill sauce. “Malbec can stand up to spicier dishes, because flavors of the rub bring out the spicier elements of the wine,” says Aarón Sánchez, chef at Johnny Sánchez and brand ambassador at Terrazas de los Andes. “The full-flavored wine isn’t overwhelmed by this full-flavored dish.”
Structure and Texture Matter.
You can have an impact on the way that your food tastes by what wine you pair it with. Serve high-acid wines with high-acid foods. For instance, Sauvignon Blanc works well with salad with a vinaigrette. Don’t pair tannic wines with fatty fishes. A bold Cabernet Sauvignon won’t work as well with salmon or other fish that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Pair tannic wines with salty, fatty, protein-rich foods. Salty foods go well with high acid wines. A Beaujolais goes well with cured meats, and Pinot Grigio pairs well with soy sauce. Serve off-dry or sweet wines with slightly sweet or sweet foods. The wine should always be as sweet or sweeter than what’s on your plate.
When in doubt, go for bubbles, says Blake Leonard, Brand Manager and Certified Sommelier at Stew Leonard’s Wines and Spirits. “Consider sparkling wine or champagne,” she says. “Due to the carbonation of the bubbly, when you’re eating cheeses or fried foods, the carbonation will help cleanse your palate through the fat of the food.”
Look For Flavor Links.
The flavor profile of wine often relates to specific foods. You can create a good match by echoing the ingredients in your food with you wine. Smell chocolate in your Syrah? Then pair it with your chocolate ganache dessert.
Wine and Food Pairing Cheat Sheet:
Champagne: Pair champagne with anything salty. Because most dry sparkling wines are a touch on the sweet side they pair particularly well with salty foods.
Sauvignon Blanc: Opt for Sauvignon Blanc when pairing a dish with a tart dressing or sauce.
Pinot Grigio: This wine pairs well with light fish dishes.
Chardonnay: Go for the Chard when pairing wine with fatty fish or fish in a rich sauce.
Off-Dry Riesling: Pairs well with sweet and spicy dishes. Riesling is a great dish to balance out spicy Asian and Indian dishes.
Moscato d’Asti: This sweet sparkling wine goes great with a fruity dessert.
Rosé Champagne: Looking for a great crowd pleaser that works with pretty much anything? This is it.
Dry Rosé: For rich, cheesy dishes, dry rosé is a great choice.
Pinot Noir: Think earthy flavors when trying to pair your Pinot Noir, and ingredients like mushrooms and truffles.
Malbec: This bold wine goes great with sweet-spicy barbecue sauces.
Zinfandel: Zinfandels are rustic and rich and go great with pâtés, mousses, and terrines.
Cabernet Sauvignon: You can’t go wrong with Cabernet Sauvignon and a juicy red meat.
Syrah: Syrah goes well with highly spiced dishes.