Wine is not a typical beverage meant to be used for washing food down in the middle of dinner. It is a drink where every bottle is unique, and every glass has a profile that demands respect. The flavor profile of a glass of wine mixes the elements surrounding the vine from which the vintner plucked the grapes. These elements come together and turn every glass of wine into an experience rather than a drink.
There is a unique experience with every glass that will take your taste buds on a journey from which they will never want to return. However, there are certain details to consider when you have a glass of wine with dinner.
The main thing to remember is that you should avoid drinking wine with just any meal. To enjoy the most exhilarating experience with your wine, you need to consider what food you are pairing with it. Certain wines shine brighter when paired with specific foods, whereas the experience is lessened when paired with the wrong meals. This is not to say that you are obligated to pair your wine if you have an urge for a glass, but it can cost you in terms of overall flavor. In this article, we will be discussing the rules of pairing specific wines with certain foods.
The Rules of Wine Pairing
Pairing your wine with your meal might seem more work than is truly needed to enjoy a glass of your favorite vintage. However, it can make all the difference to ensure you can enjoy every note and flavor the wine offers.
If the food overpowers the wine or the contents of your plate clash with the wine’s flavor profile, you will find a sour taste in your mouth before too long. Countless connoisseurs worldwide know what glass of wine to pair with every meal they eat, right down to which type to pair with takeout from McDonald’s (not that we recommend doing so).
However, there are even more out there who are only beginning their journey into wine culture and will likely need a little more information about the rules of wine pairing. Fortunately, there are some straightforward general rules about how to pair a wine that should help our new friends get started:
- First, the acidity of the wine should be greater than the acidity of the food. Any foods that focus on acidic ingredients like a vinaigrette should be paired with a wine with a more acidic profile.
- Similarly, the wine you are drinking with your meal should always be sweeter than the meal itself. Generally, this is why there are specific dessert wines meant to mesh with the sweetness of any confections.
- The flavor of the wine should be just as intense as the flavor of the food. This way, one does not overpower the other, and instead, they meld.
- Finally, if you are enjoying a meal featuring meat marinated in a sauce, you should pair the wine with the sauce’s flavor rather than the meat itself.
However, these simple rules do not fully encompass the logic behind wine pairings. Certain wines produce different pairings, and some are meant to accompany specific types of food. For example, red wines usually mesh with the food you are eating, whereas sparkling wines generally create a clashing flavor with the food that does not overpower the flavors. These different pairing types are known as:
- Congruent Pairings: Congruent pairings involve using wines with shared flavors with your food. The two build off each other for a fully comprehensive flavor experience. Generally, red wines are the most common source of congruent pairings, but exceptions exist.
- Contrasting Pairings: As the name implies, a contrasting pairing requires a wine whose flavor profile is different from the meal but still creates a tasteful mixture of flavors.
Understanding the difference between contrasting and congruent pairings and understanding these general rules is a crucial first step. However, there are still details about the wines themselves that need to be considered.
Understand the Basic Tastes
Each type of wine has a basic taste that contributes to the overall flavor profile. In addition to being present in the wines you drink, these tastes constitute a significant aspect of what makes certain foods an ideal companion. We have learned that food and drink can yield 20 different basic taste types. Fortunately, there are only six basic taste components to consider when pairing wine with food. Wines will fall into three taste groups, whereas food can be members of all six. These tastes are:
It might seem simple enough. However, these basic tastes are defining characteristics of how wines and foods mix. Some wines lean more into one flavor profile than others. For example, reds are traditionally bitter, whereas whites are more acidic. Sweet wines are a separate category all their own, to the point of some confusion regarding jammy wines.
However, regardless of the basic taste, you should pair each wine with a meal that follows the same profile. When it comes to foods, there exists a type for each basic taste that will have a different pairing type with wines in the first three taste groups.
- Bitter wines produce a congruent pair with meals composed of fatty, sweet, or salty food. However, they will yield a contrasting pair with meals composed of spicy or acidic foods.
- Sweet wines pair congruently with foods in each taste group and will never yield a contrasting pair.
- You can congruently pair acidic wines with sweet, salty, or fatty foods. Conversely, acidic wines create a contrast with bitter or spicy food.
While the taste groups of the wine and food you consume are important to the pairings, there is still more to consider. Just because a glass of wine or a dish has a certain taste does not mean it will universally pair with any corresponding wine type. You will also need to keep the intensity of these flavors in mind when settling on a wine to have at your meal.
Consider the Flavor Intensity
Wine, like people, can be described with adjectives that illustrate the defining personality trait of the bottle. Some wines are light, and others are bold, and either descriptor is used to identify how powerful the wine’s flavor profile is. Light wines are described as such because their flavor is more nuanced and subtle and not quite as harsh on the stomach as others can be.
Light wines are ideal for those who want to enjoy a lean meal, since the wine itself will not overburden your stomach and make you feel overly full. However, this also means that you should pair light wines with foods that are also lean. Light wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, are generally white wines, but there have been a few lighter red wines as well.
On the other hand, a bottle of bold wine has a more commanding presence. It hits the system a little harder and fills you up quicker. This is part of why bold wines are traditionally paired with heartier meals. The food and wine will go well together, whereas consuming lean meat and then piling on a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon can backfire.
The intensity of the wine needs to compliment the intensity of the meal. Otherwise, you will likely feel nauseous and feel as though someone drove a truck through your intestines. So, if you are planning on having a heavy meal, likely consisting of red meat or something similar, you will want to pair it with a bolder, full-bodied wine instead of a lighter wine.
However, yet another detail about wine can impact the types of food you can pair it with. Intensity and flavor profile are crucial, but the color of the wine can serve as a more general frame of reference for what to pair with what.
What Can Be Paired With White Wine?
White wines are peculiar as they are created in a vastly different manner when compared to red wine. These differences enable us to determine which meals mesh with white wines best. One of the most common combinations for white wine is to pair it with seafood. Most fish are very light, which is the same profile you will find in your average white wine. Fish is a light and filling meal that does not overexert your stomach while also possessing a more subtle flavor. However, white wines can even pair with heavier seafood like crab or lobster quite effectively since these crustaceans are also extremely light compared to other meat types.
Another excellent combination lies in pairing white wines with poultry-based meals. Fowl and white wine go together so well that one might think they swim in it. Chicken, turkey, and duck pair wonderfully with a nice white wine. The similarity to fish once again lies in the fact that poultry is lean meat that will not overpower a white wine or vice versa. Because of these foods’ light, subtle flavors, white wine can make its full impact without being shattered.
Some of the most popular and well-known white wines include:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Grigio
Countless white wines could easily be paired with these foods, but these are some more notable brands. However, white wines are not the only type to consider. As we have stated multiple times, red wines are also an important part of the world of wine and have pairings of their own.
What Can Be Paired With Red Wine?
Unlike white wines, which have lighter flavor profiles, red wines are generally heavier and more substantial in their flavor profile and intensity. As a result, their flavor is more overpowering when not properly paired with the right foods. Because red wines are heartier, they are best combined with just as hearty foods and have more intensive flavors. Pairing bolder foods with white wines would shatter the latter’s flavor, and pairing red wine with lighter foods can have the same effect in reverse. This, of course, begs the question of which foods you can successfully pair with red wine.
One of the most popular combinations is pairing your red wine with some chocolate. Everybody loves chocolate, and knowing that you can pair red wines with it so effectively is likely a dream come true for you budding enthusiasts. Chocolate tends to have a potent flavor that can mesh well with the intense flavor of red wine. And, since red wines tend to be bitter, they mesh almost perfectly with sweet foods.
Another excellent pairing comes in mixing red wine with red meat. Reds stick together, after all. Red meat is a hearty meal with an equally hearty flavor that meshes together phenomenally with red wine. So, if you are planning on having a nice steak or some lamb at dinner, consider a glass of red wine. If you need some ideas about decent red wines, here are some of the most notable labels:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
These red wines will pair excellently with the foods we have listed here. As with the white, there are many other red wines, though these are among the most popular. Now that we know which wines pair with what food, you are ready to delve into the wondrous world of wine.
Raise a Glass With Us
Wine is not quite as simple as some might make it out to be. Each bottle has its subtle nuances and flavors that make them unique. This is why pairing them with the proper foods is crucial to ensuring that none of that nuance or flavor is lost.
Red wines, white wines, light wines, and bold wines all have their pairing matches that allow you to enjoy the notes of the wine to the fullest. There is so much to learn about wine, including how to best enjoy it or store it. For those unfamiliar with the world of wine, it can be daunting to try and learn all the peculiarities for yourself. Fortunately, you do not have to do it alone.
We at the Wine Diarist believe that everyone has a right to be part of the world of wine and should have access to all the knowledge they need to do so. We have made it our mission to compile as much information about how to enjoy, store, and select wines so you can be just as involved in the world as we are.
If this knowledge can help you leap into the world of wine, we encourage you to visit our website to peruse our growing collection of articles. That said, we know that we have only scratched the surface of your curiosity and that we might not have addressed a question burning in your mind. If this is the case, please feel free to leave a comment asking your question so we can give it due consideration. Until then, we raise a toast to your health. Cheers to you!