Some advice for pairing food and wine can be overly strict. The truth is, you can eat pretty much whatever you want while drinking whichever wine you choose. Are you pairing a green chile cheeseburger with a glass of crisp Chablis? Sounds great. Would it be recommended in most food-pairing guides? Not really, but go for it. Some pairings should generally be avoided, like tannic red wines alongside artichokes or raw asparagus, but those are few and far between. There are, however, a number of time-tested guidelines to help you go through life as an educated lover of wine pairing. It’s basically a “you should know the rules before you break them” situation. Here are 15 tips for food and wine pairing. Commit them to memory, practice them — and then break the rules to your heart’s desire.
Pinot Noir with earthy flavors
Recipes made with earthy ingredients like mushrooms and lentils taste great with reds like Pinot Noir and Dolcetto, which are light-bodied but full of savory depth. Pinot is also often delicious alongside salmon, proving that red wine and fish can go together brilliantly.
Chardonnay with fatty fish or fish in a rich sauce
Silky whites — like many Chardonnays from California, Chile, or Australia — are delicious with hearty fish like swordfish or any kind of seafood in a rich sauce.
Champagne with anything salty
Many dry sparkling wines, such as brut Champagne and Spanish cava, actually have a faint touch of fruity sweetness. This makes them extra-refreshing when served with salty foods. They also cut through the richness and oil of fried dishes: Bubbly and a bowl of potato chips is terrific.
Cabrnet Sauvignon with juicy red meat
California Cabernet, Bordeaux, and Bordeaux-style blends are terrific with steaks and lamb dishes. The firm tannins in Cab cut through the fat and protein, which in turn smooth out the tannins. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship in each bite.
Sauvignon Blanc with tart dressings and sauces
Tangy foods — like scallops with a grapefruit-onion salad — won’t overwhelm zippy wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde from Portugal, and Verdejo from Spain. Sauvignon Blanc also works well alongside vinaigrette, roasted or sautéed fish, and goat cheese.
Dry Rosé with rich, cheesy dishes
Some cheeses go better with white wine and some sing alongside red. Almost all, however, pair well with dry rosé, which has the acidity of white wine and the fruit character of red. Rosé also works well with grilled fish, fresh salad, and even a big plate of charcuterie.
Pinot Grigio with light fish dishes
Light seafood dishes seem to take on more flavor when matched with equally delicate white wines, such as Pinot Grigio or Arneis from Italy, Chablis from France, and Vinho Verde from Portugal.
Malbec with sweet-spicy barbecue sauces
Malbec, Shiraz, and Côtes-du-Rhône are bold enough to drink alongside foods brushed with heavily spiced barbecue sauces — just be careful that the sauce isn’t too sugary-sweet, which can throw off the wine’s fruit.
Moscato d’Asti with fruit desserts
Sweet sparkling wines such as Moscato d’Asti and demi-sec Champagne help emphasize the fruit in the dessert, rather than the sugar. Try it with these Honeyed Fig Crostatas. It’s also delicious alongside a simple summer fruit salad or even splashed into it.
Syrah with highly spiced dishes
When a meat is heavily seasoned, look for a red wine with lots of spicy notes. Syrah from Washington or France’s Rhône Valley, Cabernet Franc from the Loire, and Xinomavro from Greece are all good choices. Be careful with spice heat, however: For hot dishes like those, try to avoid high-alcohol wines, which will amplify the sizzle.
Grüner Veltliner with fresh herbs and vegetables
Austrian Grüner Veltliner’s citrus-and-clover scent is lovely when there are lots of fresh herbs in a dish. Other go-to grapes include Albariño from Spain and Vermentino from Italy.
Zinfandel with pâtés, mousses, and terrines
If you can apply the same adjectives to a wine and a dish, pairing them will often work. For instance, the words “rustic,” “savory,” or “rich” are often used to describe Zinfandel, Italy’s Nero d’Avola, and Spain’s Monastrell, as well as a creamy liver mousse. Spice- and fruit-driven Zinfandel also has a natural affinity for barbecued or sauce-slathered meats.
Off-dry Riesling with sweet and spicy dishes
The slight sweetness of many Rieslings, Gewürztraminers, and Vouvrays helps tame the heat of spicy dishes and goes toe-to-toe with the lift of more aromatic ingredients. A spicy green salad is a delicious partner for any of those wines.
Rosé Champagne with dinner, not just hors d’oeuvres
Rosé sparkling wines, such as rosé Champagne, Prosecco rosé, and pink sparkling wine from California, have the depth of flavor, richness, and mouthwatering acidity to go with a wide range of main courses. Grilled tuna, lamb chops, salads, and risotto are all phenomenal with it.
Old World wines with Old World dishes
The flavors of foods and wines that have developed together over the centuries — Tuscan recipes and Tuscan wines, for instance — are almost always a natural fit; it’s an offshoot of the old wine-pairing advice that if it grows together, it goes together. The classic Italian dish Chicken Cacciatore, traditionally prepared in the woods over a fire, pairs well with an herbal, medium-bodied Chianti, as it has for generations.