5 Keys to Pairing Food and Wine

Smart ways to think about choosing a wine for your meal.

Photo by  Anna Williams

The old rules for matching food and wine―white with seafood and poultry; red with red meats―no longer apply. But that doesn’t mean anything goes. Leslie Sbrocco, author of The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide ($15, amazon.com), shares her wine-pairing strategies. 

  • Match the texture of the food with the texture of the wine. A light wine, whether white or red, will be overpowered by a rich dish like steak. A rich wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, will balance it perfectly.
  • Match aromas and flavors. “If you have a highly spiced dish, you need a wine that’s not going to get trampled by that,” says Sbrocco. Riesling is a complex, spicy wine, so it works well with cuisines like Chinese and Thai. An earthy pinot noir with cherry notes pairs beautifully with a duck dish containing mushrooms and dried cherries. (Though pairings certainly don’t have to be that literal.)
  • Use acidity in the wine to balance the dish. With a high-acid dish―say, a salad with vinaigrette or something tomato based―you want to complement that acidity with a high-acid wine, like a Sauvignon Blanc. In the same way that a spritz of lemon balances and brightens fried seafood, so too does a Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Pair with the sauce, not the meat. As Sbrocco explains, chicken in cream sauce demands the same wine as pork in cream sauce.
  • Follow your personal preferences. For most rules there’s always an exception, so experiment with different food and wine combinations to see what your particular taste buds respond to.