There are some basic, I’ll call them “rules”, to pairing wine and food. I say “rules” because they are by no means hard and fast. They are good guidelines to follow when you are looking for a pairing, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t totally ignore them and still come up with a really awesome combo. So here are the bullet points of the “rules”:
Match weight with weight: If you have a really heavy, full flavored dish and you pair it with a really, light delicate wine you are not going to get to taste the wine at all. Of all the “rules” this is probably one of the most important.
Acidity needs acidity: Basically the acidity of the wine needs to match or exceed the acidity of the food. Otherwise your wine is going to taste flabby and flat.
Fish oils love acidity but hate tannins: Which is generally why you see fish paired with white wines. That does not mean that white is your only option but you still want to pick a red that is low in tannins because fish oil can actually make a tannic wine taste metallic. Which is also why…
Tannins love fat but hate fish oils: Fat and protein in food can help to soften the tannins. Which is why you often see more tannic wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, paired with red meat.
Sweet needs sweet: Just like acidity needs acidity the sweetness of the wine and the food need to match as well. Otherwise your wine is going to seem sour or bitter.
Alcohol + Spicy = FIRE / Spicy + Sugar = no fire: Ever have a bite of something really spicy and reach for any glass on the table to get some liquid in your mouth? Ever end up grabbing the wine and finding that it only intensifies the burn? Yeah, that is because the spiciness of the food actually amplifies the alcohol in the wine, which means that you basically just threw some gasoline on the fire. But sweetness will actually coat your mouth and calm the spice. So if you have something spicy grab a wine with a little bit of residual sugar.
Once you know the “rules” feel free to play around. Even within the rules there are still lots of different directions that you can go with a specific pairing. Which brings me to point number two about the wine pairings on this blog. If you like a recipe but don’t like the wine that I paired it with, pick something else. If you hate chardonnay you don’t have to drink it just because I tell you too. Use the rules, or don’t, play around and find something you like.
Finally, you will notice that I don’t mention any producers or specific wines in my pairings. I try to be specific about the type of wine that works, sometimes not just the varietal but the age and profile of the wine as well. Pinot Noir for example has a huge range of flavors from big and jammy California pinots, to lighter, earthier Oregon pinots, to pinots from New Zealand that have a really unique combination of ripe fruit and bright acidity. So just saying Pinot doesn’t really help you right? But I still don’t want to say that this one wine, from this one producer, is the only one to pair the dish with. Take the guidelines, if you want to, and pick your favorite producer, or go out and do some tasting and find a new favorite.