Pairing Food With Wine


Pairing food with wine is a tricky business. When done correctly, the combination of flavors can be exquisite, but when it’s not done well… well, you can end up with an experience that’s far from delicious.

Wine has been paired with food for centuries, and there are a few basic principles that can help you get started in your own pairing projects. First and foremost, make sure you’re using high quality ingredients—you’ll want to use the best wine you can find to drink on its own, after all! Then, consider what kind of flavor profile you want to create. If you want something spicy and bold, try pairing it with red wine. If you want something light and fruity (and maybe even bubbly), go with white wines or rosés.

Once you’ve got those two things down pat, it’s time to think about what kind of dish is going on the plate. Is it salty? Sweet? Spicy? And how does that match up with the type of wine that would pair well with it? Finally, consider whether or not there are any specific flavors in your dish (like citrus or herbs) that would work well as a complement to the flavors in your chosen wine style.

Pairing Food With Wine

Learn food and wine pairing basics so you can create your own pairings. This guide will show you the steps on how to pair. You’ll also learn what to look for in a recipe in order to make great wine matches.

A great food and wine pairing creates a balance between the components of a dish and the characteristics of a wine.

As much as pairing food and wine is complex, the basics are simple to grasp.

9 Tips For Pairing Wine & Food

If you’re just getting started, you’ll find these tried-and-true methodologies to produce consistently great pairings. That said, as you get more familiar with different wines, you’ll become confident and can experiment breaking the rules! (Gamay with trout anyone?)

  1. The wine should be more acidic than the food.
  2. The wine should be sweeter than the food.
  3. The wine should have the same flavor intensity as the food.
  4. Red wines pair best with bold flavored meats (e.g. red meat).
  5. White wines pair best with light-intensity meats (e.g. fish or chicken).
  6. Bitter wines (e.g. red wines) are best balanced with fat.
  7. It is better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat.
  8. More often than not, White, Sparkling and Rosé wines create contrasting pairings.
  9. More often than not, Red wines will create congruent pairings.
Flavor pairing matches aroma compounds. Image: Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

Congruent Pairings vs Contrasting Pairings

A contrasting pairing creates balance by contrasting tastes and flavors.

A congruent pairing creates balance by amplifying shared flavor compounds


The blue lines show flavor matches and the gray lines show flavor clashes. Design is from Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

Identify The Basics Tastes

In this day and age, we’ve learned that there are over 20 different tastes found in food – from the basic, including sweet, sour and fat, to the extreme, including spicy, umami and electric. Fortunately you only need to focus on 6 tastes when pairing food and wine: Salt, Acid, Sweet, Bitter, Fat and Spice (Piquant).


Basic Taste Components in Wine

For the most part, wine lacks the 3 tastes of fatness, spiciness and saltiness but does contain acidity, sweetness and bitterness in varying degrees. Generally speaking, you can group wines into 3 different categories:

  1. Red wines have more bitterness.
  2. White, rosé and sparkling wines have more acidity.
  3. Sweet wines have more sweetness.

Basic Taste Components in Food

Simplify a dish down to its basic dominant tastes. For example, baked macaroni has 2 primary components: fat and salt. Southern barbecue is a bit more complex and includes fat, salt, sweet and spice (plus a little acid!). Even dishes without meat can be simplified. For example, a green salad offers acidity and bitterness; creamed corn offers fatness and sweetness.

Consider the Intensity

FOOD: Is the food super light or super rich? A salad may seem lighter, but perhaps the dressing is balsamic vinaigrette with high acidity. If the intensity of the dish isn’t obvious at first, just focus on the power of each taste component (acidity, fat, sweet, etc).

WINE: Is the wine light or bold? Here are a few examples:

  • Sauvignon Blanc is light-bodied, but it has higher acidity
  • Chardonnay has more body, but it’s usually not too acidic
  • Pinot Noir is lighter bodied (for a red wine) and it doesn’t have too much tannin (bitterness).
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is more full-bodied and has high tannin (more bitterness)

Need more examples? 8 Common Wines and Their Taste Profiles

smoked gouda mac & cheese. photo by Alla_G on flickr

Find Contrasting or Congruent Pairings

Now that you’ve identified all the basic taste components in your dish, you can start playing around with pairing options. The simple example of the baked macaroni will offer up several possible pairings:

COMPLEMENTARY PAIRING: A white wine with high acidity will complement the fat in the macaroni. So, for example, a traditional mac and cheese recipe with a creamy béchamel sauce matched with zesty white wine such as Pinot Grigio, Assyrtiko or Sauvignon Blanc would create a Complementary Pairing.

CONGRUENT PAIRING: A white wine with creaminess will add to the creaminess in the dish. So, for example, a traditional mac and cheese recipe with a creamy béchamel sauce matched with a creamy white wine such as Viognier or Chardonnay would create a Congruent Pairing.

Food and wine pairing poster by Wine Folly

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Getting Creative

Once you create balance with the major taste components in both the wine and the dish, you can get creative by pairing the more subtle flavors. Here are some examples using variants of mac and cheese:

BOLD RED WINE: The ideology behind this pairing is that the high bitterness (tannin) will be balanced out by the salt and fat in the macaroni. This balancing will leave you with the remaining subtle flavors to pair with in the cheese and wine. So, for example, if your baked macaroni has smoked gouda in it, you might choose a Shiraz which also has smokiness in it (on the finish). The smoky flavors combine to create a Congruent Pairing while the tannin in the wine creates a Complementary Pairing with the fat in the dish.

SWEET WHITE WINE: The ideology behind this pairing is to bring out the sweet and salty flavors with a pairing. For example, a mac and cheese with ham would match well with a zesty white wine with some sweetness like Riesling. The acidity would create a Complementary Pairing to the fat and the sweetness would act as a Congruent Pairing to the ham.

  Have you made an amazing food and wine pairing? Let’s hear about it! Leave a message in the comments below. Also, if there’s a food you’ve been stumped by, let us know about that too so we can help 🙂

wine pairing snacks

Drinking wine is usually more fun when several people are enjoying the wine together. Often wine is served with snacks.  What are the best snacks to eat with wine? 

Crackers, Cheese, and Fruits

Some wine connoisseurs suggest that only certain foods should be consumed at the same time, but there is no universal rule mandating such an idea.

Granted, for some official gatherings you may want to be super selective about your pairings, but if you are at home or among friends, you can drink wine and combine it with any food that you like; of course, some pairings will better enhance the taste buds.

Further, there is no harm in experimenting with different foods. If you are having a wine gathering, here are some food pairing suggestions.

  1. Crackers, cheese, and summer sausage are favorites of many that always go great with either red or white wine (CABERNET, PINOT NOIR, Chardonnay).  This is a good snack to eat with Pinot Noir.  You may wish to have a variety of different types of CHEESES available (i.e., Cambernet, Brie, Cheddar, Roquefort, etc.) and salted crackers to enhance the taste.  There are so many good cheese and cracker combinations.
  2. Veggies with hummus is another snack that is universally liked by most people. Plus, vegetarians, vegans, and individuals who try especially hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle will love this FOOD. You can use a combination of veggies (carrots, celery, cauliflower, cucumber), and an assortment of exotic homemade hummus (roasted, spicy, creamy avocado, etc.).
  3. Trail mix (almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts) is another great snack to eat with Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. To make it even tastier, add some dried fruit (cranberries, raisins) with a tinge of sweet roasted coconut.
  4. If you are at home watching a movie, then try popcorn with either sparkling (Champagne, Cava, Moscato) or dessert wine (Ice wine, Vin Santo, Sauternes).
  5. If popcorn is not your thing, then try potato chips (barbecue, spicy, onion flavor) and combine it with one of the following wines – Moscato, RIESLING, Port, etc. If the chips are salty, stick with a sweet wine as it will also quench the thirst.
  6. Deli meat (Chorizo, slices of ham, Prosciutto, chicken fingers, salami, and chicken wings) will go great with fruity wines (i.e., Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, and Syrah).
  7. Almost any type of pizza goes great with wine (i.e., Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Fiano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barberra, etc.). The key is to make the pizza spicy, hot with a variety of toppings (sausage, bacon, mushroom, olives, anchovies, and gorgonzola).
  8. Tortilla chips and dip (salsa verde, creamy tahini, spinach artichoke, avocado aioli, roasted garlic red hummus) will go great with Malbec, Chardonnay, or Port.
  9. Finally, if you are having a romantic get-together, then nothing beats chocolate and wine. Almost any Cadbury chocolate is a great snack to eat with Pinot Noir, but if you like dark chocolate, then Merlot, Zinfandel, or Syrah can make the romance blossom.

There really is no right or wrong food that can be eaten when consuming wine. It is all a matter of personal preference.  What are the best snacks to eat with wine? 

If you like a particular food, then, by all means, pair it with a wine and see what happens!  Check out the Pacific Rim and Blog Company to discover new wines.

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