If you’ve never been to a wine pairing dinner, I highly recommend that you try it. You’ll be amazed and how much more delicious certain foods can taste when you pair them with the correct wine. The right wine pairing brings out the best in both the food and the wine, and your taste buds get to savor the results.
For those of us who aren’t in the food industry, wine pairing can be a bit of a mystery. Happily, the wine subscription service Firstleaf has created a comprehensive guide that clears up a lot of the confusion: How to Pair Wine with Food.
An increasingly popular way to think about wine pairing is to consider the geography of both the food you’re serving and the wine you plan to drink. It’s a concept with deep historical roots that makes more sense the more you think about it.
The most popular wine varietals have a history that goes back hundreds of years, and each is tied to a specific region. And the wine that was grown in that region was designed to also go well with the food that was eaten there.
So if you are making an Italian dish, it makes sense to look for Italian wine. If you are cooking a beef dish, consider a wine from a livestock growing area, like Eastern Washington or Argentina. A seafood dish will probably pair well with a wine developed in a coastal region. You get the idea.
Red Wine with Red Meat, White Wine with Fish? Not Necessarily
The first part of this rule holds true — but it’s not just any red wine. Fattier beef cuts, like rib eye, need a strong red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, for a burst of acidity that helps cut through the fat. Leaner cuts may be overmatched with a bold wine, so a lighter red like Pinot Noir is a better choice.
Fish is more varied than steak when it comes to cuts and flavors. The same basic concept applies. For a delicate, light-flavored fish like sole or sea bass, a light-bodied white wine like Pinot Grigio will almost always be the best choice. But fattier, more bold-flavored fish like king salmon can benefit from the bolder flavor of a medium-bodied red like a Cabernet Franc. But, you could also choose a strong-flavored white, like a Chardonnay.
Sparkling Wine Is the Best Default
If you can’t figure out what the heck to do, sparkling wine is worth considering, because it can go with anything. Sparkling is usually the choice for foods that weren’t traditionally served with wine, such as the unique flavors of Thai food. The acidity of sparkling wine also makes for a nice pairing with spicy foods.
Every Palate Is Different, Including Yours
Remember that all of these guidelines were developed with the broad dining public in mind. In the same way that certain people love the flavor of cilantro but hate the texture of mushrooms, and vice versa, there’s no “right answer” when it comes to wine pairing. Enjoy the experience and find the pairing that you like the most.