Pairing wine and food is not as simple as the old rule of white wine with fish and red wine with meat. It's much more complicated than that, but despite what some wine experts would have you believe, it's actually not that hard to understand what wines go with which foods.
Here are five tips to understanding the different styles of wine and what foods go well with them from The Chopping Block's Sommelier Viktorija Todorovska:
Pro Tip #1: A dish is more than just an ingredient.
When you pair wine with a dish, it's important to consider the cooking method and other ingredients of the dish, not just the main ingredient or protein. For instance, you would pair different wines for a poached chicken breast and barbequed chicken wings. The wine that goes well with a lightly prepared piece of fish in butter sauce would differ greatly from a wine that is the best match for spicy blackened fish.
Pro Tip #2: Understand what makes a wine food-friendly.
At the most general level, acid makes a wine food-friendly. A wine that is high in acid will make your mouth water when you drink it. For an example, sipping on a Sauvignon Blanc will make the sides of your tongue water just as if you were drinking lemonade. That wine has a high level of acid.
Acid is an important component in food-friendly wines because it acts as a palate cleanser between bites. By being able to taste the acid on your palate, you’ll better be able to taste the food. A wine without acid will instead coat the palate, which is definitely not ideal for tasting food.
Pro Tip #3: Bubbly is your best friend.
When in doubt, always choose sparkling wine as a pairing to food. Sparkling wines characteristically have high acidity and bubbles, and the fizz is the result of the presence of carbon dioxide. That same CO2 in the wine has a palate-cleansing capability that makes it perfect for pairing with food. Bubbly is also able to cut through rich and decadent foods, which is why people are sometimes surprised to learn it's actually the best pairing for fried chicken.
Viktorija remembers taking one of her sommelier exams that involved pairing wine with two seven-course menus. Two wines were required for each course, so that's a total of 28 different wines needed.
"The only rule was that you can only use sparkling wine once,” Viktorija says. “That's because if you let wine professionals use sparkling wine on an exam like that, we would pair it with everything.”
Pro Tip #4: What grows together goes together.
If you are trying to pair a wine with a certain type of regional food, think about where the food comes from and what grapes are grown in that area. This is an easy way to look at pairing European wines, which can seem quite complicated. Europeans have been making wine for the past 27 centuries and have always paired their wine with the foods grown in the same area. They didn't travel out of their region for ingredients for a dish or a wine to match something grown and prepared at home. So, a wine made in the south of France is not likely to go with food found in Spain.
Pro Tip #5: Think pink!
Rosé wine is all the rage right now with good reason. The popular pink wine goes well with many different types of foods, especially spicy flavors It's a great choice for any meal where there will be many types of different foods and flavors, such as Thanksgiving dinner.
Rosé also has the ability to bring together white and red wine drinkers. A lot of red wine drinkers say they won’t drink white wine, but they’ll drink rosé. Same goes for some white wine fans who won't touch red wine. So, when you have a gathering with guests who possess varied palates, rosé can bridge the gap.
Want more advice on marrying wine and food? Download our new Wine and Food Pairing Guide that covers characteristics of all of the major wine styles and gives you over 30 recipes that go with them. That's a lot of cooking and wine drinking to experiment with, so you'd better get started now!