Food and Wine Pairing 101

Food and Wine Pairing 101

Food and Wine Pairing 101

Food and Wine Pairing 101

I am forever being asked about Food Pairing and what wine goes well with this or that dish. I have had many frantic last minute texts from people in the wine store staring, like deer in headlights, at the rows of bottles trying to find something to go with a certain dish.

We've all been there, in the restaurant looking at the food menu then looking at the wine menu and having no clue what wine to order. Or being invited to dinner and having no clue what wine to bring.

It's a thing, Food and Wine Pairing, an art. 

If you get it wrong your art is a failure, it doesn't taste "right", doesn't gel, but when you do succeed and get it right it's one of the best things to behold. The marriage of flavours from food and wine become one, complementing each other to form harmony on your palate.

I always say: 

When you get Food and Wine Pairing wrong dinner is meh (ok) but when you get it right dinner is memorable and something your guests will remember for a long time.

It's for that reason Food and Wine Pairing is one of the most popular subjects i'm asked about.

As a Chef and Sommelier I have the best of both worlds when pairing food and wine. I understand food, cooking methods and marrying flavours and I know what wine will make both wine and food a stand out act. All of that and I don't always get it right!

Food and Wine 101

There's a lot of differing opinions about what "should" go with what and, of course, there's the "old school" white wine with fish, red wine with meat theory but in todays culinary and wine world thoughts have to change along with the times. The "old school" train of thought worked and for some things, still does. There is some simple chemistry that cannot be ignored when it comes to Food and Wine Pairing

For example the "Old School" saying that light wine before heavy still stands. A heavy wine can over load your palate and if followed by a light wine their delicate flavours will be lost.

Food and Wine 101

With todays changes in food and food preparation our thoughts need to be extended to the wine we drink with it. The global popularity for food and wine has changed and grown leading to smaller, more intensely flavoured portions. International food, organic, raw and vegetarian food all play a roll in todays market. Add a huge change in the way wine is produced and the amount of new wines on the market and there is a veritable cornucopia of choices available. 

So, while the "Old School" way of thinking is almost a thing of the past, a "New World" approach is necessary. The "New World" way of thinking, if you ask me, is to keep it simple, don't over think it and always be prepared to try new things. If and when you get it right, it's amazing!

Successful Food and Wine Pairing is a difficult thing to get right without the correct information though. Restaurants often have a sommelier who works closely with the head chef when choosing wine for their lists and tasting menus. In wine stores the professionals working there are good at recommending wines when asked but for your average Jo who just wants to know a little bit more about pairing i've written down some pointers to get you started.

Food and Wine Pairing 101

What is Food and Wine Pairing?

Well, simply put, it's food or a dish served with a wine that complement each other. Neither stand out alone as being stronger or more flavoursome than the other, it's just a perfect harmony between the two.

To be honest there is no right or wrong when it comes to Food and Wine Pairing, you can eat what you like with what you like as long as it works. There are, however, a few rules you should apply to make your choice a bit easier.

The Principles of Food and Wine Pairing?

Before you get yourself freaked out about what to choose by stating that "I'm not an expert", start with a simple question to narrow the playing field:

Are choosing the wine to go with the dish or the dish to go with the wine or are you looking for a bottle to take to a dinner party?

Once you've worked that part out the rest is easy.

Looking for a wine to take wine to a dinner party?

Here's where vanity and ego often gets in the way. Some people don't want to be seen to just spend a fiver on a cheap bottle of plonk and some people want to show off by bringing a hugely expensive or old vintage bottle with them. While there is a place at a dinner party for both it may not be the best choice for the occasion. The idea for taking a bottle to a dinner party is that it may be drank at the event and therefore needs to fit in. Bringing a bottle for you host as a gift for another time is a completely different kettle of fish.

Take these things into account when choosing your dinner party wine:

Season and Weather: 

If it's summer then your choice should lighter, a rose or a light refreshing white maybe. If it's snowing and -20 outside something heavier and warming will be needed - a Shiraz maybe. If it's super hot you may want to think about bringing fizz which will have a cooling effect.


If it's just a get together you could experiment with a new wine or even a cocktail mix. Fizz is ALWAYS a good idea - but then I'm female and fizz is a girl's best friend! If it's granny's 80th birthday you may want to keep it more traditional and go for a middle of the road red such as a Merlot. Don't forget the flowers though, grannies always love flowers!


If it's at the beach you want, again, to keep it light. Heavy reds in hot weather can accentuate the heat. Pinot Noir dies in the heat, save that one for a cooler time. Try a Sauvignon Blanc or pinot grigio - both light, refreshing and easy to drink


If you don't know who's going you'll want to stay in the middle of the road wine wise. Merlot is great as is Valpolicella for an easy drinking, food friendly, middle of the road red. Chardonnay (not the heavy oaky type) and Chenin Blanc are always safe bets for whites.

Avoid holiday wines:

A wine that you taste on holiday often tastes completely different when you get it home. Leave the pineapple wine for another occasion and design a menu around it for more fun.


May or may not be a factor for you. Just know that many palates won't appreciate the delicate nuances of really expensive labels so don't waste your money (unless you intend to gift the wine). Keep your spend relative and save the expensive stuff for a special occasion.

Food and Wine 101

Choosing the Food to go with the Wine:

If you have a great bottle or bottles that you want to drink, create a menu around it. It's easy to do but you must know the wine, it's flavours and characteristics before you do. Try your wine before building your menu.

Take these things into account when choosing the Food to go with the Wine:

Opposites attract: 

Sweetness wine and saltiness in food - Sweet and Sour

High Acidity:

If your wine has high acidity you may want to make a dish with equal acidity Don't use too much salt in your dishes, it highlights the acidity

High Tannin:

If you have a wine that has high tannin then try a fatty protein (duck for example) to counter balance it. Keep sauces condensed and well cooked off, too much alcohol highlights the tannin

Heavy wine:

The heavier the wine, the heavier the dish can be. Think components - wild boar is a heavy meat that will stand up to a heavy wine Heavy wines are the perfect partners for meat, roasted or in stews. Use a low tannin wine with light white proteins

Delicate wine:

Choose your cooking method well, delicate food needs delicate cooking. Delicate wine = delicate and simple food Deep fried food can kill a delicate wine's bouquet

Match flavours:

Try to match the flavours in the wine with the flavours in the dishes Smoky foods pair really well with oaky wines Dark berry flavours in the wine, make a sauce with berries in

Food and Wine 101

Choosing the Wine to go with the Food:

It's difficult to find just one wine that pairs with a whole dinner party, it can be done but for the most part you should be looking at 2-3 different wines. It's pretty easy to reverse the logic written above.

Here's some pointers:

Cooking Method:

Can dictate what wine you choose Steaming, poaching, stir-frying = lighter wines Braising, roasting, frying - heavier wines

Dish Make up:

Dish make up can alter what you think will work Weight, intensity, texture, region, ingredients all need to be taken into account Try to find a couple of things to focus on that the wine you choose will pair well with 


The wine's temperature can alter it's profile so decide how you want to drink it Not all wine should be drunk at textbook temperatures

Sauce, Rub, Marinade:

It's one thing to figure out what the main ingredient of the dish is but it's another thing if the sauce, rub or marinade out shines it. Be careful with spicy marinades, spice needs either spicy reds (Shiraz, Malbec) or fruity whites (Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling) to counteract it. Creamy sauces need creamy wines - full bodied whites 


Sweetness in the food needs to be balanced with sweetness in the wine or one will outshine the other.

White Wine with Fish?

Doesn't have to be so. Light wines and fruity wines pair really well with fish, especially oily fish Just be careful with salt and red wine Be careful with oaked wines and salmon or tuna

Don't be afraid:

There's nothing wrong with drinking fizz (especially vintage fizz) with a main course Fizz cuts through the mouth coating effects of eggs Sherries pair really well with Japanese food Sherry (a sweet one) also cuts through the mouth numbing effects of ice cream Try a lightly chilled Pinot Noir with your Chinese next time

Food and Wine 101

As much as I can give pointers on what to do, like I said, there's some basic chemistry you need to be careful of.

Here's a few difficulties with food and wine:

Salt and high tannin - makes food taste saltier Sweet foods with dry wines - wine will taste tart Astringent things - vinegar in salad dressings can make a wine taste astringent Oily, palate altering foods - peanuts, they're a toughie! Heat - wasabi, horseradish, mustard, chilli- will make most red wines seem tannic, try sweeter whites Unami - the newest sense - asparagus, artichoke, tomato, spinach - notoriously hard to pair with. Sauvignon Blanc seems to do ok. Cheese - hard cheese, creamy cheese, blue cheese, rind cheese  - It's really hard to find 1 wine for all. Oaky whites work well


This just scratches the surface on Food and Wine Pairing, there's tons to tell and tons to learn. I offer to tailor made Food and Wine Pairing workshops to both private and professional clients either virtually (via Skype) or in person - See SERVICES

Please contact me if you have questions or are interested in learning more.

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