When enjoyed on its own, wine is one of life’s great delights. But sometimes, we stumble upon a wine and food combination so seamless, the meal becomes one continuous blissful experience. In order to make sure that your chosen wine is a perfect match, it can be helpful to understand the basics behind why some pairings work better than others. However, it’s also important to remember that the right wine is the one you enjoy drinking — regardless of the so-called “rules.”
With that in mind, keep reading for a rough guide, but by no means the final word, to help any wine lover on the path to epicurean enlightenment.
Barolo: Made from the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo is a full-bodied wine that boasts robust tannins and high acidity, lending it to pairings with foods of equal intensity. Look to dishes with powerful flavors such as risotto with truffles, pasta bolognese, osso buco, and rustic steak dinners.
Bordeaux: The wines of Bordeaux vary depending on the subregion, but when it comes to Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines, protein-rich dishes like roast lamb and steak frites stand up to the wine’s heavy tannins. The Merlot-based blends from the Right Bank tend to show softer tannins, so lean meats like duck and pork with fruit-based sauces make for winning pairings.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Full-bodied and with bold fruit flavors, Cabernet Sauvignon’s grippy tannins soften when paired with hearty dishes like grilled steak, lamb chops, braised short ribs, mushrooms, and meats prepared with red wine sauces.
Champagne: One of the world’s most versatile wines, Champagne can be paired with appetizers, mains, and desserts depending on the sugar level, or dosage. Brut styles are excellent with sushi, salty and fried foods, oysters, salads with vinaigrette dressings, and tacos. For slightly sweet demi-sec Champagnes, fruity desserts and pungent cheeses are the way to go.
Chardonnay: When it comes to the full-bodied and rich styles of Chardonnay, dishes of a similar weight make for an ideal combination. Don’t miss out on an oaky Chardonnay paired with lobster, seafood in a butter sauce, or a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes. Alongside a lighter, unoaked style such as mineral-driven Chablis, fresh oysters or delicate shellfish are heaven on a plate.
Chianti: Chianti’s elevated acidity, structured tannins, and earthy flavors make it an excellent accompaniment for Italian favorites such as tomato-based pasta sauces, pizza, and antipasti. It also pairs perfectly with rustic stews, roasted lamb, and the Tuscan classic, Florentine steak.
Grüner Veltliner: Food-friendly Grüner Veltliner’s herbal notes, minerality, and zippy acidity are a salad-lover’s dream. Even some of the hardest vegetables to pair with wine, like asparagus and artichokes, can find a suitable match with this Austrian variety.
Malbec: With ripe berry and savory notes, Malbec is an easy wine to sip on its own. When paired with food, the variety works well alongside burgers, grilled meats, and barbecue. Because it has moderate tannins and good acidity, Malbec also shines when served alongside traditional holiday fare like turkey and herbed stuffing.
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris: Pinot Grigio is a dry, fruity, and refreshing white wine that works with light fare such as chicken salad, shellfish, and picnic foods. In Alsace, where the grape is known as Pinot Gris, the wines can range from dry to off-dry and sweet, with bottles showing spice and luscious complexity. For these styles, meals with chutney and fruit sauces, as well as rich seafood like salmon, pair well.
Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir’s high acid and subtle tannins lend themselves to a wide variety of foods. Often hailed as the quintessential holiday wine, Pinot Noir works equally well with a roasted turkey as it does the smorgasbord of sides typically found at such large meals. Oregon Pinot Noir and grilled salmon are a popular pairing, while cool climate Pinot Noir complements mushroom risotto and lighter meats.
Prosecco: Just like Champagne, Prosecco is a versatile wine that goes great with a variety of foods. Prosessco’s light, fresh, and fruity profile makes it a no-brainer with sweet and spicy Asian noodles, brunch dishes, and shellfish. It’s also a knockout when paired with sushi.
Riesling: Riesling’s racy acidity, lemon-lime citrus notes, and minerality makes it another choice that can balance salty and fried foods. Serve dry Riesling with salads, seafood, and light meats, while the residual sugar in an off-dry Riesling can help to offset the heat in spicy fare like Thai curries.
Rioja: Medium- to full-bodied with firm tannins and good acidity, Rioja makes for a very food-friendly wine. Made with the Tempranillo grape, the Spanish wine is a winning pairing with chorizo, myriad tapas, roast pork, burgers, tacos, and grilled meats.
Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp and refreshing, Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect daytime wine. While it’s delicious all on its own, we recommend trying it with salads, quiche, vegetarian dishes, and chicken or fish with herb sauces. Goat cheese and Sancerre is a classic combination.
Syrah/Shiraz: With flavors of red and black fruits, earth, and smoke, Syrah’s meaty body and robust tannins are best paired with bold flavors. Grilled and smoked meats, pasta bolognese, lamb burgers, and spiced dishes with cumin, cinnamon, or black pepper are all hits with this variety.
Zinfandel: Full-bodied with hints of spice, smoke, and a mix of jammy and tart berry notes, Zinfandel can stand up to hearty pastas, meat-topped pizzas, and barbecue favorites like pulled pork sandwiches.