Wine Pairings: The Rules of Thumb (How to Bring Oomph to Your Meal)


At the instance of the Grand Mistress of the domain, I have been pulled from my busy schedule of heavy procrastination, to finally post an article on this site. But what topic can offer the appropriate magnitude of grandeur on a site that brings style for life?! Well I have been discussing with Jennifer several food related topics, but it wasn’t till I started writing about wine that I decided to make an article bridging the two subjects as a start here. That said, pairing is a simple way to really add a little class to your dining experience. It really enhance meals in many surprising ways. Now pairing a drink with your meal is not necessarily a foreign concept to some. In fact you probably do it all the time, but here are a few fun tips with wine.

You probably noticed that every time you eat, if you are drinking water with your meal, though it does not add anything to the experience it does clean the palate. It is important to do this regularly moving between foods in order to avoid clashing tastes. Similarly, many drinks you consume especially wines are enjoyed on their own with small palate cleansers between or more of the same drink for most of the time spent drinking. There is nothing wrong with doing either of these things on their own but there is another dimension definitely worth trying (pairing wine with food).

I feel that it is mostly a western cuisine concept for pairing food and drink. To this day sommeliers whose job it is to pair food with wine are mostly coming out of and working in western cuisine restaurants, though higher end eastern cuisine restaurants generally now have a sommelier on staff. Now common pairings you have probably tried or know about are; beer and salted nuts or pork rinds, and Coke/Pepsi (there is a difference in taste between the two but they are both cola) with… well, almost anything. Alone these individual items taste good, but together (ie. Eating the nuts and taking a swig from that cold frothy pint) they enhance each others flavours and create a new dimension of flavour. On the same note there are pairing combinations that can clash and actually hurt the experience (ie. Drinking coke and a meal prepared with certain spicy salts from Eastern cuisine). That it is why pairing your drink with your meal is actually more important than some people realize. The French, the giants of gourmet cuisine, have even termed a perfect pairing between food and wine as a mariage (French for marriage) as it is so important to their dining experience.

When discussing pairings the general rule of thumb is if the flesh is red pick a red wine, and if the flesh is white pick a white wine. As a general rule it is pretty damn accurate, but how do you bring it to the next level? Obviously not all wines that are red will go with certain dishes dishes just because the meats are red. Drier red wines that use a Cabernet Sauvignon and are more light or medium bodied and have solid flavour go really well with red meat dishes that are rich yet simple (ie. almost all French cuisine dishes). Medium and less dry wines that have more body or are full bodied, go very with either complex or simple flavour can go very well with dishes that are more bold or deep (ie. Italian cuisine that are heavy on flavour or Thai dishes).

Similarly not all white wines go with poultry or fish (the “white” flesh). When it comes to white fish and shellfish dishes simply flavoured drier and not fruity or sweet white wines are definitely the way to go (ie. chabalis that has no fruitiness with oysters). Poultry on the other hand benefits with medium and sweeter wines (Rieslings). Rosé wines are pink/reddish in colour but they are actually white wines that have incorporated the skin of a grape (black/red grapes) giving it that colour. They go really well with chicken breast dishes. I would also commonly use white wines for vegetarian dishes as the general flavour of white wines go better with them.

What about desserts you say? That is less about colour and more about the level of sweetness. Riselings and ice wines are generally ranging from the medium sweetness to just about sweet. They can go well with less sweet desserts, but if you are looking for something that goes with a truly sweet dessert pick up a port (red fortified), sherry (white fortified), or a dessert wine with a sugar content than can give you a cavity just looking at it (so sweet to extra sweet on the scale).

Most wine stores have small descriptions to help pick a wine for a food pairing. At the end of the day you don’t need to break the bank in order to have a good pairing. I have good experiences with pairing common table wines with certain dishes and have been quite pleased with the result. I suggest practicing with those wines just so you learn the general flavour combinations you can expect when doing a wine pairing. When you have more experience then you can invest in that bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild (ONE DAY YOU WILL BE MINE!!!) and maybe pair it with a dish. Remember the only real way to find out how good a wine is, is to taste it for yourself. Price does not always guarantee flavour and that definitely goes double for pairings! Bon Apétit et Santé.