Wine has contributed to human culture for millennia, not only in the West but also East Asia. Wine’s rich history plus diverse flavors, aromas, acidity, and sweetness make it a superb beverage for celebrations, relaxation, and especially gastronomic indulgence. Pairing an appropriate wine with the right food elevates both experiences. People have honed the art of wine and food over centuries, and it continues to enchant palates worldwide. Wine and food pairing should never intimidate, and no hard and fast rules exist, but some classic pairings exist in that long history. Delving into the fascinating world of wine and food pairing will help uncover how to create savory combinations that tantalize the senses. You may find some new combinations to vitalize your creative juices!

The Basics of Wine and Food Pairing

At its core, wine and food pairing will create a harmonious balance between the flavors, textures, and characteristics of both the wine and the dish. When performed effectively, wine and food pairing enhances the dining experience by elevating and diversifying hidden elements of both food and wine. Think of it as an exploration aimed at creating a synergy where the overall experience becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

To achieve this, first consider the following elements:

Flavor Profile: Pay attention to the primary flavors in both the wine and the food. Are they fruity, spicy, earthy, or floral? Matching or contrasting these flavors can significantly impact the pairing.

Acidity: The acidity of a wine can cut through the richness of a dish or complement its brightness. High-acid wines like Sauvignon Blanc can work wonders with acidic dishes like ceviche, while low-acid wines like Chardonnay pair well with creamy sauces.

Sweetness (aka residual sugar): The sweetness level can complement the sweetness level of the dish. Sweeter Rieslings and Gewurztraminers can balance spicy dishes, while dry wines are often better suited to savory options.

Tannins: Tannins, found primarily in red wines, interact with meat proteins, creating a stunning and memorable mouthfeel. The right tannin level (think of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa versus a Gamay Noir from Beaujolais) can be crucial in pairing wine with steak or lamb.

Body: Consider the weight or body of both the wine and the food. Light wines like Pinot Noir are best with delicate dishes, while full-bodied wines like Malbec (or the up-and-coming Bonardo) shine alongside hearty, robust dishes.

Texture: Match the wine’s texture with that of the food. Creamy wines like oak- or lees-aged Chardonnay harmonize with creamy dishes, while sparkling wines contrast with crispy or fried foods.

Now that you have some foundation for understanding wine and food pairing, let’s explore some classic and unconventional combinations that demonstrate the gastronomical artistry and creativity involved.

Classic Wine and Food Pairings: Time-Tested Complementarity

Chardonnay and Lobster: The buttery richness of Chardonnay complements the bold sweet flavors of lobster. Sommeliers celebrate this classic pairing because it harmoniously marries succulent, buttery flavors and textures.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Steak: The robust, often tannic character of Cabernet Sauvignon make it an ideal partner for a juicy steak. The wine’s dark fruit notes and subtle spice enhance the savory qualities of the meat. Even tannins that might otherwise be found harsh meld perfectly with a great T-bone.

Sauvignon Blanc and Fresh Goat Cheese: Think of France’s Loire Valley! The bright acidity of Sauvignon Blanc cuts the creamy, earthy flavors of goat cheese, which is also highly acid. This pairing is a testament to the power of contrasting flavors and matched acidity.

Pinot Noir and Mushroom Risotto: The delicate nature of a Pinot Noir, especially one that’s a bit extracted, complements mushroom risotto’s earthy and woody aromas, creating a balanced and elegant combination. This is especially great for a risottos made with cèpes (i.e., porcini mushrooms).

Champagne and Oysters: The effervescence of Champagne cleanses the palate and enhances the briny, mineral, and marine notes of oysters, making it a quintessential pairing for seafood lovers.

Unconventional Wine & Food Pairings: Exploring New Horizons

While classic pairings are time-tested and reliable, there’s a world of excitement in exploring unconventional combinations that challenge the palate and expand our culinary horizons.

Malbec and BBQ Ribs: While beer is often the go-to choice for barbecue, a robust Argentina Malbec equals the BBQ ribs’ bold flavors. The wine’s dark fruitiness and smoky undertones enhance the meat’s richness.

10- or 20-year Tawny Port and Dark Chocolate: A superb Tawny, with its depth and complexity matched with sweetness, pairs extremely well with dark chocolate. The combination creates a luxurious dessert experience indulging all the senses.

Semi-sweet Riesling and Spicy Thai Cuisine: By now this may be a true classic. The Riesling’s residual sugar offsets the heat of spicy Thai dishes, creating a delightful contrast that cools the palate without overpowering the flavors of fresh herbs and fish sauce.

Syrah and Game Meat: Syrah’s bold flavors and peppery notes make it an excellent companion for game meats like venison or duck. Think a smoky Syrah with tea-smoked duck breast, for instance, where the wine’s depth enhances the food’s earthy and smoldered aromas.

Experiment!! It’s a Joy

While guidelines and traditional pairings serve to get your started, wine and food pairing has never developed as exact science. Truly, it counts as an exercise in creativity that encourages experimentation. Tastes are subjective, and what works for you may not work for another. Therefore, don’t be afraid to explore and discover your own unique pairings.

Host a wine and food pairing party with friends or family to collectively explore new combinations. Create a tasting menu with a variety of wines and dishes, encouraging everyone to share their impressions and preferences. This interactive approach will result as both educational and enjoyable.

Local and Seasonal Ingredients
Another aspect of wine and food pairing that’s gaining popularity is the use of local and seasonal ingredients. By incorporating fresh, regional produce into your dishes, you can create pairings that not only tantalize the senses but also contribute to environmental sustainability. For example, if you live in a coastal region with access to fresh seafood, explore pairings with local seafood and wines produced in your region. The terroir, or unique environmental characteristics of a geographic area, often result in wines that naturally complement the local cuisine. This can create a perfect theme dinner with friends.

The Role of Wine Education
To truly appreciate the art of wine and food pairing, it can be beneficial to invest in wine education. Many wine schools, courses, and online tastings as well as virtual wine classes are available to help you deepen your knowledge of wine varieties, regions, and production methods.

Understanding the nuances of wine can empower you to make more informed pairing decisions. It can also enhance your ability to appreciate the complexities and subtleties of different wines. This creates a fulfilling dining experience and a great means of interacting with friends and guests.

In all, wine and food pairing is a captivating journey of taste and discovery that elevates any meal from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Whether you choose to follow classic wine and food pairings or embark on adventurous experiments, savor the process and enjoy inevitable sensory delights born from thoughtful combinations. Remember that there are no rigid rules in this art; let your palate and imagination be your guide. You will be proud as your culinary creativity shines in unveiling memorable wine and food pairings that delight your fellow diners. this ancient and ever-evolving gastronomic art has no end.

Charlie Leary

A member of the Circle of Wine Writers, Charlie Leary has directed restaurant wine programs in the US, Canada, Costa Rica, and France. In the mid 1990s, while earning a PhD from Cornell University, he made artisanal cheeses and counted among the first North Americans inducted into the Guilde International des Fromagers; he later planned, planted, and managed an IGP vineyard in Andalusia.

His book-length guide to worldwide wine education programs (Leary’s Global Wineology) was first published in 2022, in part based on his experience earning numerous wine certifications. His feature articles have appeared in Decanter magazine, Jane Anson’s Inside Bordeaux,, Sommelier Business,, and Tim Atkin MW’s website, among others. He recently consulted for the wine metaverse startup Second Winery and wrote a detailed report on the history of wine sensory analysis for the Wine Scholar Guild. Charlie now lives in Panama, where he offers wine classes, and is writing a book on the philosopher Montesquieu as an eighteenth century winegrower. IG: @bacopty