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Pairing Wine with Food: A Quagmire

When I say that pairing wine with food is a quagmire it is because the rules of yore have been tossed out the window. There is so much information… what to do, what to do?

The red meat – big red wine rules only exist if you want. Now it is more of a “drink what you like” – just drink something.  Sure the guidelines still exist but most restaurants are not staffed with sommeliers and your server may or may not have the slightest clue about wine other than what they have been told by management.  Wine is more popular and more mainstream than ever. It is served just about everywhere. So perhaps out of necessity, the rules had to change.

Even with “drink what you like” there are some tips that will hopefully enhance your dining experience whether at a restaurant or in your own home. So how do we put the pieces of this puzzle together?

pairing wine

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash


Pairing Wine with Food Basics*

  • High acid food needs high acid wines. Look for white wines grown in cooler climates. White Burgundy (Chardonnay), New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling, Chablis, and Muscadet.

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  • Rich, fatty foods need high tannin red wine to cleanse your palate. Look for the Bordeaux family of grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere.

pairing winePhoto by Alex Munsell on Unsplash

  • Spicy food needs a cold, sweet, low alcohol wine to calm the fire. Look for German white wines like Kabinett Reisling, Spätlese Reisling, other Rieslings, and Muscadet. You can also include French Alsatian Reisling as well.

pairing winePhoto by Adi Chrisworo on Unsplash

  • Pungent food (bleu cheese) need higher acid and some sweetness in a wine. Look for Barolo, Amarone, Barbaresco, Sauternes, and Port

pairing winePhoto by Jez Timms on Unsplash

  • Bitter food needs low or no tannin wine with a touch of salinity and sweetness. Look for Beaujolais, Tempranillo, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Spanish Rioja

pairing winePhoto by Christine Siracusa on Unsplash

  • Sweet food needs sweet wine. Look for Sauternes, Sweet Reislings

pairing winePhoto by Alexander Mils  on Unsplash

Pairing Wine – Other tidbits

Here are a few other tidbits that I have discovered. Avoid tannic wines with fatty/oily fish aka cold water fish like cod or salmon. Serve salty foods with high acid wines like a Beaujolais or Pinot Grigio. With dessert, the wine should always be as sweet or sweeter than what’s on the plate. And with spicy food definitely avoid really oaky, tannic wines. Spice exaggerates oaky flavors, and tannins become more astringent and mouth-drying.

Wines with versatility

Here are some versatile white wines that can stand up to most and will not cause a war in your mouth: Unoaked Chardonnay, Sancerre, Albariño, and Chenin Blanc. And now for a few reds: Pinot Noir, Grenache, Tempranillo, Gamay, Sangiovese and Chilean Merlot. And don’t forget about dry, French rosés.


* I used several sources to gather this information. My thanks and gratitude go to Wine Folly a fantastic educational website about all things wine. They also sell an easy to read reference book The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette & Justin Hammack, that I highly recommend. If you are the fastidious type, there is also What to Drink with What you Eat by Dornenburg & Page. But be prepared to be overwhelmed with this tome of information.

pairing wine       pairing wine


That is all for now.





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