Let’s consider specific rules that will help you choose a harmonious wine pairing for any occasion.
Simple with simple, complex with complex
Of course, drinking barolo with a sandwich seems to be a special chic, something unusual and rebellious. However, if you go the traditional way, simple, inexpensive wines are the best match for uncomplicated dishes. For example, a burger with beef patty can be matched with malbec from Caor or Australian shiraz, and a margarita pizza with light pinot grigio or verdejo.
For intricate dishes close to haute cuisine, choose a more refined wine. White or black truffle definitely requires an elegant pinot noir from Burgundy or Piedmontese nebbiolo, lobster – a creamy pouilly-fuissé or pouligny-montrachet, and quail with berry sauce – a structured and noble syrah from Côte-Rôtie or St. Joseph.
The principle of “mirror” and contrast
One of the principles states that food and wine should be equally vibrant and full-bodied so that no one pulls the blanket over the other, but rather everyone is in perfect harmony. For example, a medium-bodied or full-bodied Bordeaux red pairs well with lamb – both have a rich, bright flavor and dense texture. And scallops in a creamy sauce with an oak-aged Chardonnay, as both the dish and the wine have a creamy texture.
On the other hand, many pairings are built precisely on contrast, say a curry and a light, floral pinot blanc from the Rheingau.
Similar aromas and flavors
Choose wines that are close in flavor and aroma to the food. For example, fish with lemon is best accompanied by white acidic wines, where citrus tones always prevail – Albariño, sauvignon blanc or vermentino. And pair with mushrooms with a nebbiolo or pinot noir, which develop flavors of undergrowth, earth and truffle over the years.
One fundamental combination, Muscadet and oysters are united by a light texture and mineral character. Pair wines aged in barrel or from special terroirs that give the wines smoky tones with smoked dishes. For example, a pouilly-fumé will harmonize with smoked white fish.
Fat with acidity and tannin
This combination enthralls many people. Wines with high acidity – sauvignon blanc, albariño, riesling, grüner veltliner – are great for refreshing the receptors, thus creating the right balance. Such wines help to deal with fats, rich sauces and oiliness, they are like dissecting them with a sharp knife. Good choices include albariño and oily white fish, ribeye and malbec from Argentina.
Why is it that when you come to Tuscany, there seems to be no better pairing than Florentine steak and Chianti? It’s all about the local aspect. As a rule, dishes and wines, united by one terroir, have similar shades and accordingly perfectly match each other. Therefore, in a new region, do not be afraid to discover unfamiliar flavors and combinations.
Examples of territorial harmony include salad with goat cheese and white sancerre in the Loire, sauternes and foie gras in Bordeaux, and dumplings and white cat du rhone in the Rhone Valley.
Wine to sauce and garnish
Sometimes we only consider the main ingredient and completely forget about its accompaniment. In wine pairing, this is a gross and unforgivable mistake. After all, one of the main rules states that it is the gravy that rules the ball. If turkey is paired with cream sauce or pear, then white wine with oak aging, say, white Chateauneuf-du-pape, is necessary.
But the same turkey with berry sauce looks better with red Chateauneuf. The same principle should be followed with pasta. Sangiovese or red Rioja is ideal for tomato sauce, verdicchio or lugana for pesto.
Dependence on the “roast”
One and the same product can be cooked in different variations: raw, grilled, oven, etc. And depending on this, completely different styles of wine will suit it. Take beef, for example. A rosé from Navarre will work well with tartare, a merlot from the Right Bank of Bordeaux or California will work well with steak, and a beaujolais cru, Fleury or Morgon will work well with bresaola (beef jerky).
Sweet and salty
Another example of harmonious pairing in contrast. With salty food, an off dry wine will seem less sweet and the food more intense. The most telling example is port or sauternes and blue mold cheese.
Red is not just for meat
Now let’s talk about a few myths of combinations. “Red to meat, white to fish” certainly works 90% of the time. But again the garnish, the sauce, the density of the dish and the wine must be taken into account. An example is the successful union of lightly grilled tuna and barbera from Piedmont. Tuna has a dense texture very close to meat, so it is best matched with medium-bodied red wines or powerful rosé wines like Tavel.
None of the above is suitable and the question of combinations is still open? Pay attention to gastronomic and universal wines. These include rosé – acidic, moderately aromatic, ready to support both vegetables, fish or even meat. Then there is also worth mentioning oranges, which are wines made from white varieties that undergo maceration on the skins. Orange wines will be extremely harmonious with vegetables and fish dishes. Also successful in this respect are Beaujolais, Valpolicella, medium-bodied chardonnay, pinot blanc wines.
White is better with cheese
We do not want to disappoint you, but cheeses, contrary to popular belief, do not go well with red wines. But sparkling and white wines work much better with them. The combination of cheese and wine should be approached carefully, taking into account the texture of the cheese, aging and additives – truffle, spices and herbs. Territoriality will greatly simplify the choice. Example: brie and crémant or cava, manchego and garnacha, mozzarella di buffalo and greco di tufo, camembert and chenin blanc, pecorino and chianti.
And lastly, we advise you not to be afraid to try and pick your own pairings, according to the rules or in spite of them. Muscat with steak or Shiraz with pumpkin – it all depends on your preference. Don’t disdain other drinks either, as it is German lager that will go best with sauerkraut and sausage in Munich.