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Matching Wine with Food

Matching wine with food is not as easy as it used to be. How can you make your best choice with so many wines to choose from? There is really no absolute answer to pairing wine with food. If the old rule, "red wine with red meat, and white wine with fish or fowl," still works for you, that's fine. Drink whatever wine you like with whatever type of food you are eating.

Basic Guidelines
If you are open for experimentation, there are some easy guidelines to follow. The first is to match flavors of roughly equal intensity. Match a robust wine with foods of strong and rich flavors, and match a delicate wine with foods of mild flavors.

Secondly, consider that the flavors of wine are derived from components such as sugar, fruit, alcohol, acid and tannins, and that food has components such as sugar, salt, pepper, bitterness, acid and fats. This knowledge should make it easier to match wine with food.

What does this all mean? If you are planning a spicy dish, you may not want to choose a delicate wine because the spice will overpower the delicate wine, and you will not be able to taste it. A spicy Zinfandel would be a great match. If you paired a strong Cabernet Sauvignon with a delicately sautéed veal, you could easily imagine that the wine would overpower the food. So you might prefer a dry Chardonnay.

Two examples:

Example 1
Consider preparing a grilled Porterhouse steak. If you are familiar with this particular cut of beef, you know that this well-marbled cut prepared on a grill is going to be a deliciously rich-tasting steak. Which kind of wine would you choose? A robust Cabernet Sauvignon would be the right choice. It would be complementary to the meat, and perfect to "cut through" the rich favors.

Example 2
Now let's consider sautéing a salmon fillet, prepared with a delicate sauce. You want to be sure to complement the salmon, but you must also consider the sauce. A Chardonnay would be a great choice if the salmon were simply grilled without the sauce. Since the fish is prepared with a delicate sauce, the Chardonnay would be too overpowering. In order to consider both the fish and the sauce, the wine to choose would be a Sauvignon Blanc, of the less grassy variety. It is lighter in texture and flavor.

Guidelines for complementary wines and foods:

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Grilled Beef
  • Beef Stew
  • Roasted Duckling
  • Pork Roast
  • Prime Ribs of Beef

Merlot

  • Filet Mignon
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Game Hen
  • Pork

Zinfandel

  • Hearty Soups, Stews, Chili
  • Lamb
  • Italian Cuisine
  • Pork
  • Barbecue

Chardonnay

  • Grilled Salmon
  • Sea Bass
  • Roasted Chicken or Turkey
  • Veal Picatta
  • Pasta with Cream Sauce

Sauvignon Blanc

  • Broiled Halibut, Scrod, Sole, Trout
  • Roasted Chicken, Turkey, Game Hen
  • Veal
  • Pasta Dishes with Mild Sauces
  • Chinese Food

White Zinfandel

  • Baked Ham
  • Grilled Chicken
  • Asian Foods
  • Chinese Chicken Salad
  • Salads with Dressing