Basic Rules of Food and Wine Pairing – a general overview.
How do you pair wine with food?
While there are many things to consider when pairing wine with food, there are three basic factors to use as your starting point. I want to make food and wine pairing easy, not complicate it for you with fancy terms and jargon.
While this is not the easiest thing to learn, anyone can build a basic working knowledge of wine pairing. Think of this as a quick tutorial covering the very basic food and wine pairing rules.
Just know that with any set of rules there are always exceptions, but if you go by these three factors you’ll be fine and on your way to enjoying wine pairing in a way you may not have before!
Here are some basic terms to have a working vocabulary of wine to make this easier to follow. For more wine terms just click here for my page on wine terms.
Acid(ity) – When the term acid or acidity is used in regards to wine, it basically means how much your mouth continues to salivate after drinking. The term “crisp” refers to wines with high acidity.
Tannin – Tannin is a component in red wine that creates the drying or mouth-puckering sensation in your mouth.
Flabby – When the acidity of your wine is so low that the wine almost feels lifeless in your mouth.
Mouth-feel – The feeling of the food in your mouth. i.e. creamy, mouth-coating, light, crumbly, etc…
Weight or Body – this refers to well, the body of the wine. How heavy or light is your food or wine?
Three Factors of Wine Pairing
-Weight of the food
-Intensity of flavors
When deciding which factor of wine pairing to base your pairing on, look at which factor is the most dominant. Sometimes all factors will come into play and can be a bit of a balancing act.
The key to properly pairing wine with food is balance. Whichever factor you choose to focus on, you want them to balance.
If it’s Chicken Alfredo, the dishes weight is obviously the standout; it’s a rich, creamy and dense dish so you need a wine that’s medium to fuller bodied to keep up with the weight of the dish.
Pairing food that contains intense spice and flavors or simply has one flavor that is very intense you need a wine that’s as intense in flavor. Choosing a wine that’s more subdued or neutral flavors will be lost in a dish like this. You want match intensities.
If you’re eating Spaghetti Bolognese, a salad with lots of citrus or any dish where it’s components are high in acid, you need to pair wine that’s at least equally as acidic. Pairing wine with foods that are pickled or have vinegar, you want a wine that is highly acidic.
To recap, you want to think about what stands out the most about your dish. Is it the weight/body, the acidity or the intensity of flavor?
Side dishes can be another tricky component to pairing wine with food. Before you were just concerned about the main dish, but the side dish can throw you for a loop.
What do you base your pairing on now? Answer: Whichever is the dominant flavor. You could have a delicate entree with a fairly stand-out side-dish and want to take the side dish a little more into consideration.
Sometimes you’ll maybe need to go with a more neutral wine or a wine that’s better to go with many foods rather than one food. But again, it doesn’t matter if you have three entrees and three side dishes, you pair wine based on dominant flavors on the table.