The world of wine doesn’t have to be elusive and pretentious. Whether you’re an armchair sommelier or an “I’m getting notes of…grapes” type, being able to pair wine and food is a great skill to have (and kind of a flex). While it may seem like magic that certain wines can make certain foods taste better, and vice versa, there is a rhyme and reason to why and how this works. Here are some easy tips to wow your guests (or just yourself — no judgement) with some less shiddy wine pairings at your next meal!
Besides colour, wine has four basic elements you want to consider when pairing with food: acidity, body, tannins (bitterness), and sweetness.
While we all know what acidity tastes like, an easy way to pick it out in wine is by how much it makes you salivate or pucker, or makes the sides of your jaw get that tingle.
The body of a wine means how heavy or robust it feels in your mouth. For example, Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays have that full, thick feeling in your mouth compared to something lighter like a Pinot Grigio.
Tannins can be easily identified by a wine making your tongue feel dry or sandpapery. Tannins are bitter natural compounds found in things like chocolate, tea, and coffee. Pro tip: only red wine can have tannins, as they come from the skin of the grape!
Sweetness is pretty self explanatory, but sweeter wines will often have a more syrupy mouthfeel.
As a general rule, the wine should always be more acidic and more sweet than the food you pair it with. Because we want the food to make the wine taste better, taking a bite of an acidic vinaigrette salad prior to your sip will round out the acidity and make the wine taste more balanced. Have you ever had a sweet pastry with your coffee and noticed the coffee tastes more harsh and bitter after you eat it? The same goes for wine. We want the wine to stand up against these flavours rather than have a jarring, unpleasant contrast.
Bold wines should be paired with bold flavours. For example, we want a full-bodied, flavourful red to match a red meat dish so it doesn’t get lost or overpowered. Similarly, tannins or bitter flavours in wine pair well with something heavy like steak or a burger to cut the fattiness.
When in doubt, a common saying among wine aficionados is, “what grows together goes together.” For example, an Italian Chianti pairs beautifully with an acidic tomato sauce pasta. Keep in mind that while we often hear wine paired in terms of meat, the sauce is what really matters as it’s what contributes to the overall flavours of the dish we will be looking out for.
While wine pairing can be more complex and experimental than this, here are some basic pairings to keep in mind:
- 🌶 Spicy food — look for a sweeter, lower alcohol wine like Riesling or Gewurtztraminer, as high alcohol and bitterness intensify the burn
- 🐟 Seafood — pairs well with an acidic, light-bodied white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis
- 🥩 Beef, lamb, and other red meats — look for a tannic, full bodied red to cut the fat and match the rich, bold flavours such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah
- 🍟 Salty foods — the acidity and palate-cleansing effects taste refreshing next to salty or fried food
- 🍄 Earthy flavours such as mushroom and herbs — think earthy, almost savoury wines like Pinot Noir
Keep in mind that while we often hear wine paired in terms of meat, the sauce is what really matters as it’s what contributes
If you’ve gotten this far — congratulations, you’re now a wine snob! When your guests are blown away at your next dinner party, tell them less shiddy sent you.