Wine Pairing Guide

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wine pairing

Wine Pairing Guide

Here’s an easy approach that pairs the flavors and recipes you have in mind with wines that will enhance the dining experience.

Don’t think solely in terms of “red” and “white”; wine is much more subtle than that.

Consider the wine you choose as added seasoning that will make your meal taste that much better.

Wines For Fish

One of the basic rules of wine selection is to choose a wine that compliments your meal without overpowering it. The conventional wisdom is to pair fish and other seafood, which is usually mild in flavor, with white wine.

White wine doesn’t contain the tannins and complex chemical compounds that make many red wine varieties so multifaceted.

Tannins in particular can make the iodine present in some fish taste sharp or even metallic.

Red wine typically contains more alcohol than white wine, which gives it a substantial, or sometimes heavy, feel in the mouth.

Dry white wines go well with lean seafood like:

  • Blue mussels
  • Clams
  • Cod
  • Dover sole
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Monkfish
  • Northern lobster
  • Oysters
  • Perch
  • Red snapper
  • Sea bass
  • Snow crab

Full bodied white wines go well with fattier fish like:

  • Bluefin Tuna
  • Carp
  • Lake trout
  • Marlin
  • Orange Roughy
  • Salmon
  • Swordfish
  • Whitefish

Here are some white wine choices you might want to consider with fish.

  • Chardonnay (especially with lobster)
  • Chenin Blanc (dry)
  • Fume Blanc (full bodied)
  • Pinot Grigio (dry)
  • Pinot Gris (full bodied)
  • Sauvignon Blanc (dry)
  • Viognier (full bodied)

Although white wine is the obvious choice, there are some milder red wine or blush options that work especially well with “meaty,” full bodied fish. Here are a few:

  • Beaujolais
  • Gamay
  • Grenache
  • Pinot Noir
  • Rose
  • Sangiovese

Wines For Fowl

Like most seafood, popular fowl (think chicken and turkey) are considered mild in flavor. There are some exceptions, like the dark meat in a turkey drumstick that has a somewhat gamier flavor, but usually poultry is best paired with a light flavored wine like the dry white or red wines mentioned above for fish.

Some other options, particularly around the holidays, would be:

  • Champagne
  • Sparkling wine
  • Riesling

If the chicken dish is cooked in a tomato sauce with Mediterranean spices, consider pairing it with a nice Chianti.

For gamier fowl like duck and goose, consider serving:

  • Rhone varietal
  • Bordeaux
  • Chianti
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel

Wines With Meat

Meats like beef and lamb are considered strongly flavored. They tend to work best with full bodied red wines. Actually, this is where red wine shines. Those luscious smoky and fruity flavors really come to the fore and add depth to steak or prime rib.

Here are some suggestions that will make your wine investment a delicious bargain at mealtime:

For beef or venison:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Rhone wine blends
  • Syrah
  • Zinfandel

For chopped beef (like hamburger):

  • Barbera
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chancellor
  • Gamay
  • Rhone wine blends
  • Syrah
  • Zinfandel

For lamb:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel

For Veal:

  • Barbera
  • Lambrusco
  • Chardonnay
  • Cynthiana
  • Merlot

For pork:

  • Beaujolais
  • Gamay
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Gris

With sausage (like brats):

  • Barbera
  • Beaujolais
  • Brut
  • Gamay
  • Riesling
  • Sparkling Rose
  • Syrah
  • Zinfandel

These wine pairings will work with specific dishes:

  • Spaghetti with meatballs – Prefer Chianti, Cabernet, Merlot or Shiraz
  • Burgers – Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir or Zinfandel
  • Barbecued (pork) spareribs – Riesling, Rose or Tempranillo
  • Pork Tenderloin – Pinot Noir or Zinfandel
  • Ham – Beaujolais, Gamay, Merlot or Pinot Noir
  • Rabbit – Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling or Zinfandel

Dessert Wines

Dessert wines often don’t have the broad appeal they deserve. They’re pretty flexible, though. The right dessert wine can be served alone; with a simple cheese or fresh fruit platter; or alongside more robust options like cake or pie.

One big challenge with a sweet wine is getting past the price tag. Some Port varieties can be particularly expensive.

There is one fundamental rule when choosing a sweet wine, though. The wine should always be sweeter than the dish it’s paired with — otherwise it will taste sour and spoil the dessert course.

If you want to try a sweet wine for the last course of your next special meal, here a few options and the dishes they complement:

  • Cheese (hard) – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Zinfandel
  • Cheese (semi-hard) – Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Syrah
  • Cheesecake – Champagne or Sweet Sake
  • Chocolate desserts – Cognac, Muscat Sherry or (vintage) Port
  • Fresh fruit – Italian Frascati, Riesling or Sparkling Rosé
  • Ice cream – Champagne or Sweet Sake
  • Pie or cake – Alsace Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling (late harvest) or Tawny Port