Food and Wine Pairing Basics: Three Rules to Make Food Taste Better

Paul Zink, CSW & WSET 3, lives his life by the three C's: Caviar, Chenin Blanc, and (potato) Chips. Sauternes and Vanilla Ice Cream are a close second place. You can find him pouring natural wine at Satellite in Santa Barbara, CA.

See recent posts by Paul Zink

Food and wine pairing can be incredibly complex and confusing. What food goes with which wine? Will adding a certain spice knock my whole pairing out of balance? What if I add too much salt! Will my dish be ruined? Pairing wine to match your meal can be summarized into three simple rules:

Breaded pork schnitzel

Acid and Fat

Acidity is one of the five main taste sensations in food and wine, and when implemented properly, can add a beautiful refreshing characteristic. One of the main ways acidity is utilized in food pairing is a way to refresh your palate after a fatty food item. Imagine eating pork schnitzel. It’s salty, fatty, and decadent, but after a few bites, your palate is clogged from all the fat. Enter, German Riesling. The Riesling grape is extremely high in acidity and will help your mouth salivate, clearing your palate from all the fat and getting you ready for your next bite.

Another example of acidity in food and wine pairing is the unexpected combination of fried chicken and Champagne. The acidity and effervescence of the sparkling drink will lift the fat off your palate, preparing you for your next bite.

Suggested pairings: 

Goat Cheese Salad with French Sauvignon Blanc

Roasted Vegetables with a Spanish Rose

Butternut Squash Soup with a White Burgundy (Chardonnay)

Grilled beef steak

Red Meat With Red Wine:

Tannin is a preservative component in wine that comes from the skins, stems, and seeds of the grape. Tannin is perceived as a mouth-drying sensation that happens every time you take a sip. Tannins are desirable in certain amounts, but when a wine is too tannic, it can come off as bitter and mouth-destroying. Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of a grape that is high in tannin, so often, after drinking Cabernet, your mouth can end up feeling a little parched—unless you pair it with fatty red meat like a steak. The fattiness in the meat will help alleviate the mouth-drying sensation and bitterness of the tannin, and smooth out the rest of your mouth. You’re ready for your next sip.

However, not all red wines are up for the task. If a red wine doesn’t have enough tannin, it will get blown out of proportion by the fattiness of the steak, and the dish will be out of equilibrium. 

Suggested pairings: 

Turkey with Beaujolais Cru

Prime rib with Langhe Nebbiolo 

Apfelkuchen dessert

Sweet Wine Must Be Sweeter Than Your Dessert

You’ve reached the end of your meal, and it’s time for dessert—but not until you’ve finished off the rest of your dinner wine. This is because of one of the cardinal rules of wine pairing: your wine must be sweeter than your dessert. If you were to take a bit of your apple tart or ice cream, and go back to your dry wine from your entree, it will taste bitter and highly acidic. This is because sweetness in food will diminish the perceived sweetness in wine. When drinking a dessert wine, some of its sweetness will be canceled out from the dessert but there will still be some perceived sweetness remaining.

Suggested pairings: 

Apple tart and ice cream with Austrian Beerenauslese

Pumpkin pie with Rutherglen Muscat

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