The Wine and Spirits CellarWine Pairing Basics

January 20, 2022
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Wine Pairing Basics

The Wine and Spirits Cellar

Learn food and wine pairing basics so you can create your own pairings. This guide will show you the steps on how to pair. You’ll also learn what to look for in a recipe in order to make great wine matches.

A great food and wine pairing creates a balance between the components of a dish and the characteristics of a wine.

As much as pairing food and wine is complex, the basics are simple to grasp.

Basic Taste Components in Food

Simplify a dish down to its basic dominant tastes. For example, baked macaroni has 2 primary components: fat and salt. Southern barbecue is a bit more complex and includes fat, salt, sweet and spice (plus a little acid!). Even dishes without meat can be simplified. For example, a green salad offers acidity and bitterness; creamed corn offers fatness and sweetness.

Consider the Intensity

FOOD: Is the food super light or super rich? A salad may seem lighter, but perhaps the dressing is balsamic vinaigrette with high acidity. If the intensity of the dish isn’t obvious at first, just focus on the power of each taste component (acidity, fat, sweet, etc).

WINE: Is the wine light or bold? Here are a few examples:

  • Sauvignon Blanc is light-bodied, but it has higher acidity
  • Chardonnay has more body, but it’s usually not too acidic
  • Pinot Noir is lighter bodied (for a red wine) and it doesn’t have too much tannin (bitterness).
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is more full-bodied and has high tannin (more bitterness)

Find Contrasting or Congruent Pairings

Now that you’ve identified all the basic taste components in your dish, you can start playing around with pairing options. The simple example of the baked macaroni will offer up several possible pairings:

COMPLEMENTARY PAIRING: A white wine with high acidity will complement the fat in the macaroni. A traditional mac and cheese recipe with a creamy béchamel sauce matched with zesty white wine. A wine such as Pinot Grigio, Assyrtiko or Sauvignon Blanc would create a Complementary Pairing.

CONGRUENT PAIRING: A white wine with creaminess will add to the creaminess in the dish. A traditional mac and cheese recipe with a creamy béchamel sauce matched with a creamy white wine. A wine such as Viognier or Chardonnay would create a Congruent Pairing.