Discover how to pair wine and food

Charcuterie board and wine being poured in to a glass

Wine and food pairing is about creating balance between the profile of the wine and flavors and textures of the accompanying dish.

Estate Winner - Paris Tasting, 1976

Pairings can be as simple as a charcuterie board with artisan cheese to mix and match, yielding a variety of pairing combinations and taste sensations, or as complex as a carefully prepared French meal such as beef Bourguignon—a tender, fall-apart stew rich in flavor and texture. As a general rule of thumb, red wines create complementary pairings that emphasize the flavors of the wine and food. Sparkling, white, and rosé wines more often yield contrasting pairings that balance differing flavors between the wine and food.

No matter the culinary selection, there are a few fundamentals to keep in mind:

  • Never pair wine with a food sweeter or more acidic than the wine.
  • Pair alike, and combine dishes and wine with the same flavor intensity.
  • Marbled red meats pair best with red wines with a noticeable tannin profile.
  • White wines pair best with white meat like chicken, turkey, and fish.
  • Lighter profile red wines with higher acidity can pair with marbled red meat and white meat, when considering their accompanying flavors and sauces.
  • For saucy dishes, select the wine based on the sauce flavor.

The six major food flavor components are critical when working within these fundamentals. In wine, only three of these components exist (acidity, sweetness, and bitterness). Identifying the flavor components of a dish before serving helps to select an appropriate wine.

The six major flavor components of food are:

  • Salty: contains salt and a taste sensation that suggests seawater.
  • Acidity: a sharp, sour, or biting taste sensation.
  • Sweet: contains high sugar content and a pleasant taste sensation.
  • Bitter: an astringent taste sensation, often disagreeable.
  • Fatty: containing fat, and rich and thick in texture and flavor
  • Spicy: a spice-filled, stimulating, and pleasantly sharp taste sensation.

The three most common flavor components in wine, and how they present themselves in wine, are:

  • Acidity: highest in white wines and lighter profile red wines, while heavier red wines generally show the less acidity—it is noticeable in how the acid makes one’s tongue water.
  • Sweetness: dessert wines and sparkling wines with purposefully high residual sugar content are the sweetest wines; white and red wines have a sweet sensation due to the ripeness of the grapes.
  • Bitterness: red wines most commonly show bitter notes from tannin profile, barrel aging expression in younger vintage wines, or the ripeness of the grapes (less ripened grapes can have bitter flavors or an underripe fruit profile).

When selecting a wine to pair with a meal, simplify the dish to its flavor components to understand what flavors need to be complemented or contrasted. Look at the dish intensity—consider how powerful each flavor component is and what is most prominent. The final decision is whether the wine and food pairing will complement or contrast.

Delight in these wine and food pairings from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in the comfort of your home: