Pairing wine with food is creating a wholly unique culinary experience. The right pairing elevates your food and enhances your enjoyment of wine, adding a new dimension of enjoyment to every meal. However, creating a food and wine pairing can be challenging. Food and wine pairings can go wrong because some wines don't complement all foods—sometimes, you’ll have wine that overpowers the flavors on your plate or wine that barely holds up against your food. In the worst pairings, the wine inhibits your enjoyment of the meal.

Thankfully, the wine experts at Theorem Vineyards have put together some tips and tricks to make food and wine pairing a smoother experience for you.

Tip #1: Identifying the Basic Flavor Profiles in Your Dish & Drink

While there is a whole world of flavors, you only need to focus on six aspects when pairing food and wine:

  • Salt
  • Acid
  • Sweet
  • Bitter
  • Fat
  • Spice

While wines typically lack fat, spiciness, and salt, they often do contain acidity, sweetness, and bitterness.

Generally, you can group wines into three different categories:

  • Red wines typically are more bitter
  • Whites, rosé, and sparkling wines have more acidity
  • Sweet wines have more sweetness

Having an idea of the typical taste in wine varieties will make it easier for you to base your wine and food pairings on the intensity of your food.

The following questions are helpful to ask yourself when pairing food and wine together:

  • Is the food light or rich?
  • What is the weight and intensity of the dish?
  • What is the dominant flavor element in the dish?
  • Are any of the six aspects predominant in the dish?

Try to focus on the strongest element of a dish. For instance, a salad might seem like light food, but dressing like balsamic vinaigrette gives the salad acidity. While many pairings focus on the main protein of a dish (i.e., fish, steak, and chicken), you could just as easily pair your wine with a powerful sauce or side. If the intensity of the dish isn't obvious, focus on the power of each taste component listed above.

Understanding the flavor intensity of your wine is also helpful. Some wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, are light-bodied but have higher acidity. Chardonnay, on the other hand, has more body, but usually isn’t too acidic. Familiarizing yourself with the character and flavor profiles of the wines you enjoy will help you determine what foods pair best with them.

Tip # 2: Create Contrast & Congruent Wine Pairings

Food and wine pairings typically fall into two categories: congruent and contrasting.

Congruent Food & Wine Pairings

A congruent pairing creates a balance between the food and the wine by amplifying shared flavor compounds. For example, you could pair a traditional creamy pasta with a creamy white wine like Chardonnay to create a congruent pairing. You could also pair a light, acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc with a delicate fish or a light sauce. The idea is to focus on a single flavor component that two foods have in common. For instance, the acid of a Sauvignon Blanc also pairs well with the sour flavor of strong cheese.

Contrasting Food & Wine Pairings

You create a contrasting pairing when there is a balance between opposing tastes and flavors. Although the wine and the dish might not have similar taste characteristics, they complement each other. For example, a full-bodied red wine might have high acidity and bitterness, complementing the fattiness of a ribeye or the richness of a leg of lamb.

Creating contrasting pairings is challenging because it's not always clear when two contrasting flavors will complement each other. One way to experiment with pairings is to have multiple wine tastings during the same meal to see how different wines interact with the flavors of the dish.

Keep in mind that even if two flavors are contrasting, their intensity should be around the same level. For instance, your full-bodied red wine should be as acidic as your ribeye is rich.

Tip # 3: Make Your Drink & Food Order at the Same Time

Mismatched wine and food pairings frequently occur, especially when people pick things based only on what they like. Your favorite drink may not pair well with your favorite dish! Instead, take the time to choose your food and drink at the same time. Excellent restaurants will also have a recommended pairing for the most popular dishes on the menu so be sure to ask your waiter for the kitchen’s recommendations.

Still, no one is a better expert on your preferences than you. Even if the wine you choose isn’t your go-to, it may work well with the food you love—creating a better experience overall. Once you get more familiar with the basics of food and wine pairings, you'll become confident and experiment with different combinations.

Some Final Tips & Tricks for Creating Your Wine Pairing

Once you start experimenting with different wine varieties and foods, you will begin to notice which wines go best with which foods. Below, we have put together a list of basic tips and suggestions to get you started.

  • The wine should have the same flavor intensity as the food.
  • White wines pair best with light-intensity meats (fish or chicken). In most cases, white wine, sparkling wine, and rosé create contrasting pairings.
  • Red wines pair best with bold-flavored meats (red meat). They will typically create congruent pairings
  • It is better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat.
  • Bitter red wines are best balanced with fat
  • Wine should hold its own against the food. For example, wine should either be more acidic than your food or sweeter than the food.

Pairing wines with food isn’t just for fine dining. Try pairing drinks with your lunch meals, family dinners, picnics, and even your barbecues! When you approach every meal as an opportunity to try something new, you create wonderful experiences (even when you least expect them).

Experienced Unparalleled Wine Tastings at Theorem Vineyards!

Wine pairings aren’t just about food—sometimes you can pair wine with scenery, with scent, and even with terroir. The team at Theorem Vineyards invites you to join us for a singular wine tasting experience. Expand your knowledge of wine pairing with our wine experts and drink our ultra-premium wines while taking in our breathtaking estate. Theorem Vineyards is nestled on the northern slope of Diamond Mountain in Calistoga, approximately 1,000 feet above sea level. This breathtaking location has views of the beautiful redwood forest and our hill vines. Join us for an unparalleled wine tasting experience.

Schedule a tour at Theorem Vineyards today by giving us a call at (707) 942-4254!