Decisions about wine pairings can be made based on a number of food characteristics. The main protein and sauce can both provide viable comparison points for wine. Based on personal preference and different flavor matches, several wines can pair equally well with the same dish. Special considerations apply for certain wine and food types.
Pairing: Main Ingredients
Traditionally, pairings are often determined based on the protein in your dish. Classic white wine pairings include chicken and fish, while red wines are often paired with beef. However, these are only guidelines. For example, rich salmon can be successfully paired with a red wine with low tannin concentration, such as Pinot Noir. This type of pairing also accounts for the concept of pairing by weight. The protein in a dish is a significant determining factor in its overall “weight:” rich versus light, strong versus delicate.
Pairing: Sauces and Spice
Lighter proteins, such as chicken or fish, are apt to take on the flavors of sauces or spices. These accompaniments can create “flavor bridges” that connect the dish with certain wines and provide a harmonious or contrasting flavor profile. For example, a pasta or chicken with cream sauce could be mirrored by a rich Chardonnay, or contrasted by an acidic Sauvignon Blanc. Two wines may prove excellent pairs for the same dish for different reasons. The winning choice can be dictated by your perception of the primary element of a dish, or your personal preferences.
Special Courses: Cheese, Appetizers and Dessert
Generally, lighter and sparkling wines pair well with appetizer courses. Wine and cheese pairings can follow a basic rule of thumb: red wines pair well with hard cheeses, whereas white wines often pair well with soft. In addition, pungent cheeses like stilton pair well with sweet wines, like port.
Dessert, however, can present challenges. Light fruit desserts can be matched with lightly sweet sparkling wines like Prosecco. Very sweet desserts, however, can make wine taste dull or bitter, and are often better paired with coffee than wine.
Solo Artists: Stand-Alone Wines
Some wines are best enjoyed alone; their flavor profiles are compromised when food pairings are introduced. Some complex, oaky (and very expensive) aged wines can be blunted when paired with food. Simpler wines are often a better match at meals, and display their fruit character more effectively. Similarly, dessert wines often function better as replacements than accompaniments, as sweet desserts can diminish their nuanced flavors.