Savour Life and Stay on Track: Pairing 101

For thousands of years, cultures around the world have included wine on the dinner table and there’s a reason why…wine makes food taste better!
Published August 22, 2016


A perfect food and wine pairing is all about savouring flavours and truly enjoying each bite (and in this case, sip!)

Not sure where to begin or what makes for a perfect pairing? Don’t let lengthy wine lists or snooty sommeliers scare you off…deciding on a pairing doesn’t have to be intimidating. With a few basic guidelines and flavour principles you’ll be on your way to a perfect food and wine pairing.

Balancing Weight
The first step is to think about the “weight” of your food. (Let’s consider salads being the lightest, and a red-wine braised beef shank being the heaviest). In wine, weight is often referred to as its “body.” Think of milk as an analogy – skim milk has a light body and whole milk has a full body. Lighter bodied wine pairs with lighter food and heavier wines work with richer foods. The idea is that you don’t want one to overpower the other – when the food and wine are balanced, you’ll be on your way to pairing harmony.

Similar Flavours
Next you want to think about flavours. Flavours in your dishes can be accented by the wine you pair with it. Say for example you have a salad with green apples. You might consider a white wine that has hints of apple such as a dry Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc. The crisp fruity notes will accent and highlight each other. Or let’s say you have a lamb dish with cranberry chutney. Here you may want to consider a Pinot Noir whose cherry notes will highlight the rich, tart fruit aspect of the dish.

Red or White?
A common convention is that white wines work with vegetables, fish and poultry while reds are a better match for heartier proteins such as lamb and steak. Why are red wines better with richer foods? The tannins in red wines give them structure and that sense of dryness on the palate. Those tannins and their resulting mouth-feel pair very well with richer, fattier foods; think cheese and steak.  

Reds 101 Made from red grape varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignons (with the skins for colour), they are typically dry and have a range of bolder flavours to pair with heartier dishes.
Sparkling 101 Sparkling wine is made all over the world in both dry and sweet versions; the bubbles make it a classic for celebratory occasions. Higher acidity makes pairing possibilities endless.
Whites 101 Made from white grape varietals such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, they can be dry or sweet depending on the style and typically pair with lighter foods and seafood based dishes.

Some general guidelines

Salad, Fruits, and Vegetables – pair best with crisp refreshing whites such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, un-oaked Chardonnays, Sparkling Whites and Rose.

Goat Cheese – we highlight this cheese because it’s so amazing with Sauvignon Blanc –a delicious tangy on tangy, grassy duo.

Blue Cheese (and other bold cheeses) – need a richer red such as Syrah or Cabernet.

Varied Cheese Plate? – go with a mid-range red such as Merlot.

Seafood – lighter fish preparations need delicate whites like Pinot Grigio, Chablis, or Sauvignon Blanc…fish dishes in cream sauce pair best with a richer, oaky Chardonnay

Chicken – in this case think about how it’s prepared…simple grilled chicken? Go for a Chardonnay or an even lighter white if you like. Chicken in red wine sauce? Think Merlot or whatever wine was used for the sauce. (A good rule of thumb? If you cook a dish with wine, pair the same wine with it! Instant flavour matching.)

Lamb – classically paired with Pinot Noir but medium bodied reds will also work.

Pork – any range of reds work well here…think about flavour pairings based on the preparation (ie: pork tenderloin with cherries may go well with a fruity Merlot or Pinot Noir while a richer braised pork shoulder would be delicious with a smokier, heavier Cabernet.)

Beef – go for a big red here…the bolder the better! Cabernet, Syrah, Grenache.

Pizza and Italian Dishes with Tomato Sauce – classically pair with Italian reds such as Chianti (In general? If the wine is typical of the region where the food comes from it pairs well! They were on to something when they created the dishes and wines in the first place.)

Spicy Asian Dishes – try a light sweet wine to offset the heat…think Riesling or Gewürztraminer.

BBQ – go for a smoky Shiraz to highlight the grill flavour.

Desserts – dark chocolate with Port…a classic! For fruit desserts try a sweet sparkling wine…or even better? Try a dessert wine for dessert and savour every last sip.

While these are some basic guidelines there really are no hard and fast rules (and rules are made to be broken anyway!) Experimenting is where it can get really fun…and yes, red wine can work with fish and chicken. For example, lighter reds such as Pinot Noir work really well with a hearty, fattier fish like salmon. Bolder reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon can pair exceptionally well with the rich succulence of roasted chicken.

Wine pairing is all about personal choice and palate. There really is no right and wrong! Just be sure to savour, taste, and enjoy every bite and sip. When in doubt? Go for Pinot Noir. The wine-lovers movie “Sideways” had it right when they said Pinot Noir pairs with anything!