Food and Wine Pairing: Basic Rules

Part Two: (of a two part series)


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Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Chateaneuf-du-Pape

As discussed in the previous post, successful food and wine pairing is based on three key components:  aroma, taste and touch.   Flavor is the brains interpretation of what it smells through the nose, tastes with the tongue and feels through tactile stimuli in the mouth.

Planning the pairing begins with writing the menu.   Secondly, identify the key tastes in each dish to be paired from the primary five taste sensations (Sweet, Salt, Acid, Bitter and Umami).  Next you evaluate the dominate flavors and decide the extent to which they will be considered in the pairing.   The fourth step is to consider the texture of the dish and other tactical stimuli (such as tannins or bitter components).  Lastly, for each wine, you have the choice to either match or contrast the pairing.  You are now ready to pair this compilation of menu components with complementary wine. These guidelines will provide tremendous assistance in the process.

Specific Guidelines for Food and Wine Pairing: 


  • Serve wine at the proper temperature. Too often white wines are served too cold and red wines are served too warm. There is a Wine Temperature Chart at the bottom of this post
  • It is advantageous to pair the wine to the menu as opposed to selecting the wine first and then writing a menu to match. I found myself in that position several times as Sommelier in a restaurant. While it is possible, the challenge is greater
  • A balance in the level of acidity in your food and wine is extremely important.   Acid in food makes acid in wine less apparent. A low acid wine paired with a high acid food would wash out and appear soft or flabby
  • A balance in the level of sweetness in the food and wine is extremely important.   Sweet food will make the level of sweetness in the wine less apparent. It would be disastrous to serve a dry, tannic wine with Duck a l’Orange as the sweetness in the sauce would reduce the fruit flavors in the wine and highlight the acidic, tannic and earthy qualities
  • Fatty foods will smooth out both the tannin and acid in the wine
  • Salty foods go well with either acidic and/or slightly sweet wines
  • Salty foods can bring out the astringent quality in tannic wines. Avoid this! But to bring home the point, try snacking on potato chips with a Syrah
  • Bitter tastes in food exaggerate the bitterness in a wine. Avoid this!
  • Matching a flavor in food with a similar flavor in wine is called a “flavor bridge” and will predictably make a great match. Just make sure the key “taste” components are aligned before you attempt any flavor match-ups
  • On the flip side, showcasing a flavor in food with a contrasting flavor in a wine that you feel will have a natural affinity for each other is experimental and creative. This flavor match must also support the primary choices you’ve made in aligning the key “taste” components
  • Textural matches such as light-bodied foods with light-bodied wines and rich wines with rich foods are always a reliable strategy. An example of a match in contrast could be a piece of with strawberry cheesecake accompanied by a flute of demi-sec prosecco rosé

Look for upcoming posts with step by step deconstructed Food and Wine Pairings.  The Grapevine Gypsy is here to help as you have questions along the way.


Wine Temperature Serving Chart

Sparkling Wines: 45 – 50°F (7 – 10°C)

Sweet White Wines:  45 – 50°F (7 – 10°C)

Dry Sherry:  45 – 50°F (7 – 10°C)

Light White Wines and Rosés:  45 – 50°F (7 – 10°C)

Medium to Full-Bodied, Dry White Wines:  50 – 55°F (10 – 13°C)

Light-bodied Red Wines:  50 – 55°F (10 – 13°C)

Tawny Port and Sweet Sherry:  55 – 60°F (13 – 16°C)

Medium-Bodied Red Wines:  55°F (13°C)

Full-Bodied and Aged Red Wines:  60 – 65°F (16 – 18°C)

Vintage Port:  65°F (18°C)



Sources:   The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing 5/22/2011

14 thoughts on “Food and Wine Pairing: Basic Rules

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