The fact is there are very few extraordinary combinations when it comes to wine and food, just as there are very few combinations that are truly terrible. I find that in the vast majority of pairings, the wine and the food don’t affect each other much; they coexist peacefully, if unexcitingly. In a modest percentage of matches, the wine and the food accentuate the flavors in one another, and both taste better as a result; however, an equal percentage, I’d say, are the reverse.
On the whole, extremes of flavor in food tend to narrow the range of what wine pairings might work well—or at all. A dark, oily fish like Spanish mackerel is hard to match. When focusing on the wine first, I find that the best rules of thumb have more to do with weight and structure than flavor; for instance, a medium-bodied, moderately oaked Chardonnay will work with a broader range of foods than a superoaky, buttery, rich, 16 percent alcohol Chardonnay would. To that end, here are some tips:
Don’t match strong to delicate. Pairing a big, powerful, high-alcohol or high-tannin wine with a light, delicate dish (and vice versa) is rarely a good idea.