7 Rules for Perfect Pairing
F&W's Ray Isle simplifies the task of pairing food and wine into seven mantras; Test Kitchen Supervisor Marcia Kiesel creates enlightened recipes for each.
Pairing Rule #1
Serve a dry rosé with hors d'oeuvres
Good rosé combines the fresh acidity and light body of white wines with the fruity character of reds. This makes it the go-to wine when serving a wide range of hors d'oeuvres, from crudités to gougères.
Pairing Rule #2
Serve an unoaked white with anything you can squeeze a lemon or lime on
- Albariño with Pan-Glazed Salmon with Oyster Sauce and Basil
- Sauvignon Blanc with Smoked Sablefish and Potato Salad with Capers and Onions
White wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Vermentino (typically made in stainless steel tanks rather than oak barrels) have a bright, citrusy acidity that acts like a zap of lemon or lime juice to heighten flavors in everything from smoked sablefish to grilled salmon.
Pairing Rule #3
Try low-alcohol wines with spicy foods
- Riesling with Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Jamaican Curry
- Riesling with Shrimp with Green Beans and Toasted Coconut
Alcohol accentuates the oils that make spicy food hot. So when confronted with dishes like a fiery curried chicken or Thai stir-fry, look for wines that are low in alcohol, such as off-dry German Rieslings (especially since a touch of sweetness helps counter spiciness, too).
Pairing Rule #4
Match rich red meats with tannic reds
Tannins, the astringent compounds in red wines that help give the wine structure, are an ideal complement to luxurious meats—making brawny reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah great matches for braised duck legs or pan-seared sausages.
Pairing Rule #5
With lighter meats, pair the wine with the sauce
Often the chief protein in a dish—chicken or pork, say—isn't the primary flavor. Think of pork chops in a delicate white wine sauce versus pork chops in a zesty red wine sauce; in each case, the sauce dictates the pairing choice.
Pairing Rule #6
Choose earthy wines with earthy foods
Many great pairing combinations happen when wines and foods echo one another. Earthiness is often found in reds such as Pinot Noir (particularly from Burgundy) and Nebbiolo, making them great partners for equally earthy ingredients, like bison steaks or wild mushrooms.
Pairing Rule #7
For desserts, go with a lighter wine
When pairing desserts and dessert wines, it's easy to overwhelm the taste buds with sweetness. Instead, choose a wine that's a touch lighter and less sweet than the dessert—for instance, an effervescent Moscato d'Asti with roasted pears.