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Wine and Food Pairings


This is a rather difficult process and needless to say that there is no right answers. Clearly the level of sophistication of the person is important. Now by level of sophistication, I do not mean how much of a wine snob they are, but rather, how their palettes are able to distinguish characteristic subtleties of both the food and wine. With that said, there are some foods that are not easily paired with wine of any kind. Artichokes and asparagus are two foods that are difficult to pair because of their chemical makeup. Artichokes contain a compound called cynarin which accounts for its bitter taste. Asparagus contains methyl mercaptan, a sulfur compound that negatively reacts with wine. Now of course, nobody serves a dinner of just artichokes or asparagus. Well, almost nobody. Therefore this is not such a big concern. The key is to match the wine with the dominant aspects of the dinner. So, for example if you were serving a prime rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, garlic mashed potatoes infused with truffle oil and asparagus in hollandaise sauce, the wine should focus on the dominant tastes of the meal namely the rib roast. To be overly concerned with the fact that the asparagus is hard to pair would border on the insane.


There is wide latitude when pairing wine with food. This is not an exact science and there is no right answer. Unless you want to look like a complete neophyte, certain guidelines should be considered. For example, do not match big, bold wines with delicate dishes. So a Cabernet Sauvignon would not do well with a Filet of Sole poached in white wine. Conversely, our prime rib roast dinner above will not pair appropriately with a Sauvignon Blanc. So strong vs delicate flavors is the first no-no. The second point to consider is that of acidity. These wines pair really well with very rich foods as well as creamy or cheesy sauces and fried foods. The acidity cuts through these flavor characteristics to balance out the taste. Thus a Sauvignon Blanc will pair well with say fried fish and chips or perhaps sole morney. The third point to consider is that wines high in tannins pair well with high fat dishes. Therefore a dish such as roast duck will pair well with a nice syrah. The fourth point is that a slightly sweet wine such as Riesling or Gewürztraiminer pairs well with spicy foods such as Indian or Asian. The sweetness cuts through the spice while the acidity counteracts the oiliness of say the Asian cuisine. A nice red wine with strong tannins would not do well because the astringency of the tannins would clash with the spice. Remember to contrast the dominant flavors. Roast chicken is paired differently from Chicken Cacciatore. In the latter, the tomato based sauce is really the dominant flavor and the chicken just comes along for the ride.


Now I’ve given you some extreme examples as well as some basic rules. Let’s take a look at what’s in the middle. The list below is an attempt to match the wines that I have outlined in this section with possible food pairings. This is made as generic as possible so you can make the leap to associate the pairings.




Chardonnay                              Grilled seafood

                                                Pork chops

                                                Veal cutlets

                                                Roast chicken

Chenin Blanc                            Barbecued chicken

                                                Blackened fish

                                                Cajun and creole dishes

                                                Japanese food, except sushi/sashimi

Gewurztraminer                        Asian and Indian foods

Pinot Blanc                               Blackened fish

                                                Corned beef

                                                Seafood stew with a tomato based sauce

Pinot Gris                                 Seafood with creamy sauces

                                                Lobster salad

Riesling                                     Asian and Indian foods

                                                Barbecue foods

                                                Corned beef


                                                Curried dishes

Sauvignon Blanc                       Seafood stew with a broth based sauce

                                                Fried chicken/fried seafood

                                                Pasta primavera

                                                Mild and medium flavored fish

                                                Pesto, yogurt based or cocktail sauces


Semillon                                   Smoked fish

                                                Cream based seafood soups

                                                Big fish (halibut; salmon; monkfish)

                                                Roast chicken




Viognier                                   Cream based seafood and pasta





Cabernet Sauvignon                  Roast beef


                                                Veal chops

                                                Lamb chops and shanks

Merlot                                      Game hens

                                                Duck breast

                                                Lamb chops

                                                Pork chops


                                                Veal Marsala

Nebbiolo                                  Roast lamb

                                                Short ribs

                                                Veal shanks

                                                Strong cheese sauces (gorgonzola; blue)



Petite Syrah                              Chicken cacciatore

                                                Baked ham

                                                Pork roast



Pinot Noir                                Roast turkey

                                                Roast pork

                                                Roast veal


                                                Meaty fish (tuna; swordfish; shark)

                                                Pork tenderloin


Sangiovese                               Breaded veal cutlets

                                                Big soups (minestrone)

                                                Scaloppini dishes

                                                Dishes with pungent sauces (olive; capers)


Syrah/Shiraz                             Beef stew

                                                Onion soup      

                                                Lamb or beef kabobs

                                                Middle Eastern foods

Zinfandel                                  Turkey

                                                Pot Roast

                                                Fried chicken

                                                Soups with legume base (lentil; black bean)