Pairing a great wine with a delicious meal is a science, and some people dedicate their lives to perfecting that science. There are three general food guidelines when it comes to pairings: what food is being prepared, how that food is cooked, and what sauces or flavors will be used on the food. The question many people ask is, “Should I pair my food with my wine or my wine with my food?” I’m a firm believer in trying both methods and finding out which one works for you, but in my experience I’ve enjoyed cooking around a wine because it is easier for me to season the food as I go. I like to break the flavors down into three categories: Delicate, Earthy/Hearty, and Meaty/Spicy/Pungent. The goal is to pair a wine and food within the same category.
The most common delicate wines are Riesling and Sauvignon blanc, and they are considered two of the three most common white wines along with chardonnay. Leafy greens and vegetables are the perfect pairing for either of these delicate whites. When pairing with a protein, it is best to go with a flaky fish such as salmon that has been poached or steamed to a medium temperature. Lemon based sauces and dressings will bring out the flavor of the fish and the wines to create the perfect balance.
Preparing an earthy pairing will give you the most options to choose from in terms of wine. The easiest and most common wines to pair are Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Merlot. While they are very distinct and different wines, the earthy notes can be tasted throughout. Your best bet for protein is going to be pheasant, pork, and veal since they are a heartier dish that can be prepared in multiple ways and take well to a number of seasonings. By roasting or baking your protein you’ll accentuate the earthiness of the wine. Finish it with a butter or cream sauce to add a fat component to the dish and bring the wine and food closer together.
This category is mainly for pairing with beef, which is one of the most versatile proteins available to virtually anyone. The two most common ways beef is consumed is via steaks and burgers. Luckily, whether you’re making a burger, or a steak, you can choose the same wine for your pairing. Look for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Zinfandel when you’re pairing with beef as the wines will bring out the flavors of the beef. Grilling or braising your beef will give you the best results in your pairing, but if it were up to me, beef would only ever be grilled. By grilling, you have total control of the temperature to which your steaks and burgers are cooked. For steaks, the best flavor comes from a rare to medium rare temperature, and burgers tend to taste best when cooked medium to medium well.
Food pairings do not need to be as complicated as some people make them, and in the end it is a lot of trial and error. Do not get discouraged if your first pairing does not turn out how you would have liked. There will be plenty more wine to try again in the future.