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Party Savours

(a.k.a. enough wine savvy to get you by at a dinner party)

If you know quite a lot about the characteristics of specific grape varietals, styles and blends, wine growing regions, and vintages, then wine pairing likely comes naturally to you. If not, here are a few 'generalities' to keep in mind:

  • Higher acid wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, etc, generally pair well with foods that have relative high acidity, and also cut nicely through many rich or fatty foods.
  • Sweeter dishes often (but not always) benefit from a wine that delivers slight sweetness. Sweeter foods can sometimes make wine taste drier than they would otherwise, therefore a wine with a touch of residual sugar may provide balance. 
  • pairing-9Salty foods too, pair well with wines with slight residual sugar. The sweetness in the wine contrasts with the salt, balancing sweet and salty nicely.  High salt foods make red wines more tannic.
  • Bitter foods can render some wines overwhelmingly bitter. Conversely some bitter wines can be tamed by fattier dishes.  To off-set naturally or somewhat bitter foods like deep green leafy vegetables, grapefruit and some South Asian spices, try a fruitier but full-bodied wine like as Chardonnay or Merlot - an excellent example of both red and white wines solving the same culinary conundrum.
  • Richer, fattier meat dishes pair well with reds like Shiraz, Syrah or Petite Sirah, that are high in tannins. These varietals pair well with pepper as well, because pepper off-sets tannins and enhances a wine's fruit.
  • Spicy dishes and high-tannin, high alcohol red wines combine to really turn-up the heat, so unless you really love screaming hot food, such pairings might best be avoided. Try crisp, low-alcohol wines that are relatively light with a touch of sweetness. The sugar will help tone down the heat.
  • Desserts deserve special consideration due to their general sweetness and temperature. Champagne is a good choice for most desserts, but some fruit-savory desserts like flans and cheese tarts pair well with off-dry or semi-sweet dessert wines with corresponding notes like apple, apricot, or berries. Citrusy desserts pair well with acid-cutting muscats and late harvest or ice wines made from shriveled late harvest grapes with super concentrated sugars. Most chocolate desserts love port, sherry and late harvest red wines like zinfandel. Truffles or unadulterated dark organic chocolate pair gorgeously with brandy.

wine list 325x225When in doubt, perhaps try a Pinot Noir (red) or a Sauvignon Blanc (white), these two versatile wines pair well with most food - and both names are fun to say in front of company or in a restaurant.

If all else fails, use geography. Most countries with rich wine cultures grew their regional cuisines alongside their wine industries, and regional pairings therefore, come naturally. Pairing central Italian cuisine with central Italian wine, the wines of Burgundy with beef bourguignon, California spa cuisine with Napa Valley or Sonoma wines, and spicy Spanish tapas with beautiful big Spanish Rioja wines, etc.

This works well of course until we go out for, or cook Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese cuisine, Mexican, Caribbean or Middle Eastern food, as there are no regional wines for pairing. Pairing these so-called exotic cuisines with wine requires a bit more homework, but don't worry because we did some for you.  See Wine Pairing notes for Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Caribbean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Also see French, Greek, Italian, Westcoast and Holiday cuisines.

And finally - for a short and sweet (or sometimes, sour, salty, bitter or pungent) review of popular varietals, including proper pronunciation and introductory food and spice pairing ideas visit the Varietals C-Z page of this website.