It just seems cruel to add wine insecurity to all the hard work that goes into hosting a dinner party. As a frequent dinner party host and wine industry veteran, I’ve faced both the stress and terror around serving food and drink to the people I care about.
Part of the stress around pairing wine with food is that they really do affect the taste of each other. The sweetness, bitterness (tannins) or acidity in a wine has an impact on the perception of your food.
As my top priority is the comfort and happiness of my guests, these five tips help ensure both.
When considering the wines to pair with your foods, I’ve found the sweetness level is the most important. The thoughtful host will make sure the level of sweetness in the wine is either equal to or higher in sugar than the dish.
For dishes with sweet glazes or teriyaki, you can match the sweetness in the dish with a Riesling or a White Zinfandel (try Kendall Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve Riesling). Sweet foods make wines taste stronger, drier and less fruity. I don’t know about your guests, but mine just aren’t interested in tasting wines that are strong, dry and fruit-free.
Just because you’re eating Chicken Scallopini, doesn’t mean that a white wine is the perfect match. Yes, the acid in a citrus based sauce – like a lemon and caper sauce — would pair deliciously with a Pinot Grigio. But if you’re serving breaded chicken cutlets with a roasted tomato sauce or a sweet red pepper sauce, consider an earthier Italian wine like Sangiovese.
Consider any two of the following three wine descriptors – weight, bitterness and acidity. These three parts of wine evaluation in combination can result in some truly remarkable pairings.
Weight: Weight – or viscosity – can be determined by how the wine feels in your mouth. For example, a medium weight-wine like Chardonnay (we love this one from Kendall Jackson) is a lovely match a lobster roll. A bold Zinfandel is wonderful with the funkiness of liver pates and terrines.
Bitterness: The more bitter the wine, the more intense the interplay between flavors. Avoid pairing bitter, high tannin wines with bitter foods, you could get a bitter-off that will be jarring to guests. It’s better to pair those highly tannic wines with some fat, umami and salt – perhaps in a high-quality rib eye steak.
Acidity: The acid levels in the wine should be equal to or higher than the acid in the dish. Sauvignon Blanc is a bright foil for salads with tart citrus dressings – and for meat with more bracing, acidic sauces. Highly acidic foods make wines taste fuller, a little less sour and a lot more subdued.
If you’re looking for the safest wine pairing, enjoy more sparkling wines. Sparkling wines help temper the heat in spicy dishes, some stand up to the sweetness in desserts and are surprisingly revelatory with salty snacks. Plus, the joy that the sound of a popping cork brings is happiness in sound form.
Sparkling wines have a stony flavor – or minerality – that can add a whole other dimension to meaty or fruity flavors. The high acid in most sparkling wines can also stand up to high acid tomato sauces while cutting through fat.
Pro tip: Drink what you like
More than any other rule, this rule is my favorite. Drink what you like with the foods you like to eat. If you have a special wine you just can’t wait to share with friends, share that wine. If you love that oaky chardonnay with a wood fired steak, excellent!
If you like that inky black Malbec with your caramel corn, have at it. These guidelines are derived from the currently tried and true flavor profiles. By all means, invent some of your own pairings.
Any unusual wine pairings you’ve tried? I want to hear about them!