Choosing the right wine to complement your meal can be confusing, but it need not throw you into panic. There are two basic rules of thumb to guide you. First, balance the heaviness of the food to the heaviness of the wine. Second; generally speaking a red wine goes better with red meats, while a white wine better complements white meats.
Choosing a Wine
Whether you are planning a dinner party or sitting at a restaurant, you will have greater success by choosing your food first. Then choose a wine to complement it. Wine is judged by its sweetness, body, flavor, and vintage.
Sweetness is measured on a scale of 00, which is dry; to 6, which is sweet. If you have a robust or richer entre, choose a sweeter wine. Foods with more delicate flavors need a lighter, drier wine. Body is the thickness or heaviness of the wine, the feel of it in your mouth. Reds have more body and mouth-feel than whites, with port being the richest. The heartier the food flavors, the more body your wine should have. Flavored wines are generally very light wines. They make nice hors d’oeuvre and dessert wines. Vintage is important as it refers to the year the wine was made. Certain years in certain provinces have exceptional weather, and all that province’s wines will be of good quality. Unless you are one who studies such things, it is best to follow the advice of an expert or connoisseur.
Red wine is made from the whole fruit. The juice, flesh, skin, and seeds are pressed. Thus it is a heavier wine; more body and sweeter and richer in flavor. It will compliment bolder, richer foods, but overpower delicate flavors.
A Merlot, for example, is a smooth, rich red that pairs well with roast beef, or a lemon and caper pasta cooked in olive oil. Cabernet is a sweet, rich wine wonderful with beef roasts, steaks, and lamb. Riesling and Pinot Grigio are lighter and sweet, pairing with well-flavored sauces, stews, and soups.Chianti is a lighter red or pink wine that compliments chicken or pork in a rich sauce.
White wine is made from the juice alone, and thus is a much lighter, more subtle flavor. It can be made from any grape variety, so the variety in flavor is great. It is a better choice for more delicate dishes like vegetables, salads, chicken or turkey, or egg dishes. It tends to be drier, or not as sweet. Rich, hearty foods will overpower many white wines.
For example, Chardonnay is a refined, rather dry wine that is excellent with shellfish entrees and salads. Sauvignon Blanc is less dry with a refreshing taste. It pairs nicely with hors d’oeuvre, cheese trays, and many desserts.
Stick to the Basics
For a meal consisting of a robust meat like beef, lamb, or roast pork with salad and bread rolls, good wine choices include Merlots, Cabernets, Zinfandels, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, Pinot Grigio, and Rieslings. For fish, seafood, and light chicken dishes try wines such as Muscadets, White Zinfandels, White Bordeaux, Beaujolais, and Chardonnays.
Sweet foods should be paired with sweet wines. Heavy sweet foods and rich sauces will pair with Ports, Merlots, and Rhones. Lighter sweet foods, like desserts and sweet sauces, will be complimented by Zinfandels, Beaujolais, and Dolcettos.
Pastas and vegetarian dishes are starchy and sometimes oily. Wines like Sangiovese, Greco di Tufo, Orvieto, Sauvignon Blanc, or many sparkling wines compliment them. Try Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, or Lambrusco with spicy or acidic dishes like barbecue.
Cheese dishes can be difficult to pair with the right wine. Try Sauternes to go with bleu cheese or Roquefort; dry champagnes with aged cheeses like Parmesan. Semi-soft mountain cheeses, like Ricotta, pair well with Valpolicella and Dolcetto. For Goudas and Cheddars, go with a Bordeaux.
If you are offering a variety of foods, offer a variety of wines as well. That way your guests can choose for themselves. The correct wine is often a very personal choice, and having a choice for each course of the meal will make for a long and successful evening.