Using a wine chart is a great way to pair wines with foods. However, charts have their limitations. Here is what you need to know about how wine and food pairings work and how to choose the best wine for the dish you are serving.

How can you choose the right wine for your next dinner party? Choosing the right wine and food pairing can enhance the wine and dish you are serving while choosing a wine that doesn’t work with the food can result in a disappointing experience. Here are some tips you can use to create great wine and food pairings.

Different Ways To Pair Wine With Food

If you look at a wine chart, you will typically see one or more wines paired with one type of food without any further explanations. It is important to gain a better understanding of how wine and food pairings work so you can be more creative and have a wider selection of wines to choose from.

You can create a congruent pairing by choosing a wine that shares some flavors and aromas with the food you are serving. An example of a congruent pairing is a sweet wine served with a dessert.

You can also create complementary pairings. A complementary pairing creates contrast and can be more difficult to master since two flavors might not work well together.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to pair the wine with the main ingredient of your dish. You can pair the wine with the more delicate flavors that the preparation method of the dish helps create.

If you are serving a dish with several ingredients, pair the wine with the flavors that are shared by the different ingredients used.

The Lemon Test


There is an easy test you can do to choose wine for some dishes. If the dish can be improved by adding a slice of lime or lemon, choose a white wine that has been aged in a stainless steel tank instead of an oak cask.

These wines have an acidic and fruity aroma that is reminiscent of citrus fruits and will enhance dishes such as fish or seafood just like a slice of lemon would. Examples include Pinot Grigio, unoaked Chardonnays, Rieslings, or Sauvignon Blanc.

On the other hand, if lemon wouldn’t improve a dish, consider serving wine that has been aged in oak casks.



Tannins are compounds that come from grape skins, stems, and seeds. Wines can get a high tannin content if the juice is allowed to steep in skins, stems, and seeds for a long time.

The presence of tannins in wine is what creates the dry sensation you might experience after drinking the wine. Wine with this characteristic is called a tannic wine.

Red wines are typically more tannic than white wines. Tannins are beneficial since they prevent wines from oxidizing with age and the dryness of the wine can be a good complement to food that is rich.

If you are serving a dish with red meat, gravy, or another type of rich sauce, a tannic wine would be an excellent pairing. The best tannic wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Malbec.

Wine And Sauce Pairings

A lot of dishes get their main flavor from the sauce or marinade and not from the meat or vegetables used in the dish. For instance, most poultry and fish dishes are enhanced with a sauce or marinade that creates the most noticeable flavors of the dish.

If you have a wine chart, you will probably see recommended pairings for different types of meats. Don’t follow these rules if you are serving a dish that includes a sauce or marinade.

Instead, you should pair the wine with the sauce of the dish. A Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Zinfandel would be ideal for a dish with a tomato sauce. If you are serving something with cream or oil-based sauce, try a Riesling, Pinot Gris, or Italian Chianti.

If you aren’t sure which wine would work with the sauce or marinade of your main dish, choose a Rose. A Rose is a safe choice that will bring freshness and light acidity to the dish you are serving.

A Rose is also an excellent choice if you are serving a selection of hors-d’oeuvres with many different flavors.

Salty Dishes

If you want to prepare a dish with high salt content, look for wine that will have a refreshing effect. Stay away from tannic wines since their dryness would not pair well with a salty dish.

Sparkling wine would be perfect since it will have a very refreshing effect after the salty dish. A Brut Champagne would be an interesting choice, but you can also serve red sparkling wine like a Bonarda.


Look for a neutral or sweet sparkling wine if you are serving a dish that is both lean and salty. Even though most dry wines won’t work well with a salty dish, you can serve a dry sparkling wine to complement a dish that is rich in salt and fat.

Spicy Dishes

If you want to make a spicy dish, use sweet and sour sauce, or make something with a tangy barbecue sauce, choose wine that will have a refreshing effect after these strong flavors.

Stay away from spicy wines or full-bodied wines. Any wine aged in an oak cask might be too strong for a spicy dish.

Instead, look for a crisp and acidic wine. A fruity flavor profile could be an interesting pairing, especially if you are serving a dish with a sweet and source or tangy barbecue sauce.

Syrah is an excellent choice for any spicy dish. There are some crisp and light red wines such as Vouvray, Viognier, Beaujolais, or a crisp and refreshing white wine such as a Riesling that you should explore.

Vegetarian Dishes

If you have ever looked at a wine chart, you have probably noticed that wines are traditionally paired with meats. Here are a few tips to help you pair wine with a vegetarian dish.

If your main dish is a vegetarian dish, stay away from wines that would overpower the food. Anything with a strong tannic flavor won’t work. You should also avoid full-bodied wines or wines that are overly sweet.

White wines are a safe choice with a vegetarian dish. If you aren’t sure what to serve, a Vinho Verde is  a great choice.

If you are serving a pasta dish, a salad, or some raw vegetables, a Pinot Grigio will enhance the dish. On the other hand, a buttery dish with potatoes or another similar vegetable would work very well with a Chardonnay.

If you are using strong seasoning in your vegetarian dish, choose a medium-bodied wine like a Viognier. If you are serving grilled vegetables or a dish with a sweet flavor, choose a mildly tannic wine that won’t overpower the food such as a Grenache or Merlot.

If you are serving a dish with a rich or spicy sauce, opt for a Syrah or Zinfandel.

Pairing Wine And Cheese

If you are serving wine with a cheese plate or preparing a dish where cheese is the main ingredient, there are a few tips you can follow to pair wine and cheese.

You can create an interesting complementary pairing between a sweet wine like a Port and a strong cheese like a Blue cheese.

If the saltiness of the cheese is its dominant characteristics, for instance, like with Parmesan cheese, try a sparkling dry wine to contrast with the salt of the cheese.

A tannic wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon would be an excellent choice if you are serving cheeses with nutty or other rich flavors. If you are preparing a dish that calls for fresh cheese such as mozzarella, feta, or ricotta, contrast the cheese with the acidity of a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.

If you are serving a cheese plate with many different types of cheese, a dry Rose is your best option.

What To Serve With A Dessert

There are many dessert wines to choose from, but keep in mind that the best thing to do for dessert is to create a congruent pair between the wine and dessert rather than looking for contrasts.

Ask yourself how strong the flavor of the dessert is, whether or not there are any fruits in the dessert, and how sweet the dessert will taste.

A dessert with a mild flavor will work well with sparkling wine, or with a white wine that has a touch a sweetness such as a Sauternes.


If you are serving a dessert where fruits are the main ingredients, look for a sweet aromatic wine that has several fruity flavors. Stay away from wines aged in oak casks. A White Zinfandel or an ice wine would be an excellent choice for a fruity dessert.

If you have prepared a dessert that is rich and sweet such as a chocolate cake, choose a sweet red wine. You can serve a Port or a Muscat for a full-bodied wine, or a Lambrusco if you want something lighter.

These rules are easy to follow and will help you choose the best wine possible for the meal you have prepared. If possible, taste the wine ahead of time to determine how well it matches or contrasts your main dish.


Last update on 2021-10-17 at 10:04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API