Pairing wine with food may seem like some arcane art that only oenophiles and those with sophisticated palates should attempt, but the truth is that pairings are just a matter of taste. Approach wine pairings with a sense of fun and adventure, not with trepidation that you’ll get it wrong. There are no rules, only guidelines that will steer you toward more harmonious pairings. If you have taste buds, you can become adept at matching wine and food.

Flavor Intensity

The primary guideline to choosing wine and food pairings is to pick equally strong partners. Just as the happiest marriages result from true partnerships, the tastiest combinations of food and wine arise from a good balance of strength. As a rule, choose delicate wines for delicate foods and robust wines for hearty recipes. This philosophy underlies the old “red wine with meat, white wine with poultry” rule.

Speaking of that old chestnut, you can safely ignore it when the dish in question calls for an off-type pairing. For example, a richly flavorful tamari-infused salmon steak could stand up to a lighter pinot noir. A delicately lemony veal piccata calls for a riesling or a buttery chardonnay even though it’s neither fish nor fowl.

Cooking Style

Matching flavor intensity is important, but so is matching cooking style. Relatively delicate techniques such as sous-vide, poaching and steaming typically pair well with delicate wines. Roasting, frying and pan-searing typically imparts a bold flavor to the food, and that bolder taste needs a more powerful wine to stand up to it.

Acidity

The acidity of the dish also affects the wine you choose. Save slightly astringent wines for dishes with a stronger acid component such as tomato sauces and ceviche; the acidity of the food sweetens the wine by contrast. Milder foods take a sweeter, less acidic wine like a gewurtztraminer or port. Similarly, salty foods like sharp cheeses and pungent curries will make a wine taste sweeter than it would on its own, so pair these foods with sharper and more tannic wines like a full-bodied cabernet or crisp sauvignon blanc.

Local Flavors

Wines often evolve with the food of a particular region, so pairing a country’s wines with its food generally results in a happy match. The sharpness of a Chianti Superiore goes beautifully with a piquant tomato sauce rich with olives and garlic, whereas a Bordeaux complements a rich French country stew perfectly.

The best way to get more proficient at pairing wines and food is to sample plenty of both. Join a local wine club or get your wine online. Either way, spend the time and talk to your wine dealer or take a tasting tour to familiarize yourself with classes and vintages of wine. Dining out gives you the perfect opportunity to sample wines by the glass. Ask the sommelier for advice and you’ll gain valuable information for your own pairings at home.

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