Food Pairing Principles

Food pairing can be daunting! Isn't it the realm of highly skilled and sophisticated sommeliers? Well yes and no. You can do it for yourself and gain greater enjoyment out of food and wine, but never be afraid to take advice.

So where do you start? There are many thousands of wines available and just as many recipes and dishes. If you remember your math lessons you'll realize that there must therefore be millions of combinations.

Let's try to narrow down the field.

Choose Wine First or Food First?

There are two approaches here

  1. Do you choose your meal first then look at the wine list or perhaps ask the sommelier?
  2. Or, like me, do you scour the wine list for something interesting and then look at the menu to see if there is a suitable dish to accompany it?

Neither approach is right or wrong. It's a matter of personal preference, and you may find yourself doing one or other according to circumstances.

If a friend invites you to dinner and you know what the main course is you will probably choose option 1 above.

Perhaps you have a very special bottle of wine to share with friends. In this case you find yourself in scenario 2.

But in either case some basic ideas can help you choose.

Red Wine Red Meat, White Wine White Meat

This is the old saying that contains an element of truth in this basic rule of food pairing, but it is a rule that can and should be broken at times. We'll see some examples when we get into the nitty-gritty.

If this rule was all we had to know life would be fairly boring. Thankfully wines and food and human appetites are much too complex to be summed up in just eight words.

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A great book about
food pairing

Daring Pairings, by Evan Goldstein is an excellent book for ideas and inspiration about food pairing with less common grape varieties, many of them from Italy. Recipes and commentary from some of America's finest chefs rounds out the authors excellent variety by variety analysis and advice.

If you have only one food pairing book then this should be it.