When it comes to pairing wine with food, there are two primary schools of thought: that it’s all baloney and what you drink with what you eat doesn’t matter or that everything matters and that agonizing over wine pairings is a worthwhile way to spend your day. Both camps have some merit to them, though I personally fall more in line with believers of the former than the latter.
Wine and food pairings can be absolute magic, no doubt. Some of my favorite wine-related memories are of introducing friends to some of my favorite pairings. It’s as if you can see the light bulb going off as they swallow.
But these rare instances prove that detailed pairings take time, testing and sometimes just luck to get right. If you’re short on any of those things, here are four of my never-failing(-ish) rules to wine pairing:
1. If it grows together, it goes together.
If there’s one thing to know about wine pairing, it’s this simple rule. Wines will automatically pair with the cuisine of their native region. Beef Bourguignon screams for pinot noir much the same way Italian fare demands Chianti, and Germany’s famous kraut and sausage are only truly tamed by a glass of off-dry riesling.
2. Forget the meat and pair with the sauces and sides.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “What pairs with chicken?” I’d be rich enough to not be writing this column. The concern with the question is that chicken, as with most other proteins, typically takes on the flavors of the sauces, braises and rubs it’s cooked with. Consider how different the pairings would be for barbecued versus fried chicken, and when in doubt about your protein, carry the idea over into the sides.
3. Heat needs sweet.
Your wine should always be sweeter than your food. This is key for good dessert pairings, but even more so when pairing spicy foods. Whites like a high-quality pinot gris (from France or Oregon), riesling or gewurztraminer are perfect for Thai and Sichuan dishes.
Remember when I said I identified with the “pairings don’t matter” school of thinking? If you ever find yourself needing to impress someone at a party, tell them that the pairing works because it “highlights a faint earthen minerality on the midpalate.” They will either think you’re an idiot or someone far more educated in wine than they are. Either way, they’ll change the subject, and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.
As always, you can see what I’m drinking on Instagram at @sethebarlow and send your wine questions and quibbles to firstname.lastname@example.org