I get asked all the time, “what kind of wine would go with this food”, or “we tasted our meal at the venue and on the wedding day, it tasted different, and off.”
Wine and Food go together. When matching food and wine, you really don’t need to learn any complicated rules of selecting the right wine to go with what you are eating. Just a few simple guidelines will help you make great food and wine pairings. As with the bride and groom who said that their food tasted off at their wedding compared to how good it tasted when they tried it before hand, they paired the wrong wine with the wrong food. I am here to help with that.
Below, you will find some examples of wines that you will typically be able to select at any wedding venue. With it, I have paired it with the typical menu you would see at any wedding venue. I have also added a few extras in case you want to throw a great dinner party and wow your guests with the right food and wine pairing. Both food and wine bring out the flavors in each, if done right. There is no way faster to ruin a good fine or food than making a wrong pairing. Like a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon with a great fish meal…not good.
Have fun with it, try lots of different types of wine, experiment with it. Go to wine shows, or try samples at the MLCC, take a course or go to wine events at places like Banville and Jones, they are always showing off new wines to sample. Then try to match it with something you may like, who knows, you may come up with a spectacular pairing.
Here are Three Very Simple and Important Rules to Wine & Food Pairing.
Drink & Eat What You Like
I would always choose the wine that you like the most by itself, rather than hoping you made the right choice in the food that you plan to eat with it. Even if it isn’t a perfect match, at least you are enjoying the wine you have selected for yourself. Same goes with the food, go with what you like and not worry too much about what wine you are having with it. Worst case scenario, you might have to have some bread or water to get it down and lessen the taste of a bad pairing. If you don’t like liver (I hate it), then no matter what wine you are trying to pair it with will ever make it taste good.
Look For Balance In Each Other
When trying to pair wine and food, look at what you are drinking and what you are eating and try to match that up in the weight and texture of the food and wine. They should be equal partners. A heavy Bordeaux won’t work with a delicate salad or fish dinner, neither will a lighter Pinot Grigio work with a Heavy Roast. Look at the complexity of the wine and food, look at the structure, body and richness of what you are having and try to match that. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc works well with a Grilled Chicken Salad, same with a Full Bodied Pinot Noir works excellent with a Bar B Q;d Hamburger right off the grill. In fact Pinot Noir goes well with a lot of great food, like Salmon, Roasted Chicken, Pizza, Casseroles, Stews and Hamburgers. mmmm…..hamburgers…..
How do you determine the weight or complexity of the food to the wine? For food, look at the fat, including how it is cooked, like what kind of sauce is used. A salad with blue cheese dressing feels a lot heavier than one with a light vinaigrette, as does fried chicken over poached.
For the wine, you can get some clues and ideas from the colour, grape variety and alcohol content, along with the the wine making technique and the climate from which it was grown. Wine with less than 12% alcohol tend to be lighter bodied from those with 14% which are heavier. There is a list of wines below to help you with this.
Pair Your Wine With The Most Prominent Ingredient In The Food
This is an important step going forward. Try to look and identify the most dominant part of the food, more often than not, it is the sauce, seasoning, the way it was cooked, rather than the main ingredient. Lets look at two different dishes. Bar-B-Q’d Chicken with thick homemade Bar-B-Q Sauce seared and caramelized into the meat over a chicken breast poached in a creamy lemon sauce. The earthy tones to the first dish lean towards a soft red wine, while the other with its citrus flavours would pair well with a fresh crisp white wine.
Becoming More Advanced
Now that you have an understanding of the three important elements that go into wine and food pairing, let’s look at other things that make up the wine.
The first thing to look at is what goes into creating the grape that makes the wine. Consider the fruit flavours and sugar which gives that soft feel in the mouth, and the acidity and tannins which gives the wine a sensation of firmness. Don’t forget the alcohol, which will either feel softer with less and harder with more.
Red Wines differ from white wines in two major ways, tannins and flavours. Tannins are compounds that provide structure and texture to a wine; they’re responsible for that astringent sensation you feel on the sides of your cheeks, much like when you drink a strong cup of tea. Many red wines have tannins; few white wines do, unless they have spent extensive time in oak barrels.
White and red wines share many common aromas and flavors; both can be spicy, buttery, leathery, earthy or floral. But the apple, pear and citrus flavors in many white wines seldom show up in reds, and the dark currant, cherry and plum flavors of red grapes usually do not appear in whites.
Here are some other pairing principles to consider:
Structure and Texture Matter
Ideally, a wine’s components are in balance, but you can affect that balance, for better or worse, with the food pairing. Elements in a dish can accentuate or diminish the acidity and sweetness of a wine, and the bitterness of its tannins.
High levels of acidic ingredients, such as lemon or vinegar, for example, benefit high-acid wines by making them feel softer and rounder in comparison. On the other hand, tart food can turn balanced wines flabby.
Sweetness on the plate can make a dry wine taste sour, but pairs well with a bit of sweetness in the wine; as long as a wine balances its sugar with enough natural acidity (such as German Rieslings and demi-sec Champagnes), it can work very well with many dishes.
Tannins interact with fats, salt and spicy flavors. Rich, fatty dishes such as steak diminish the perception of tannins, making a robust wine such as a Cabernet seem smoother, as do lightly salty foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. However, very salty foods increase the perception of tannins and can make a red wine seem harsh and astringent; salt likewise accentuates the heat of a high-alcohol wine. Very spicy flavors also tend to react badly with tannins and high alcohol, making the wines feel hotter; such dishes fare better with fruity or lightly sweet wines.
Look For Flavor Links
This is where pairing can be endless fun. The aromatics of wine often remind us of foods such as fruits, herbs, spices and butter. You can create a good match by including ingredients in a dish that echo—and therefore emphasize—the aromas and flavors in a wine. For a Cabernet, for example, currants in a dish may bring out the wine’s characteristic dark fruit flavors, while a pinch of sage could highlight hints of herbs.
On the other hand, similar flavors can have a “cancellation effect”—balancing each other out so that other aspects of a wine come out more strongly. Serving earthy mushrooms with an earthy red might end up giving more prominence to the wine’s fruit character.
Give Consideration To Age
Aged wines present a different set of textures and flavors. As a wine matures, the power of youth eventually subsides; the tannins soften, and the wine may become more delicate and graceful. Fresh fruit flavors may give way to earthy and savory notes, as the wine takes on more complex, secondary characteristics. When choosing dishes for older wines, tone down the richness and big flavors and look for simpler fare that allows the nuances to shine through. For example, rather than a grilled, spice-rubbed steak with an older Cabernet, try lamb braised for hours in stock.
Entire books have been written on the subject of food-and-wine pairing, and you can have a lifetime of fun experimenting with different combinations.
WEIGHING YOUR OPTIONS: LISTS OF WINES BY BODY
Matching by weight is the foundation of the old rule about white wine with fish and red wine with meat. That made perfect sense in the days when white wines were mostly light and fruity and red wines were mostly tannic and weighty. But today, color-coding does not always work.
Like human beings, wines come in all dimensions. To match them with food, it’s useful to know where they fit in a spectrum, with the lightest wines at one end and fuller-bodied wines toward the other end. For perspective, we offer the following lists of commonly encountered wines.
OK, purists, you’re right: Some Champagnes are more delicate than some Rieslings, and some Sauvignon Blancs are bigger than some Chardonnays, but we’re painting with broad strokes here. When you’re searching for a light wine to go with dinner, pick one from a category at the top of the list. When you want a bigger wine, look toward the end.
To make your own classic matches, start off on the traditional paths and then deviate a little. Don’t get stuck on Cabernet with red meats—look up and down the list and try Zinfandel or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Instead of Burgundy or Pinot Noir with sautéed mushrooms, try a Barbera or a red Bordeaux. That’s the way to put a little variety into your wine life without straying too far from the original purpose.
Selected dry and off-dry white wines, lightest to weightiest:
- Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco
- Pinot Grigio (e.g. Italy)
- Rioja (white)
Light to medium
- Chenin Blanc, dry or off-dry
- Gewürztraminer, dry or off-dry
- Pinot Gris (e.g. Alsace, Oregon), dry or off-dry
- Riesling, dry or off-dry
Medium, leans toward herbal
- Bordeaux, white
- Grüner Veltliner
- Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé
- Sauvignon Blanc
Medium, leans toward minerally
- Champagne and other dry sparkling wines
- Chablis (or other unoaked Chardonnay)
- Greco di Tufo
- Burgundy whites, Côte d’Or
- Chardonnay (e.g. California or other New World, oaked)
- Rhône whites
Selected red wines, lightest to weightiest:
- Beaujolais (or other Gamay)
- Valpolicella (not Amarone)
Medium, more acidity than tannins, tends toward red fruits
- Cabernet Franc
- Chianti (or other Sangiovese)
- Côtes du Rhône
- Pinot Noir (e.g. California, New Zealand, Oregon)
- Rioja reds (other Tempranillo)
Medium to full, balanced, tends toward dark fruits
- Brunello di Montalcino
- Malbec (e.g. Argentina)
- Rhône reds, Northern
- Zinfandel (also Primitivo)
Full, more tannic
- Barolo and Barbaresco
- Cabernet Sauvignon (e.g. California, other New World)
- Petite Sirah
- Ribera del Duero
Selected sweet wines:
- Gewürztraminer, late-harvest
- Moscato d’Asti
- Riesling, late-harvest
- Rosé, off-dry
- Sauternes and Barsac (other botrytized Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon)
- Vin Santo
- Vouvray, moelleux (late-harvest Chenin Blanc)
- Australian Muscat or Muscadelle
- Madeira (Bual or Malmsey)
- Recioto della Valpolicella
- Sweet Sherry (Cream, Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel)
Wedding Venue Food and Wine Pairing
Now that you have a better understanding of wine and its relationship to food and the structure behind it all, consider the types of wine and food you will most likely see at your wedding venue. Below are some examples of wines and the food that would pair with it.
Anything from Pelle Island such as their Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Grigio is good for white, same with the Cave Spring Gewurztraminer or the Enniskillen Reisling or any Sauvingon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. Riesling, or Gewurztraminer are good from any winery
Pinot Grigio– The Primary fruit flavours are lime, lemon, pear, white nectarine and green apple, depending on where the grapes are grown, it can taste on the aromas of faint honey notes, floral aromas such as honey suckle
Sauvignon Blanc– The primary fruit flavours are lime, apple, passion fruit and white peach, depending on where the grapes are grown, the flavours range from zesty lime to flowery peach
Riesling– This wine starts with intense aromas that rise from the glass, the primary fruit flavours are nectarine, apricot, honey, crisp apple and pear.
Gewurztraminer– This wine is like no other. No other wine can boast the intense perfume and flavour as fierce as this wine can. It has the aroma of rose petals, orange blossoms, litchi fruit, citrus, bergamot peel and juicy ripe tropical fruit
Gewurztraminer – Chicken, pork, shrimp, crab, bacon, Thai food, Asian dishes, barbecue, hot wings, rice, truffles, eggy dishes, cheddar, colby and comte cheeses
Pinot Grigio – creamy smoked salmon pasta, pan fried halibut, spaghetti carbonara, lemon chicken piccta, white cheese chicken lasagna, grilled halibut, salad, seafood, chicken, sushi, calamari, fish and chips, hummus, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, ham, pasta
Sauvingon Blanc – green vegetables, oysters, delicate fish like sole, fresh herbs, pesto, spaghetti, shrimp, chicken, turkey, pork, seafood, citrus fruits & veggies, pine nuts, feta cheese
Riesling – pizza, pork, chicken, chicken salad, shrimp, spicy shrimp, pork chops, fish (spicy or light), fish tacos, seafood, salad, grilled shrimp, halibut, fish and chips, grilled cheese sandwich
Any of these wines from any winery is good. Serve these wines cold, wineries that offer good examples of them that can be found at the MLCC are
Gewurztraminer (Peleee Island, Feltzer, Quails Gate, Gray Monk, Pfaff, Cave Spring)
Riesling (Lighthouse, Tantalus, Tawse, Pfaff Cuvee Jupiter, Pelee Island, Wakefield Estates, Angels’ gate, Enniskillen)
Sauvingon Blanc-New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Canada do amazing Sauvingon Blanc, so you can’t go wrong with any of them from any of these countries
Pinot Grigio (Cedar Creek, Longhand, Pelle Island, Santa Julio, Mission Hill, Vintage Ink, Inniskillin, Vineland, Skinny Grape is ok too)
Zinfandal -This full bodied wine has a wide variety of flavours depending on the climate it was grown in, such as raspberry or strawberry in cooler climates to blackberry and spices in warmer climates. It has the aroma of berry, raspberry,, spice and pepper
Cabernet Sauvingon – This is a full bodied wine with the aromas of vanilla, currants, pepper. It has the flavour of black currant, mint, pepper, vanilla. The main characteristic of this wine is medium to full bodied and hard tannins.
Merlot – It has the aroma and flavour of black cherry, berries, plum, chocolate, and some herbs. It is a medium bodied wine with soft tannins and smooth acidity.
Shiraz (or Syrah-old world name of it) – This is a dark full bodied wine and has dark fruit flavours such as sweet blueberry, savory black olive, licorice, vanilla, smokey tones, chocolate, red berry, black currant. When you first taste it, it is a punch of flavour that tapers off to a spicy peppery note.
Pinot Noir – Has notes and flavours of roses, fruit, black currant, plum, berries. It is a medium to full bodied wine with medium to high acidity and medium to low tannins.
Zinfandal – Barbecued meats. The sweetness and spice in the wine will pair well with the caramelized, smoky notes of the meat. Cheese, Mexican food and Thai food also go great with Zinfandal.
Cabernet Sauvingon– Roasted and barbecued meats, cream sauces, butter sauces, Italian food, blue cheese, aged cheddar, aged gouda
Merlot – Salmon, mushrooms, shellfish, French food, Italian food, Spanish food, and is good with camembert and gouda cheese
Shiraz – Blue cheese, Barbecue, Cheese Burger. Lamb, Beef, Stew, Steak, Italian Food, Spanish Food, Aged Cheddar, Gouda, Edam Cheeses. Pepper your meats with anise and clove to bring out the subtle nuances in this wine
Pinot Noir – Most meats (except wild game), grilled poultry, grilled fish, grilled pork, grilled beef, grilled lamb, Italian food, Spanish food, cheddar, edum, gouda, lancshire and port salut cheeses are good with this wine.
Any of these wines from any winery is good. Serve these wines room temperature (or cooler but not cold with Zinfandal & Pinot Noir) , wineries that offer good examples of them that can be found at the MLCC are
Zinfandal – Carnivor, Dancing Bull, Gnarly Head Old Vines, Klinker Brick Old Vines, Copper Cane Beran, Ca’momi Napa Valley, Ravenswood Mendocino Old Vine (The best Zinfandal comes from Napa Valley or Russian River in California)
Cabernet Sauvingon – Shot in the Dark (Cabernet Shiraz), Montes Alpha, Carnivor, Snap Dragon, Copper Moon, Six Hats, Three Thieves, The Dreaming Tree, Angus The Bull, Tom Gore, Pelee Island (Cab Franc), Saint and Sinner (Shirez-Cab), Angel’s Gate (Cab-Merlot), Red Rooster, Robert Mondovi
Merlot – Copper Moon, Smoking Loon, Oyster Bay, Ghost Pines, San Point, Qualis Gate, Rodney Strong, Douglas Green Fair Trade, Post House Black Mail, No. 99 Wayne Gretzky, Pelee Island Semi Sweet, Jackson Triggs, Angle’s Gate, Twenty Bees, Twist Of Fate (Malbec-Merlot), Red Rooster
Shiraz – Wine O’ Clock, Copper Moon, Most Wanted, Bodacious, Six Hats, 19 Crimes, Wallaroo Trail, Shot In The Dark, McGuigan Black Label, Heritage Road Bloodstone, Sisters Run Epiphany, Saint and Sinner, Sisters Run Cows Corner (Grenache Shiraz Mataro), Nugan Estate Alfredo Second Pass
Pinot Noir – Prophecy, Oyster Bay, Pelee Island, Spy Valley, Sileni Selection, Inniskillin, Quails Gate, Conviction The Priest, Kim Crawford, Mission Hill, Hon Nob, Santa Carolina, Santa Clair, Mark West Black
Below are some examples of wines from my personal cellar and are all excellent wines, and can all be found at the MLCC here in Manitoba.