With a wide array of wine varieties on the store shelves, you can choose a good bottle for any dinner. But, a vast choice gives rise to confusion: how to find a perfect match? The good news is that the wine pairing process doesn’t have to be complicated. 

This post will cover the basic rules for pairing food and wine to elevate your dining experience. We will also share 6 food and wine pairing examples that won’t leave you indifferent.

So, get into our food and wine pairing guide and start matching dishes and drinks like a pro.

Plated meal with a glass of red wine

Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash

Flavor profiles that matter

When crafting wine and food pairings, consider the following flavors: acid, fat, bitter, salt, spicy, and sweet. 


Acidity is inherent in both the wine and the dish. Present in a food and wine pairing, acidity can ensure refreshing sensations.


Bitterness is a rather complex taste element. Individually, both wine and food can have good bitterness. However, the combination of bitterness in a dish and drink can create a poor flavor profile.


Salt is a very wine-friendly ingredient. It allows you to soften the wine’s most complex and robust characteristics. Salt does an excellent job of accentuating acidity, heightening the perception of the wine’s body, and reducing the sensation of bitterness.


Sharpness, like fat content, is not inherent in wines. The sharpness in dishes can increase the bitterness and acidity of the drink.


When paired with desserts or other sweet foods, the sweetness of the drink matters. In addition, the sweetness of wine can balance out the saltiness and spiciness in the dish.

Experimenting with these six basic taste characteristics enables you to create winning combinations of a particular dish and wine. Playing on tastes, you can combine elements that previously seemed incongruous. For example, salty foods served with sweet wines can be a real find. 

In addition to opposing flavors, you can use one element to enhance the taste of the other. For example, a glass of white acid wine would supplement a dish that lacks sour notes perfectly.

Common wine and food pairing principles 

When you experiment with flavors, the two fundamental principles of food and wine pairing come into play — contrasting and congruent pairings.

Contrasting or complementary pairings

Complementary or contrasting pairings assume balancing out one component’s properties through the richness of the other.

A classic contrasting pairing for Asian spicy dishes is Riesling with residual sugar. Other examples are salty Roquefort, sweet Sauternes, blue Stilton cheese, and vintage dessert Port.

Congruent pairings

According to the congruent pairing principle, the density, flavors, and aromas should be as similar as possible. When food and wine share flavor characteristics, harmonious pairings occur.

For example, white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino, with a predominant citrus hue, complement fish with lemon perfectly. Red wines like Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir with earthy and truffle aromas developed over the years go well with mushroom dishes. Port wines pair well with chocolate desserts.

Plated meal with a glass of white wine

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

White wine pairings

Traditionally associated with light seafood dishes, white wines have their pairing specifics. The sugar content of the drink matters in white wine and food pairings. 

Being lightweight and high-acid, dry white wines pair well with lighter dishes — shrimp scampi, vegetables, fish, or grilled chicken. For example, when pairing wine with shrimp scampi, it’s important to keep in mind that the dish’s buttery flavor requires a wine with enough acidity to balance it out. A dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, would complement the flavors of the shrimp scampi perfectly.

Sweet whites make great combinations with sweet, spicy, and salty flavors. Foods that go well with sweet white wines include dishes served with sweet and sour sauce, Indian cuisine, and fruit desserts.

Another essential consideration when pairing white wines with food is the density of the drink. For example, in addition to creamy sauces, Chardonnay’s full-bodied and buttery flavor also make it a perfect wine pairing for rich and creamy cheese, such as brie or Camembert. The wine’s acidity and oakiness can cut through the cheese’s creaminess and enhance the flavor of both the Chardonnay and the cheese.

Plated salmon and a glass of wine

Photo by Casey Lee on Unsplash

Red wine pairings

As a rule, red wine pairs well with dishes made from red meat: veal, beef, and game.

Light red wines go well with lighter foods like delicate meat dishes and grilled vegetables. For example, Pinot Noir is best served with duck breast, tartare, veal chops, or roast beef.

Medium-bodied reds can complement various foods — red and white meat, hard cheese, and roasted vegetables. 

A bold red wine is a great match for heavier foods like steaks and burgers. The classic wine and food pairing is Cabernet Sauvignon plus steak. Overall, dense wines from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, as well as blends made of these varieties, go well with almost any meat dish — from steak to bolognese pasta.

What about late-harvest and dessert wines like Port or Sauternes? These sweet varieties will go well with smoked meats, dough dishes, desserts, fruits, fruit salads, and soft and blue cheeses.

A wine pairing chart will provide a more comprehensive overview of suitable food pairings for different red and white wine styles.

7 proven food and wine pairing tips 

Along with the basic food and wine pairing principles covered above, there are more specific recommendations.

#1 Match bold wines with hearty dishes

Make sure the wine and the dish match each other in terms of “weight.” When a drink and food are equally bright and rich, neither component outweighs the other. 

For example, red medium-bodied or full-bodied Bordeaux goes great with lamb — both have a rich, bright taste and dense structure. Scallops in a creamy sauce pair perfectly with oak-aged Chardonnay since both the dish and the wine have a creamy texture. A light-bodied Pinot Grigio will be a perfect companion if you have grilled fish for dinner.

#2 Let the best wine’s features shine

In balanced food and wine pairings, the drink and the dish match each other in terms of flavor intensity. 

The aroma of one element may predominate, but the second one should not be too far behind. So, if you are about to open a bottle of wine with a complex bouquet of aromas, pair it with a dish that won’t  “pull the blanket over itself.” In a balanced food and pairing, the dish’s flavors don’t outweigh the wine’s characteristics.

#3 Avoid pairing wine rich in tannins with bitter foods 

Don’t pair bitter dishes with wines rich in tannins. Otherwise, the bitterness will be more pronounced.

For bitter products, select wines with a mild sweetish taste. Give preference to white wines (without tannins), especially those aged on yeast lees for quite a long time. Such wines are rich in hints of umami taste, which hides bitterness. Chicory salad, in particular, goes great with a classic sparkling wine.

#4 Pair fatty foods with high-tannin wines

If fatty foods are going to be on your dinner table, pair them with tannic red wine. In higher concentrations in red wines, tannins are substances responsible for astringency. The bitterness from tannins balances out the fat in the dish, creating a great complementary pairing.

As wine experts believe, the more tannic the wine, the more protein should be in the food. For example, the high-tannin Cabernet Sauvignon variety can handle meat, legumes, mushrooms, and other protein products.

#5 Make sure the wine is sweeter than a dish 

Sweetness in food can make a dry wine taste unpleasant. Opt for a wine that is sweeter than a dish to prevent unwanted tasting sensations. 

Following this rule, choose wines with a higher residual sugar level for sweet dishes. You can serve dessert wine with tarts, pastries, mousses, dried fruits, or candied fruits.

#6 Ensure the acid balance 

When pairing dishes with wine, consider the acid balance between food and drink. If the wine is less acidic than the food, you won’t enjoy your meal to the fullest. 

Wines with low acidity can be lost on the background of salads with vinegar or citrus dressing. So, serve acidic foods with high-acid wine to make great pairings. Given this logic, salads with vinegar-based dressing require acidic wines like crisp Sauvignon Blanc. 

#7 Match the wine with the sauce rather than a dish 

Sometimes, it makes sense to focus on the flavors of the sauce that goes with a dish to create a perfect food and wine pairing. If the sauce is the predominant flavor in a dish, matching it with wine becomes reasonable.

The turkey served with a creamy dressing will require white wine aged in oak — say, Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. But the same turkey with berry sauce will go better with Cabernet Franc. The same principle applies to pairing wine with pasta dishes: Sangiovese is great for tomato sauce, while Sauvignon Blanc is perfect for pesto.

#8 Focus on what you like 

As obvious as it may sound, be sure to match food with wines you like. If you are not a fan of reds, you will hardly start loving them when paired with a delicious dish. So, stick with something you like. With an array of options available today, you will find your perfect combination.

6 great wine pairing ideas to inspire you in 2023

Now that you know the basics of pairing food and wine, it’s time to practice your knowledge. Below are some time-tested combinations for you to start with.

Plated octopus with sides and a grilled lemon half and a glass of red wine

Photo by Nikita Tikhomirov on Unsplash

#1 Syrah plus spicy dishes 

Syrah is an excellent example of a wine that harmonizes well with spicy dishes. Syrah will handle meats, barbecued ribs, or chicken seasoned with spices and veggies. Spices that go well with Syrah include pepper, oregano, thyme, garlic, and rosemary,

But keep an eye on the dish’s spiciness level: if it is markedly superior to the wine’s spicy characteristics, you will hardly enjoy Syrah’s rich bouquet.

#2 Red Zinfandel plus burgers

If you have burgers on your table, Red Zinfandel will complement them nicely. Zinfandel is a medium-bodied red wine with robust spiciness. 

The abundance of tannins in Zin will balance out the fat content of a burger. Plum and dark berry flavors of wine combined with delicious burger sauce will send your taste buds to outer space.

#3 Pinot Noir plus salmon

While fish requires white wine as a pair in most cases, Pinot Noir is an exception to the rule. In terms of weight, Pinot Noir and salmon dishes match each other perfectly. Unlike Pinot Noir, bolder wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon can easily outshine salmon.

Low tannin content and a light body make Pinot Noir the perfect pair for salmon. Since salmon is a fattier fish compared to others, the high acidity of Pinot Noir will handle the dish’s fat content.

#4 Sauvignon Blanc plus goat cheese 

Goat cheese hardly goes as a stand-alone dish. Often, it is one of many other elements on a cheeseboard or an essential salad ingredient. Whatever applies to your dinner, Sauvignon Blanc will probably be the perfect wine for goat-cheesy dishes. 

Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese make an amazing pair with balanced acidity, texture, and aroma.

#5 Oaked Chardonnay plus lobster in a creamy sauce

A full-bodied Chardonnay with a dense and creamy texture and a low acidity tastes especially delicious with lobster in a creamy sauce. This pairing ensures the perfect balance of both components in weight and buttery flavors. At the same time, citrusy flavors — an inherent element of Chardonnay — can work as a contrast to the fatty lobster preparation.

#6 Chenin Blanc plus pork 

Being a fatty meat, pork calls for an acidic medium to full-bodied wine. Chenin Blanc, a chameleon wine variety that may come in different styles, is a great companion for pork dishes. Having baked pork chops for dinner? Serve it with acidic off-dry Chenin Blanc. If your pork dish is sweet or sour, pair it with a sweeter version of Chenin Blanc.

Bottle of wine being poured into a glass with a plate of food and a basket of bread on the table

Photo by Nikita Tikhomirov on Unsplash

Final notes 

Food and wine pairing principles are easy to grasp, and you can apply them to your daily life after reading this guide. A wine pairing chart, as well as wine pairing rules and principles discussed by us, are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you master wine pairing basics, keep experimenting and exploring your preferences. By doing so, you will find your perfect balance of tasting sensations.

After all, pairing wine and food is an art, not a science. So, keep on creating!