Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just starting out in the kitchen, understanding how to pair food and beverages is a crucial skill to have. The right pairing can elevate a meal and make it a truly memorable experience. Whether you’re throwing a dinner party, opening a restaurant, or simply cooking dinner for your family, knowing how to pair beverages with food is essential to giving your guests the best experience possible.
This guide will cover the basics of food and beverage pairing, including tips, tricks, and suggestions for creating the perfect combination. So, let’s dive in and discover the world of food and beverage pairings!
Food and Beverage Pairing Basics
When it comes to pairing beverages with food, the options are endless. From water and tea to beer and cocktails, the objective is to find the perfect beverage that enhances the flavors of the dish. This is particularly important with certain types of cuisine, such as food and wine pairings, where the right combination can take the dining experience to a whole new level. To do this effectively, there are several elements you need to consider.
Brightness and Acidity
Acidity excites and enlivens the palate. Acidic wines, such as a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, pair well with rich foods, such as chicken alfredo, seafood like crab cakes, or spicy Chinese food. Acidic cocktails, such as a Mojito, or non-alcohol acidic drinks like lemonade also work well.
Tannin and Bitterness
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds found in red wines like Cabernet Sauvignons, Malbecs and Zinfandels. Tannins are what give these wines a slightly bitter (but still enjoyable) taste. Tannins pair well with fatty cuts of meat, like a ribeye steak, roast duck, or a slice of prime rib. Tannins can also be found in tea and cranberry and pomegranate juices.
Tannins can accentuate the fire in spicy foods, so big reds are generally not a good choice to accompany things like Mexican food or Thai.
Salty and spicy dishes need a sweeter wine to balance the palate. Choose a sweet or semi-sweet wine for dishes like baked ham, chiles rellenos, or Kung Pao chicken.
If you’d rather have a non-alcoholic drink, grab a glass of sweet tea.
Pairing Ideas for Certain Foods
Below are a few traditional pairing ideas for specific foods. However, these are just suggestions. The best pairing for you is the one that pleases your personal palate.
Most people pair pork with a light red wine, such as a Pinot Noir, or an acidic white wine, such as a Riesling or Chenin Blanc. Beer also goes well with pork. Try a bold stout or a hearty, German wheat beer.
For non-alcoholic beverages, apple cider is a good choice.
Fish and Seafood
White wine is traditionally paired with fish and seafood. Chardonnay is the classic ‘fish wine’ and Champagne is ideal with shrimp, lobster, and scallops.
White wine is also a good choice for most poultry dishes (for turkey, see the last section). Choose a Riesling for a chicken dish with a rich sauce or a Chardonnay for roast chicken. One exception to the white wine with poultry rule is dark poultry meat, such as dark turkey meat or duck. These foods are better with red wine.
Beef and Lamb
Red wines are traditionally served with red meat like beef and lamb. Hearty, complex reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Super Tuscan, or Malbec are best with steak or beef roasts. The leaner the cut, the fewer tannins you’ll want in your wine. Beers that go well with red meat include pale and amber ales and light lagers.
For lamb, a lighter red wine, such as a Pinot Noir or even an Italian Chianti, is a good choice.
Spicy dishes are among the most difficult to pair with beverages. The plethora of flavors in Mexican, Chinese, Thai, and Middle Eastern cuisines, just to name a few, make it hard to define the flavor profile. A good rule of thumb for spicy foods is to go with a light, acidic, white wine, such as a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. Beer is also a good choice with spicy foods, especially an IPA or a Belgian ale.
The richness of most cheeses demands an acidic wine. However, the complex flavor profile of cheeses like bleu and aged Swiss require something a little different. In general, the older the cheese, the more complex wine it requires. To illustrate this point, below are a few classic wine/cheese pairings:
- Soft cheeses like feta, brie, and camembert with sparkling wines and roses
- Firm, young cheeses like Havarti, Edam, and Jarlsberg with Chardonnays and White Burgundies.
- Blue cheeses like Roquefort, Stilton, and Gorgonzola with Ports, Sauternes and Sherries.
- Hard, aged cheeses like cheddar, aged Swiss, and Asiago with sweet Rieslings, Viogniers, Red Ports and Cabernet Sauvignons.
With desserts, you want to avoid anything acidic, which will mar the taste of the dessert. However, you don’t want anything too sweet as it will compete with the sweetness of the dessert. A demi-sec (semi-sweet) Champagne or sparkling wine is usually a good choice. In addition, some traditional dessert pairings include a Shiraz with dark chocolate desserts, Moscato with Crème Brûlée, Gewürztraminer with apple pie, port with pecan pie, and Zinfandel with a dark-fruit pie such as cherry.
Thanksgiving dinner can be a tricky one to pair with wine. There are so many rich and flavorful foods. The traditional choice for Thanksgiving is a Beaujolais, a fruity red wine that is best drunk in its first year. The new harvest of Beaujolais comes out just before the holiday. Other good choices for a turkey dinner include a dry rose, a dry Riesling, or a Viognier, a semi-sweet French wine with hints of pear and green apple.
|Pinot NoirRieslingChenin BlancStout BeerWheat Beer
|Fish and Seafood
|Beef and Lamb
|Cabernet SauvignonSuper TuscanMalbecPale AleAmber AlePinot NoirItalian Chianti
|RieslingSauvignon BlancIPABelgian Ale
|Soft Cheese(feta, brie, camembert)
|Firm Cheese(Havarti, edam and Jarlsberg)
|Blue Cheese(Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola)
|Hard, Aged Cheese(cheddar, aged Swiss, asiago)
|RieslingViognierRed PortCabernet Sauvignon