The ability to pair food and wine is a skill that is easily and delightfully developed. As with most skills, learning to perfectly pair wine with meals or appetizers requires practice, however, practicing your attention to flavors is an enjoyable exercise.

The objective of a good food/wine pairing is to enhance both the flavor of the food and the wine. A simple example is that of pairing wine and cheese. A dry complex red wine, such as a Bordeaux or Syrah is well-paired with a creamy cheese, such as brie, because the fats in the cheese affect your taste-buds and alter the way the wine tastes, making it softer and fuller of flavor on the palate.

This same principle is true with all wine and food pairing. When thinking of a wine to go with a meal, you should evaluate the meal for heaviness, strength of flavor, what kind of meats will be served, spice, temperature, and the personal proclivities of those who will be participating in the meal. If you are serving a heavy meal of steak, garlic potatoes, and Brussels sprouts, then you should choose a wine that can stand up to that much intensity of flavor and weight. A light, floral, white wine is not a good choice for such a meal, but a full bodied Red Zinfandel, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon will go nicely. Once you’ve chosen a grape varietal, (the type of grape used to make the wine) next consider which wines you and your guests prefer, as well as the specific flavors exhibited by the different choices. Wines which have flavors of spice, smoke, leather, and terroir (soil) pair well with red meat and grilled food because the complexity of those flavors compliment the flavors of grilled food. Lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir or Cava, pair well with salmon, stews, pasta dishes, and other foods that have weight without being as heavy as cream-based or red-meat dishes.

If you are serving lighter fair, such as seafood, salads, gazpachos, et cetera., consider the fairer side of the wine spectrum. Generally speaking, the lighter the food, the lighter the wine should be. Chardonnay compliments chicken and pork, but a Chenin Blanc is better for scallops or salads. As with the red wine pairings, consider the flavors of the food in conjunction with the flavors of the wine. Pair drier white wines with complex foods, and pair floral and fruity whites with light, simple foods. It may come as a surprise, but a light floral wine pairs extremely well with spicy foods and Asian cuisine. The light floral notes of the wine cool and cleanse the palate between bites. Riesling and Viongier are delicious with Thai food.

With practice you will begin to notice how the taste of your food and wine changes depending upon how they are paired, and this will teach you how to better pair foods in the future. It’s fun to try new pairings, and there are absolutely no rules. Wine and food pairing is all about what tastes best, and if you find an unconventional duo that you enjoy, then you have truly developed pairing skills.

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