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How To: Pair Wine and Food

A few weeks ago I got an email from a wonder man I had met at IFBC in November. He works withDon Sebastiani & Son's Wine Company, and asked if he could send over a shipment of wine along with perfectly paired recipes.

First, who says no to that?

Secondly, I realized how little I actually know about food and wine parring. This was more than an opportunity for free wine, this was an opportunity for a free education.

Learning not just how to pair wine, but why. What the flavors do to each other and how the wrong pairing can change the dish you took so much time making. 

I spent a week with these wines, cooking and pairing. Some of the recipes I followed nearly exactly (a very rare occurrence in my life) and some I changed completely while still keeping the integrity of the pairing. By the end of the week I was able to see that wine is not just something to drink with your meal, but wine functions as an additional ingredient to your dish. 

Wine changes the way your food tastes. This can be a great thing, making the flavors more intense, brighter and more delicious. This can also be a terrible thing, making the spicy flavors hotter than you want, bringing out flavors you never intended to highlight. What you drink with your meal alters the experience you have, knowing how to do it correctly gives you the control. 

After I knew the basics of food and wine pairing, I began to see not only the importance of it but how easy it can be. I was already pairing food and drinks without realizing it, wanting a cup of coffee with my chocolate cake and a lemony iced tea with my Caesar salad. The principals are the same. 

This week I’ll be posting the food and wine pairings, as well as why these foods are paired. Each of the dishes featured in the photos in this post will be discussed. Stick around and we will all get a crash course in food and wine pairings, but first, here are the Rules:

Rule one: Acid needs acid

Any food with a high acid level, or something you just want to squeeze a lemon onto, is perfect match for high acid wine. If you are serving Chicken Picatta, or pasta with tomato sauce, opt for a Barolo, Sauvignon Blanc or Chianti. Serving a high acid wine with a meal like this, and you will bring out the citrus notes of your food. 


Rule Two: Tannins Need Fat 

First of all, what IS a tannin? Tannins are the astringent component in red wine that give it structure. This is what can cause that bitter, pucker feeling in the back of your throat. This needs fat for balance, fat will soften the tannins and bring a smoother feel. Serve a bold Cabernet with a nice fatty piece of Prime Rib. 


Rule Three: Fish Goes with Acid, Not With Tannins

We have all heard the old rule of: White Wine for White Meat, Red Wine for Red Meat. The reason for that is acid and tannins, not color. If you are serving fish, think of the wine like a you would a squeeze of lemon on top (high acid wine) rather than a sprinkle of cheese (tannin heavy red wine).  


Rule Four: Pair Wine With Dominant Flavor, Not Necessarily The Meat

This is another reason to ignore the old rule White for White, Red for Red. Just because you have pork on your plate, doesn’t mean that is the flavor that will stick around. Is that pork being served in a robust red sauce? Or is that beef being served with a creamy lemon sauce? If the sauce on your plate is the dominant flavor, pair to that, not the meat.

Rule Five: Spice Needs Sugar

This is the best example of wine paring going awry. Serving a super spicy dish with a high alcohol, tannin heavy wine with will set your guests on fire. Two great elements producing a catastrophe combination when mixed.  Alcohol intensifies the heat. If however, you cooked a dish that is much more mellow that you have intended, pair with one of those high tannin, high alcohol wines to crank up the heat. But, for the most part, you want to stick with a sweeter, low alcohol wine. Even if you don’t like sweeter wines, you will be surprised at how those sugars are altered with introduction of the heat. Try a Gewürztraminer or a Riesling.

Rule Six: Sweet Needs Sweeter

You want the wine to be sweeter than the dessert. Even if you are not drawn to the sweeter wines, taking a sip of a rich, sweet port before, and after, a bit of a dense fudgy cake completely transforms the flavors of both elements.

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Amanda at the red table January 2, 2012 um 1:06 pm

Great notes. This is really helpful. Can’t wait to see the pairings!


Jessica January 2, 2012 um 1:42 pm

Wow. I had no idea about any of this. I think I could actually do that now!


Tina@flourtrader January 2, 2012 um 2:19 pm

Great information here-glad to stop in and learn more about wine pairings! I look forward to more in your upcoming series this week. Thanks for sharing this.


Kimberly (unrivaledkitch) January 2, 2012 um 4:17 pm

amazing information. I love how wine has so many awesome elements and makes food just that much better. Its really a fascinating and amazing art form. Thank you so much for sharing all this wonderful info! beautiful job to both of you 🙂


Tiffany January 2, 2012 um 5:53 pm

Free, boozy education! Yes, please! How lucky!!! And how AWESOME! This was a GREAT post! Thanks for sharing and HAPPY New Year! 😀


BigFatBaker January 2, 2012 um 6:41 pm

Great post! I love finding new and delicious wine & food pairings. Can’t wait to see what you end up trying and liking.


Stephanie January 2, 2012 um 6:42 pm

This is a really great post! I learned some things I didn’t know!


Jackie January 3, 2012 um 3:05 pm

Oh good! So glad 🙂


Layla January 2, 2012 um 6:55 pm

This makes so much sense! Never really thought about it this way! Bookmarked!


Esther January 2, 2012 um 9:47 pm

Love this! The way you explain it is very logical and easy to understand.


Amber January 3, 2012 um 1:14 am

Just in time! Pregnancy is coming to an end this week and I’ll be back on the wine train. Looking forward to learning more about pairing wine and food!


Jackie January 3, 2012 um 11:18 am

Congrats on your baby!! SO happy for you.


Liz January 3, 2012 um 3:48 am

Fabulous information…I pretty much rely on the guy at the wine store, so it’s wonderful to have these basic tips!


Jackie January 3, 2012 um 11:19 am

Love those wine guys! It is fun to try out pair on your own 🙂


Kari Coups January 3, 2012 um 9:57 am

I love coffee, but I never though about relating that to food and wine parings. That makes sense to me. Now I know that I can do it.


beti January 3, 2012 um 5:48 pm

thanks for the class haha I always wondered which wine was best with certain types of food, thanks a lot for sharing!


Maggie @ kitchie coo January 4, 2012 um 10:56 am

Now, you are a lucky girl! What a fun project for you…Cooking, learning, pairing and then sitting down to eat and drink at the end? Sounds like a dream! I love this post as I have wanted to learn about wine pairing and I am going to keep this one at hand to try and do some good pairings. I look forward to the rest of your recipes and wine pairings.


Jackie January 4, 2012 um 1:25 pm

Thank you Maggie! It was so fun, and I was honored to have been asked. AND so fun to have a huge shipment of wine show up at my front door 🙂


Sam Sifflor January 6, 2012 um 8:32 am

How do you know that I wanted to learn this. Thank you


julia silberman February 1, 2012 um 8:07 pm

I just found your blog through foodgawker and am already learning so much. I glance through food blogs often but I am just in love with yours. Beautiful and original recipes and well written and fun to read. I’m completely hooked! Looking forward to exploring it more.


Jackie February 2, 2012 um 9:41 am

You are so sweet, Julia! Thank you, glad you like it 🙂


Nikki January 11, 2013 um 5:01 pm

Wow, great post! I didn’t know ANY of that information at all! Thanks so much!


Bridgette March 11, 2013 um 10:01 am

This is the FIRST site that I have found that actually teaches me WHY certain pairings go together. Well, if there were others, they looked so staunch that I turned the page.Thank you for making it so much fun, too.


Jackie March 11, 2013 um 2:46 pm

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it 🙂


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