You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur or even a true foodie, to appreciate the concept of pairing wine with food, and once you’ve mastered a few of the basics behind successful pairings, your dining experience will become a whole lot more enjoyable.

The main and most basic principle of pairings is that certain elements in both wine and food, such as texture and taste, interact with each other; below are a few tips to help you find the right combination:

Think about the main characteristics of your chosen meal

  • Does it have a mild flavor, or is it highly seasoned and flavorful?
  • Is the food rich or slightly more acidic?
  • Is it quite lean or very fatty?

Once you’ve considered the above, you’ll need to think about choosing a wine that will balance the flavors:

  • Try to match up mild foods with wines that are mild in taste, and likewise with flavorful foods; try to match them with big, flavorful wines. A pepper steak is a dish with big flavors, so it will need to be paired with a bold red such as Zinfandel, which also has spicy undertones. A creamy, rich chicken dish would need to match up with a rich wine like Chardonnay. 

Then, you will want to consider pairing your food with a wine that will cleanse your palate:

  • A steak meal is generally quite fatty and rich, and so a red wine with good tannins in it, will help to cleanse your palate and refresh your mouth
  • A very fatty and rich meal like fried chicken, will pair best with a crisp and acidic wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc
  • Tannins can come from grape skins or even the barrels that the wine may have been aged in, and they have an astringent flavor that helps to remove the fats from your tongue that have built up when consuming rich food. Removing the fats then makes your palate feel refreshed and cleansed, leaving you ready to tackle your next course. 

Think next about matching acids with acids:

  • Dishes like Shrimp and lemon or a simple pasta and tomato sauce, will have a fairly high acid content and so need to be paired with wines that can match this
  • Take note that dishes with a rich and creamy sauce will not pair well with acidic wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, the two will almost have a curdling effect 

Consider the type of food you’re going to eat

  • If the dish you’re going to eat is strongly spiced, such as may be the case if you’re eating Asian food, you may want to avoid drinking wine with it as the flavors may not work well together and spoil the flavor of the wine. If you really want to drink wine with a spicy meal, then something like an off dry Riesling might be the best choice, as it is also a little sweet and spicy.

In general, you’ll find that foods from a particular country will be best paired with a wine from that country, too. This isn’t a hard, fast rule, but may help to simplify the process for those who are new to the concept of food pairings.