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Learning to Match Food and Wine
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed Apr 2, 2001. For more information go to

Most wine lovers instinctively recognize those special wine-and-food matches that ring our chimes: Lamb chops with a fine Bordeaux or first-rank Cabernet ... delicate sole with a Sancerre or other crisp Sauvignon Blanc ... wild mushrooms and Pinot Noir. These are the classic pairings of which culinary dreams are made.

But how can you know whether a pairing will work? Experience is the best teacher, and here's an excellent suggestion from reader Tim P.: Set up a "cause and effect" wine tasting, a sociable gathering in which participants taste and compare small amounts of specific foods and wines specifically chosen to go well together.

This is a great idea! I've always recommended group tastings as the best quick way to learn about wine. By gathering several wine lovers for a social event, you can open more bottles than you would normally try during an evening at home, making it possible to compare and contrast and talk about the wines with like-minded friends.

A planned food-and-wine tasting would add an extra dimension to that, making it possible to check the conventional wisdom by trying both obvious matches (red wine and beef) and not-so-obvious pairings like red wine and fish.

Here's one way to do it: Prepare about a half-dozen foods that can be served in small tasting amounts, and serve them with a lineup of compatible wines. You could keep things focused by serving one pair at a time, but I like the idea of having all the wines and foods out at once so participants can mix and match to see what happens.

Here are a few matching pairs that should make for a good tasting:

* Beef meatballs with Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir
* Salmon with Pinot Gris (but also try it with the Pinot Noir!)
* Shrimp with Sauvignon Blanc
* Pasta (try short shapes like penne) and tomato sauce with Chianti.
* Fried chicken (or "nuggets") with Chardonnay
* Assorted cheeses - try them with all the wines.

This lineup would probably provide about as much food and wine as most people would want to take on in an evening, especially if you serve salad, fruit, bread and maybe a dessert to end the event.


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