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Wine Pairing Tips - Match Likes with Likes
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed January 10, 2005. For more information go to

The ancient wine wisdom, "Red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat" is often held up as bad advice because it has so many exceptions.

Indeed, anyone who's enjoyed such rule-breaking gustatory glories as Pinot Noir with salmon or a fine old Bordeaux with roast chicken will understand this.

Frankly, I still find the simple old rule useful. As long as you bear in mind that there's no penalty for breaking it, it's handy and easy to remember that beef and lamb go well with dry red wines, just as most fish, shellfish and poultry reward pairing with whites.

But when you're ready to move on to the next level, I like a slightly more sophisticated rule that rarely if ever fails: "Match likes with likes."

Simply restated, look for a wine whose flavors and aromas mirror the taste of your entree. Lobster is rich and slightly sweet; so is a big Chardonnay. The flavors of the wine and the shellfish simply fit, with extra credit if there's a whiff of butter in the wine. Red Rhone Syrahs often present distinct aromas of rare, grilled meat, making them a natural with a similar chunk of seared beef on your plate, and again, if there's a dash of black pepper in the wine, it will play nicely with the real thing on your steak. Tart with tart, sweet with sweet, herbal with herbal, sour with sour...just about any flavor pairing that brings together similarities in food and wine will heighten your tasting experience.

I ran into this phenomenon in a couple of striking examples recently. On New Year's Day, a Italian red that I've enjoyed in past vintages (Lungarotti 2000 Rubesco di Torgiano, a cousin to Chianti from neighboring Umbria), proved so rustic that it veered almost closer to "dirty" than "earthy" in its character, a funky old-wood flavor that made me wonder at first if the wine was cork-tainted. It made a poor match indeed with a light New Year's Day meal of Welsh rabbit made with Cheddar. But in a flash of inspiration, I sawed off a chunk of sopressata salame from Volpe in St. Louis. This is an excellent, Veneto-style dry sausage with a deliciously funky character that, sure enough, picked up and somehow ameliorated the earthiness of the wine, resulting in a match that saved the wine from an unceremonious journey down the drain.

In another excellent pairing that took advantage of "likes with likes," I matched the roast garlic and lemon chicken featured in last week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter with a crisp Spanish white that I expected would show a distinct lemony character, the Pazo Baion 2003 "La Fontana" Rias Baixas Albarino from California Wine Club's International Selections. Sure enough, the lemony chicken and citric wine proved a match made in heaven, further evidence of the validity of the rule.


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