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Here's Some Fun with Food & Wine - Worst Wine-Food Matches
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed August 14, 2006. For more information go to

Wine Advisor reader Miriam P. got in touch the other day with a cheeky suggestion that rang the bell at the top of my idea-meter: "Food and wine pairings are an evergreen subject," she wrote, "and most experts will say that it's more about personal taste than an objective correct answer. In fact, your Web site even says that there are very few incorrect choices. So that might be the way to approach the topic: what are the absolute wrong choices? Seems like that would be a fairly short list and, therefore, a more practical guideline."

Great topic! I'm not sure that a don't-do-this list should be the only way to approach your decision about what wine to have (or not to have) with dinner tonight, but perhaps by examining some of the wine-and-food combinations that most people consider unsuccessful, we can pick up some general principles to guide us in the quest.

SCROD AND SHIRAZ - The delicate, light character of scrod, cod, sole and other white fish calls for a crisp and subtle white wine to match. The inky, dark and monolithic character of a big Barossa Shiraz would wipe out the fish, overwhelming the food with all the subtlety of spots of red paint spattered on a white dress shirt.

VENISON AND VINHO VERDE - Representing the exact opposite equation, this pairing between a robust, strong-flavored game meat and an exceptionally light and frothy wine is likely to fail because the meat is too powerful for the wine, which might not actively quarrel with the dinner but certainly wouldn't harmonize.

CHOCOLATE AND CHARDONNAY - Generally speaking, sweet desserts and wine make an iffy match, because even wines that seem sweet on their own will show their tart and sour side when you compare them with something sweeter. Dark chocolate goes well with strong, sweet red wines like Banyuls from the Pyrenees or Tawny Port. It's hard to imagine anyone washing down a Hershey's Kiss with a big, bold Chardonnay, though: The flavors are so different that it would be like reaching into a box of candies and pulling out a chocolate-covered fried cheese curd.

MACKEREL AND MERLOT - In constrast with the Shiraz that smashed the sole, this knockout battle pits strong, oily fish against a fruit-forward red, a joust of fighting flavors that most people would find unappealing; if the Merlot boasts an astringently tannic backbone, the battle could be as disgusting as tag-team mud-wrestling.

I could go on, but I think the underlying principle is becoming clear: Matching wine and food involves a dance between balance and contrast. Balancing flavors of similar strength and intensity so neither beverage nor fare outshouts the other; seeking pleasurable contrasts of aromas and flavors that intuitively fit. Most people like chocolate-covered coconut; few of us care for chocolate-covered catfish. Let your own taste buds be your guide, with a dash or two of common sense, and you'll find, as I said in the first place, that most food and wine combinations work just fine.


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