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Reference - Wine & Food Matching

[Do Not Use]DK Publishing logo[Do Not Use]DK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
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Wine & Food Matching

Wine has been complemented by food for thousands of years. While soft drinks may taste too artificial and liquor overpowers the cuisine, wine comes into its own at the dinner table thanks to moderate alcohol, refreshing acidity, and the sheer range of flavors. It is possible to enjoy many combinations of food and wine, and is worth knowing some successful pairings that have stood the test of time.


Whether selecting a bottle to go with a Chinese carry-out or choosing different wines for every course at a formal dinner party, there are a number of basic guidelines to follow:

Decide on the dominant taste in the food and choose a wine to accompany it.

Select a wine to match the weight and power of your food. Full-flavored foods require full-flavored, full-bodied wines. Delicate dishes are overpowered by heavily oaked or excessively tannic styles, so they require light wines. Note that full-bodied whites have a power and weight similar to lighter reds, and work equally well with dishes such as grilled tuna or roast turkey.

Sweet food should be matched by a similarly sweet wine. Many Thai dishes, for example, contain a lot of sugar, which is why off-dry styles such as German Riesling or Gewürztraminer from Alsace work so well.

Tannins in a red wine taste softer when they are served with red meat. This is why classic combinations like beef with red bordeaux and lamb with red Rioja are so effective.

The more complicated the flavors in a dish, the more difficult it is to find a wine to pair with it. See In restaurants for wines that work well with a range of different flavors.

If serving top-quality wine, match the food to the wine rather than vice versa. Simply prepared dishes using the finest ingredients generally work best, allowing the wine to take center stage.

Try to match regional dishes with the same region’s wines.


An apéritif should simply whet your appetite, leaving you ready to enjoy the food and wine to come, so never choose anything too heavy or overbearing.

Dry, light, and refreshing white wine works well. Avoid oaked wine. Think Australian or New Zealand Riesling, unoaked Sémillon, unoaked South African Chenin Blanc, Muscadet, or Pinot Blanc from Alsace.

A dry German Riesling can be good, with its appetizing acidity and fresh flavors.

Champagne and sparkling wines are ideal, particularly for special occasions. Their dryness and relative acidity stimulate the taste buds.

A dry fino or manzanilla sherry is excellent, but its high alcohol content (around 15 percent) means it is better if snacks such as olives or salted almonds are also being served.

Do not serve the best wine of the evening as an apéritif. A well-made, basic bottle will provide a benchmark, allowing true appreciation of the subtleties of the better wines to follow.

With appetizers

Bear in mind the best order for serving wine when choosing an appetizer—white before red, dry before sweet, light-before fuller-bodied, and in ascending order of quality. If the choice of menu requires a full-bodied red for the appetizer, avoid serving a dish that needs a light white for the main.


Sauvignon Blanc.

Asparagus (with creamy sauce):

Fuller wines such as Chablis or other unoaked Chardonnays.


Dry sherry, such as a fino, manzanilla, or dry amontillado.

Foie gras:

Sauternes, although serving a sweet wine this early in the meal could present problems later. Champagne and Gewürztraminer also work.


Relatively neutral, dry whites.

Pâtés and terrines:

A wine that works with the main ingredient in its cooked form .

Salad (no dressing):

Most dry white wines—Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and unoaked Chardonnay are good options.

Salad (with creamy dressing):

A richer wine, such as Chablis or Pinot Blanc.

Salad (with vinaigrette):

A wine with high acidity like Vinho Verde, Sauvignon Blanc, or dry German Riesling.

Salad (with bacon):

Sauvignon Blanc in all its guises.

Soup (chicken):

Medium-bodied Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc.

Soup (chunky, meaty):

Basic red wines, such as southern French reds (Côtes du Rhône or Vin de Pays d’Oc, for example), or inexpensive Italian wines.

Soup (creamy and fishy):

Fuller-flavored Chardonnay or wines like Muscadet, white bordeaux, or Pinot Grigio. Sparkling wines can also work well, as can light rosés.

With fish & seafood

The dominant flavor in seafood dishes will often be the sauce. Creamy dishes demand a full-bodied white, whereas tomato-based ones require a medium-bodied red. Also consider the intensity of the cooking method, and the quality of the ingredients.


Inexpensive whites, reds, and rosés from southern France.

Chowder (creamy):

Basic Chardonnay.

Chowder (tomato-based):

Medium-bodied Italian reds.

Cod (battered):

Crisp, dry whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chenin Blanc.

Cod and haddock (fresh):

Unoaked Chardonnay or dry white bordeaux.


Sauvignon Blanc or dry Riesling.


Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Soave, or white Rioja.


Muscadet or Chablis.




Good white burgundy.

Mackerel and sardines (fresh):

Vinho Verde, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, or light rosés.

Mackerel (smoked):

An oily white like Alsace Pinot Gris.


Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc.

Salmon (barbecued):

Lighter reds such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.

Salmon (grilled):

A reasonably delicate wine, such as unoaked Chardonnay or Alsace Pinot Blanc. White Rhône, white bordeaux, and dry Riesling are also decent matches.

Salmon (poached):

A delicate white such as Chablis or dry white bordeaux.

Salmon (smoked):

Anything from Chablis to Sauvignon Blanc or dry Riesling. Smoked salmon also works well with champagne and other sparkling wines.

Sea bass (with butter sauce):

White burgundy.

Sea bass (with tomato sauce):

Medium-bodied reds from Italy or southern France (such as Côtes du Rhône).

Trout (fresh):

Pinot Blanc, Chablis, or unoaked Chardonnay.

Trout (smoked):

A good white burgundy.

Tuna (fresh):

Fuller-bodied, dry whites such as Sémillon or Australian Chardonnay. Alternatively, light to medium reds like Pinot Noir, basic Argentinian Malbec, or Beaujolais.


Good-quality white burgundy, Californian Chardonnay, or top dry white bordeaux.

With white meats

In general, white meat has a relatively neutral flavor, so concentrate on the recipes and preparation when selecting a wine to show it off.

Chicken (barbecued):

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or light red wines such as Beaujolais.

Chicken (with creamy sauce):

White bordeaux, Riesling from Alsace or New Zealand, or oaked South African Chenin Blanc.

Chicken (roasted):

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or soft Merlot.

Chicken casserole:

Light Italian reds or inexpensive reds from southern France.

Coq au vin:

Red burgundy, but inexpensive Côtes du Rhône can also be served.

Pork (roasted):

A range of wines from white burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc through to lighter reds like basic Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Beaujolais.

Pork (spare ribs):

Zinfandel or a fruity Shiraz from Australia, South Africa, or California.

Pork (with apple sauce):

Off-dry styles like German Riesling, or New World Colombard, Verdelho, or Chenin Blanc.

Pork sausages:

Inexpensive reds from southern France.

Turkey (plain roast):

Oaked Chardonnay or red wine like soft Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Turkey (with cranberry sauce/stuffing):

Red wine such as burgundy, Merlot-based bordeaux, Northern Rhône Syrah, or sparkling Shiraz from Australia.


Dry white wines such as unoaked Chardonnay and those from the Northern Rhône, or soft fruity reds like Chianti and Merlot.

With red meats, barbecues & game

These meats lend themselves to fuller-bodied styles of wine. Beef and lamb in particular tend to be complemented by tannic red wines. However, the sauces served also affect the choice.


Powerful wines, such as fruity New World Chardonnay, Shiraz, Zinfandel, or Merlot.

Beef (hamburgers, steak au poivre, or in pastry):

Californian Zinfandel, French Syrah, or Australian Shiraz.

Beef (roast beef or steak):

Full-bodied reds from Bordeaux and Northern and Southern Rhône, as well as Shiraz from Australia, and good quality Rioja.

Beef (with wine sauce):

Red burgundy.

Duck (roast):

Traditional reds, such as red burgundy, Barolo, or Rioja.

Duck (with apple/orange sauce):

Australian Sémillon, or Riesling from Germany or Alsace.

Duck (with cherry sauce):

Fruity reds, such as New World Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz.


Classic European reds such as bordeaux, burgundy, Rioja, or Barolo; or New World wines such as Californian, Australian, or New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Lamb (casseroles, hotpots, and meat stews):

Spicy French reds such as Vin de Pays d’Oc, Coteaux du Languedoc, or Côtes du Rhône.

Lamb (chops):

Good quality reds from Rioja, Bordeaux, or Chianti, as well as New World Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Alternatively, reds from southern France, particularly if garlic has been used in the dish.

Lamb (roast):

Top-quality bordeaux and burgundy. Alternatively, Rioja, Chianti, and New World Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

With vegetarian dishes

Vegetarians and vegans may find some wines unsuitable due to animal products used in them. Gelatin, isinglass (made from fish), and egg whites are sometimes used to fine (clarify) wines. Consult the back label or contact the retailer to pinpoint vegetarian or vegan wine. It can be difficult to pair vegetarian food with top white burgundy or high quality, full-bodied reds, but dishes like mushroom or pumpkin risotto stand up to the challenge.

Lentil- and vegetable-based casseroles:

Reds from southern France or southern Italy.

Mushroom risotto:

Full-bodied Italian styles (Barolo, Chianti Classico, and Brunello di Montalcino for example), but also good red burgundy.

Mushroom Wellington:

Red bordeaux and New World Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pasta (with creamy sauce):

A dry Italian white, or unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, or Sémillon.

Pasta (with tomato-based sauce):

Light Italian reds such as Valpolicella or Chianti.

Pumpkin or butternut squash risotto:

Quality dry whites from Burgundy, or top-quality Chardonnay from elsewhere in the world.

Quiches and omelets (egg-dominant):

Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, or light reds like Beaujolais.

Quiches and omelets (mushroom-dominant):

Medium-bodied reds, such as Pinot Noir.


Choose a wine according to the overall flavor of the ingredients with which the tofu will be cooked, since it has a tendency to take on the same flavors.

Vegetarian chili:

Hearty reds from southern France, or fruity wines like Merlot and Zinfandel.

Vegetarian lasagna (with tofu):

A full-bodied white such as Chardonnay or Pinot Gris.

Vegetarian stir-fry (with tofu):

Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling from Germany or the New World.

Vegetable tarts, pies, and pasties:

Spicy reds from southern France.

Vegetable tarts, pies, and pasties (with creamy sauce):

New World Viognier, Chenin Blanc, or Chardonnay.

Veggie burgers:

Reds like Shiraz, red bordeaux, and New World Cabernet Sauvignon, since these burgers can taste quite “meaty.”

With ethnic dishes

Chinese (general):

Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, or Sauvignon Blanc.

Chinese (meatier, darker dishes):

Fruity reds such as New World Merlot, Zinfandel, or Shiraz.

Chinese (sweet and sour):

Riper, “sweeter” styles, like Australian Sémillon, Californian Chardonnay, or Gewürztraminer from Alsace.

Indian (chicken tikka masala):

Inexpensive Chardonnay.

Indian (korma):

Inexpensive Chardonnay or German Riesling.

Indian (rogan josh and balti):

Soft, fruity reds, such as Shiraz or New World Cabernet Sauvignon.

Indian (tandoori):

Sauvignon Blanc.

Indian (hot & spicy):

Avoid wine and choose beer, water, or lassi instead.

Japanese (sushi):

A “rice wine” such as saké is traditional.

Japanese (teriyaki sauces):

Fruity reds such as Zinfandel from California.

Thai (curry):

Inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc or Australian Sémillon.

Thai (general):

Off-dry whites such as German Riesling or Gewürztraminer.

With desserts

Always try to select a wine that is sweeter than your dessert. You can also choose a wine with a slightly higher alcohol content here, since it is the end of the meal. Many intensely flavored desserts are complemented beautifully by powerful, fortified styles.

Chocolate (milk):

Moscato d’Asti.

Chocolate (dark):

A sweet red, such as recioto from Northeast Italy or LBV port.

Chocolate cake:

Select your wine depending on the richness of the chocolate. The orange flavors in certain Muscats (Australia) can work sensationally with a range of different chocolates.

Christmas fruitcake:

Australian Liqueur Muscat, Moscato d’Asti, or fortified Muscat.

Crème brûlée:

Sauternes is classic, but most sweet wines work successfully.


A wide variety, such as sweeter styles of Riesling, Sémillon, or Chenin Blanc. Moscato d’Asti works particularly well with black currants, fruit salad, and lemon mousse.

Fruit tarts and pies:

Choose a wine based on the dominant flavor—normally the fruit itself.

Ice cream:

Thick, sticky styles such as Marsala, Pedro-Ximénez (PX) sherry, or Australian Liqueur Muscat.

Pecan pie:

Recioto from Northeast Italy, sweet oloroso sherry, or even a tawny port.


Italian dessert wines like Moscato d’Asti or passito styles, or Australian Liqueur Muscat.


Fortified wines like sweet amontillado sherry.

With cheeses

Cheese and wine can be a wonderful combination, but pairing them is not as easy as many people think. The diverse flavors and textures of different cheeses mean that anything from a sweet white to a fortified red can be served successfully.

Blue cheeses:

A sweet wine is generally required, but tawny port can also work well. Roquefort and Sauternes is a classic combination.


Beaujolais, or other light and fruity reds.


Beaujolais or other light and fruity reds, but can also be paired with fuller-flavored wines from Chianti, as well as whites such as Chablis.

Goat’s cheese:

Sauvignon Blanc, particularly from the Loire Valley.

Gruyère and Emmenthal:

Wines such as Shiraz, Northern Rhône reds, or Merlot. However, Riesling can work well, too.

Mature Cheddar:

Good red bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or tawny port.


Unoaked Chardonnay.


Italian reds, particularly those made from Sangiovese.

Pungent cheeses (such as Munster):


Sheep’s cheese:

Sweeter styles of white wine like Riesling and Muscat, as well as spicy reds from southern France.

Traditional English hard cheeses:

Cool-climate, dry whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc.

Social occasions

Sometimes the occasion dictates the type of wine required. Bottles that work at an informal gathering will be quite different from wines at an engagement party, for example.

With food:

The general rules of wine and food matching still apply. However, it is often wise to select bottles that are generally food-friendly , since guests are then able to enjoy one wine with all the appetizers, and with several different courses if they choose.

Without food:

In general, wines that are better enjoyed on their own tend to be light, inexpensive, and unpretentious. For parties and social events where no food is served, steer clear of anything too full-bodied and avoid high acidity or excessive tannins. Also take the time of year and weather into account.

In summer:

Choose crisp, refreshing wines like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and other cool-climate, relatively low-alcohol whites. Alternatively, opt for light, fruity reds suitable for a brief chilling. Beaujolais, basic Merlot, and Pinot Noir are good choices.

In winter:

Opt for something medium-bodied, whether red or white, focusing on bright, fruity flavors and avoiding lots of oak. Good bets are Sémillon, unoaked Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc, as well as whites from the Southern Rhône. Reds such as Cabernet-Shiraz blends from Australia, inexpensive Zinfandel, Chilean Merlot, and Argentinian Malbec are also highly enjoyable at this time of year.

At celebrations:

Champagne and sparkling wines are the classic choices. Champagne tends to be more expensive, so is generally only an option for those with a bigger budget. Sparkling wines made elsewhere in the world can work very well, however, and are normally a better choice to use in cocktails such as mimosas.

In restaurants

Many top restaurants have a sommelier to offer diners advice on wine. However, if no sommelier is on hand, there are a few types of wine that are good with most foods. And remember, if you are all ordering different dishes, half-bottles can help everyone get something to complement their particular meal.

Opt for medium-bodied styles, avoiding extremes. For whites, unoaked Chardonnay, Sémillon, or Sauvignon Blanc are the most versatile. For reds, Pinot Noir, inexpensive Merlot, or a fruity Cabernet-Merlot blend are an excellent choice.

Italian reds and whites (especially reds) tend to complement many dishes.

If the restaurant focuses on a particular nationality or style of cooking, try to choose wines of the same nationality.

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