A Guide to the right Wine to Complement your Meal

To make a universal statement like a Cabernet Sauvignon is the right wine for red meat is somewhat misleading, simply because a Cabernet Sauvignon  will taste different, depending if it is from California, Chile, Australia, or France.  Also, aged wine will change its structure and will be a softer, subtler version of the younger wine. 

Until the novice wine drinker begins to have a feel for the different types of wine and their unique flavor profiles, the type of food should guide wine pairing choices.  Here are some valuable guidelines for choosing the right wine to compliment your meal. 

*Beef

The fattiness of the beef and the method of preparation will define what wine will go best with it. 

Many popular cuts of steak like New York Strip, Sirloin, Rib eye or Porterhouse are often broiled because of their high fat content.  They are generally treated to a savory rub, then seared to the desired doneness. 

The best wines will be younger wines from hotter New World climates like California, Chile or Australia.  Cabernet Sauvignon is widely preferred but, a Malbec from Argentina (where there is a lot of steak consumed), or a robust Shiraz from Australia can go perfectly with one of these steaks.  This is because the bold leathery tannins of these hotter climate wines will stand up to the taste of the charred surface of the meat and the rich fat content. 

A more delicate flavored cut like Filet Mignon or Flank steak should be paired with an aged wine that is softer and more subtle, like a Bordeaux from France, or any of a number of Bordeaux-style blends, now made all over the world.  Generally, these are wines blended from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with some additional blending wines made from   Malbec, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc.  This style accentuates smoothness and complexity that will enhance a filet or tornado of beef. 

Slow cooked beef such as stewed Chuck or Short Ribs should be paired with an older vintage, but as many recipes include tomatoes, mushrooms and a variety of herbs and spices, Venturing into good Spanish red wines like Rioja or A red wine from the Rhone Valley can be delicious.

So remember, bold young red wines for grilled fatty meats and softer red blends for leaner or slow-cooked meats. 

*Lamb and Game

Since lamb, venison, boar, goat and even wild duck tend to have varying degrees of gamey flavor, wine with a bit more acidity and lighter body will soften the gaminess, but not overwhelm the food. 

For milder meats like lamb and boar, a youthful Merlot from a warm region like California or Chile will do very nicely.  Any other wines from the warmer growing regions such as Spain and Southern France would also work quite well.  The idea here is a little more bright acidity to counter the gaminess. 

True wild game, such as, venison, boar or duck are wonderful with Pinot Noir.  This is a robust, tangy varietal with bold fruit and good acidity that goes well with game, as well as many of the classic accompaniments, such as Sweet potatoes, sweet red cabbage and savory dressings made with apples, plums or cherries.  This choice is an absolute winner with game. 

*Pork, Veal and Poultry

Since these meats are considerably milder in flavor, preparation will determine whether to go with a white wine or a medium-bodied red wine. 

Prepared with a creamy or pan gravy, a lighter red wine like Beaujolais or a nicely aged Merlot from Pomerol work very well.  This is even true for chicken or turkey if the stuffing is redolent of bacon or sausage.  Once more, it is the fat content of the dish which determines if a red or white wine is called for. 

If any of these meats are prepared with fruit, especially citrus, a crisp, acidic white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Viognier are just the thing.  Chardonnay can be soft and buttery when aged in oak or somewhat tart if steel tank aged.    You can go the red wine or oaked Chardonnay direction for richer dishes or the Crisper Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier with lighter or fruitier preparations.

*Seafood

As with meats, fattier fish like salmon or fresh seared tuna can easily be served with a lighter red wine such as merlot, Beaujolais or Pinot Noir, the Pinot Noir being especially good with lightly seared Ahi tuna. 

Lighter, subtler seafood, especially served with lots of butter is great with a barrel-aged Chardonnay.  Some of the best comes from Burgundy, which has perfect minerality and richness to go with lobster or a classic sole in butter sauce.

A good crisp sparkling wine is wonderful with raw oysters or caviar as the light, refreshing bubbles seem to enhance the taste of the sea.    

Any sweet and sour preparation of fish, especially a lemon sauce, will pair nicely with a Tart Sauvignon Blanc.  There are good ones from New Zealand (now the darling of Sauvignon Blanc lovers), California and Bordeaux. 

The sweeter, milder taste of crab is complemented beautifully with a chilled, more floral wine like Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley of France, Vernazzia from Italy or the drier styles of Tokai from Eastern Europe. 

As a rule, when pairing wine with seafood, like seeks like; rich to rich, tart to tart and sweet to sweet. 

*Cheese

Strong cheeses or Bleu cheeses are best with sweet wines like Port, Sauterne or Vin Santo.  Their nutty sweetness balances the pungent flavor and enhances the taste of stronger cheeses.

Milder cheeses like Gouda, Monchego or Edam pair exceptionally well with robust red wines  like Bordeaux, or Barolo.

Tangy sheep or soft goat cheese need a tart wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier. 

Cheese and wine go together like no other food, but choosing the right one will only accentuate both the wine and cheese. 

*Regional and Ethnic Foods

The many regional cuisines from around the world have evolved simultaneously with their accompanying wines.  The best way to ensure good pairings is to have regional wines with corresponding dishes. 

Italian red wines tend to be slightly more acidic to go with the tangy tomato-based sauces.  The more robust wines should be paired with the fattier meats and cheeses and more medium bodied wines with lighter fare. 

Spicy food calls for a slightly sweeter wine, such as Riesling with Mexican food and tart Sauvignon Blanc with Asian food that relies on sweet and sour flavors. 

Choosing regional wines with regional cuisines is perhaps the most sure-fire way to have an excellent food and wine pairing.

*Dessert

California is now the leader in producing all-purpose sweet dessert wines.  Sweet versions of Cabernet Sauvignon or red Zinfandel are wonderful accompaniments to chocolate desserts.  Sauternes or Barsacs from France are great with custards and puddings  and an off-dry sparkling wine like Moscatto  will pair nicely with berries and cream.  Even a simple dessert of fruit, cheese and nuts can be taken to a new level with a sweet Sherry or Port. 

These guidelines, which are by no means comprehensive, can take your dining enjoyment to new heights of taste sensation.  As you try new wines, close your eyes and think of what food you’d like to try them with.  Sooner rather than later, you will be pairing food and wine like an expert.