About Wine Pairing

Pairing food and wine is not a science. It has a lot to do with personal preference and tastes, so there are no cut and dry rules. Occasionally you’ll get a pairing that you love, sometimes you'll get a pairing that you don't find quite right. And other times you will find a pairing that makes your taste buds recoil in anguish. However, most pairings fall somewhere in the middle. In fact, most wines work with most foods, but knowing a few basic rules can enhance your enjoyment.

Here are some basic wine pairing combinations for you to try.

Click the Photo to learn about the selected wine and the foods that go best with them.

all pairing suggestions are from various publishers on sunset.com.

Cabernet Sauvignon: The King of Reds


The king of reds; a big-structured, dark-fruited wine, the best of which become even more elegant with age


Swirl and taste:

Plums, blackberries, and black currant; sometimes violets or rose petals, and often mint, mocha, and eucalyptus or cedar; strong tannins underneath.


Pair with:

• Well-marbled beef

• Hearty fowl like duck

• Spice rubs and sauces with lots of black pepper; mushrooms

• Marinades with soy sauce

• Long-braised stews

• Pot roast

• Grilled red meat


Find your style:

Some Cabs are made to be drunk tonight―with ripe fruit and subdued tannins. Others need years to mellow. Great Cabs, some argue, are balanced the day they're released and get better with time.

Chardonnay: Rich and Complex White


With complex fruit flavors and often a rich, creamy texture; the most popular white wine in the U.S. to date


Swirl and taste:

Green apple, pear, melon, creamy lemon, and sometimes pineapple, rounded out with butterscotch and vanilla.


Pair with:

• Sweet shellfish

• White-fleshed fish ― halibut, black cod (sablefish), sturgeon, mahimahi, tilapia

• Chicken and turkey

• Pork

• Veal

• Legumes

• Winter squash

• Corn

• Nuts

• Risotto and pasta

• Cream and butter sauces

• Mild Caribbean dishes with tropical fruit flavors


Find your style:

California winemakers have traditionally made Chardonnay in a rich, buttery style by fermenting and aging it in oak barrels. Too much oak can cover up the fruit, so some winemakers are starting to substitute stainless-steel tanks for a leaner, crisper style.



Dry Rosé: Rich and Refreshing


Crisp, pink wine that combines the rich fruit of red wine with the refreshing, low-tannin nature of white―not to be confused with white Zinfandel.


Swirl and taste:

Strawberries, cherries, citrus, flowers, herbs, and spices.


Pair with:

• Grilled Chicken Thighs with Sweet Onions and Peppers

• Grilled Buttermilk Chicken

• Chicken Piri-Piri

• Bart's Ultimate BLT

• Prosciutto Panini

• California Niçoise Sandwich

• Rice Salad Niçoise

• Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad

• Curried Salmon Cakes

• Salmon Cakes with Cilantro-Ginger Aioli

• Panko-crusted Crab Cake Bites with Roasted Pepper-Chive Aioli

• Oahu Bouillabaisse

• Spicy Seafood Stew

• Sardine Factory Cioppino

• Pasta with Fresh Puttanesca Sauce

• Bagna Cauda

• French Tomato Tart

• Spring Aioli


Find your style:

Dry rosés made from Pinot Noir (often called vin gris) have delicate red fruit and warm spices; those from Syrah and Grenache (traditional in France) come with wilder berries and herbs; rosés made from Merlot are darker and heavier.





Merlot: Soft Tannins, Dark Fruit


The most popular red wine in the U.S. (the Sideways effect notwithstanding), Merlot has dark fruit flavors like Cabernet Sauvignon, but is generally a little rounder and softer


Swirl and taste:

Blackberries, blueberries, plums, cassis, and dried cherries combined with chocolate, cedar, and tobacco and sometimes hints of black olive.


Merlot carries the same complex flavor package that Cabernet Sauvignon does, but generally has softer, mellower tannins.


Pair with:

• Tender, milder cuts of beef, such as tenderloin

• Lamb

• Meaty fish―salmon, tuna

• Black olives

• Mushrooms

• Fresh herbs

• Grilled foods

• Meats with warm spices

• Meats with fruit sauces―berries, dried cherries



Merlot is the popular wine that it is partly because of its gentle reputation. But don’t write Merlot off as less than serious! The variety can be deeply concentrated, with firm, Cab-rivaling tannins―especially Merlot from Washington state.




Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio: Crisp to Complex


Pinot Grigio is usually crisp, light, and steely, with great acidity; Pinot Gris (the same grape) is often made into a rounder, more complex wine


Swirl and taste:

Pear, lemon (sometimes leaning toward lemongrass), melon, and sweet spice flavors often come with a flinty edge―imagine wet stones.


Pair with:

• Richer fish―tuna, salmon

• Shellfish

• Chicken

• Pasta

• Fresh herbs

• Simple but rich sauces

• Mild Asian dishes

• Coconut milk–based curries

• Some cheeses―Grùyére


Find your style:

In Italy, Pinot Grigio is usually crisp, light, and steely, with great acidity; in France, Pinot Gris (the same grape) is made into a richer, rounder, more complex wine.


U.S. winemakers make it both ways, and generally name it for the style they’re shooting for.




Pinot Noir: A Silky, Sensual Red


A light-bodied, low-tannin, silky, sensual red, handed stardom by the movie Sideways in 2004 (but still only the fifth most-popular red wine in the U.S.).


Swirl and taste:

Red or dark berries, cherries, plums, violets, warm spices (cloves, cinnamon), herbs, sometimes and orange peel with an underside of cedar, smoke, leather, mushrooms, and loam.


Pair with:

• Pungent poultry and duck

• Lamb

• Venison

• Hearty fish―salmon, tuna

• Ham, spicy pork

• Mushrooms

• Earthy legumes like lentils

• Warm spices―cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger

• Sweet-salty marinades

• Fruit-based sauces―with berries, dried cherries

• Spiced Asian and eastern Mediterranean dishes

• Many cheeses



Pinot Noir can have an earthy Old World style (as in those from Burgundy, France―long on minerals, short on fruit). Or it can have a more fruit-forward, New-World style, produced in California and Oregon.


Some winemakers in the cooler parts of those states make a hybrid that’s lean and earthy yet still has generous fruit. The leaner, cooler-weather versions tend to have lower alcohol levels; the riper, fruitier Pinots from warmer places can have alcohol levels that overwhelm this wine.




Riesling: Crisp and Aromatic


A crisp, aromatic wine, considered the noblest white of all by much of the wine world, that goes with just about everything


Swirl and taste:

Delicate white peach, green apple, and lime flavors―or riper apricot, nectarine, and mandarin orange. Riesling often has a pleasant minerality akin to wet stones and a haunting diesel-like aroma (if you can imagine that as a good thing).


Pair with:

• Shellfish

• Pork

• Ham

• Salads and vegetables

• Egg dishes

• Sausages, salumi, and charcuterie―especially cured pork products

• Barbecue

• Asian dishes―Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese (sushi!), Indian

• Southwestern foods


Find your style:

Bone-dry to quite sweet. (Western winemakers are making it drier now.) The best have great acidity that keeps the wine lively.




Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp and Refreshing


A lean, crisp, white wine that’s extremely flexible with food, and a great alternative to Chardonnay


Swirl and taste:

Tart lemon, grapefruit, melon, and tropicals like passionfruit―even gooseberry―over a pleasant grassiness and herbal quality.


Pair with:

• Cheese (especially goat cheese)

• Green vegetables (asparagus, zucchini, fresh peas, artichokes)

• Oysters

• Delicate fish like sole

• Fresh herbs

• Mild viniagrettes

• Dishes with tangy dairy ingredients

• Herbal, briny sauces

• Pesto



Sparkling Wine: Great with Food


Made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, good-quality sparklers are made with the traditional Champagne method, where the bubbles are created in individual bottles


Swirl and taste:

Apple, lemon, lime, pear, strawberry, and cherry flavors with a pleasant yeastiness (like brioche baking) and earthy minerality. Bubbly’s great acidity makes it an excellent food wine (not just a sipper for celebrations).


Pair with:

• Caviar

• Smoked salmon

• Cheeses

• Fish and shellfish

• Cream sauces

• Potpies, savory turnovers

• Asian dishes of all kinds

• Sausages―especially poultry, pork, and Polish

• Tangy, fruity condiments

• Salty foods

• Deep-fried foods

• Potato chips

• Popcorn


Find your style:

Blanc de blancs is 100 percent Chardonnay and carries those flavors. A classic brut is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Blanc de Noirs is mostly Pinot Noir, tending toward the red fruit flavors. And sparkling rosé has just been left on those Pinot Noir skins a tiny bit longer, to pick up more color, texture, and flavor.




Syrah: Earthy and Fruity


Pair with lamb, sausages, and grilled meats of all kinds


Swirl and taste:

Dark fruit (blackberries, blueberries, and cherries), black olives, and herbs against a backdrop of earthy leather, tobacco, and meaty bacon, laced with black pepper.


Pair with:

• Lamb

• Sausages

• Grilled meats of all kinds

• Roast pork

• Barbecue

• Stews

• Game―venison, squab

• Black olives

• Dishes with lots of black pepper

• Dishes with pungent herbs


Find your style:

Syrah grown in the cooler parts of the West can be very dark and earthy. In warmer regions, the ripe fruit pops.




Viognier: Exotic and Aromatic


An exotic, full-bodied, rich-textured white wine


Swirl and taste:

Honeyed tangerine, peach, and apricot with honeysuckle and citrus blossom aromas.


Pair with:

• Shellfish―crab, prawns, scallops, lobster

• Rich fish such as black cod (sablefish) and sturgeon―especially with cream sauces

• Spice-rubbed roast chicken and turkey

• Braised or roasted root vegetables―carrots, turnips, squash

• Sauces with warm, aromatic spices

• Moroccan dishes―tagines, charmoula sauce

• Mild curries―Indian, Southeast Asian

• Fruity, spicy condiments like chutney


More tasting notes:

Naturally aromatic and loaded with opulent fruit and floral qualities, Viognier from warmer regions, where the grapes ripen with abandon, can get blowsy, heavy-handed, and cloying.


In slightly cooler places, where the grapes hold on to their acidity, Viognier is leaner and less flabby―its richness is balanced with crispness.




Zinfandel: Jammy and Spicy


The most American wine of all (it’s grown almost nowhere else)―a juicy, jammy, spicy red wine that can turn your teeth purple


Swirl and taste:

Intense dark berries, dried cherries, plums, chocolate, and black pepper―a mouthfilling wine.


Pair with:

• Barbecue (Zin loves ribs)

• Hamburgers

• Sausages

• Pizza

• Grilled foods―leg of lamb, steak, chicken

• Long-braised stews

• Slightly spicy foods

• Southwest and Mexican dishes

• Moroccan spices―coriander, cinnamon, cumin


Find your style:

Zinfandel is mostly grown in warm places, so the grapes get very ripe, producing Zin’s signature jammy flavors―and high alcohol levels. If you don’t love fruit bombs, look for Zins from cooler places, which are slightly leaner, often with interesting herbal flavors.



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