Wine and Food Pairing Notes from the Experts

Personal Taste and Individual Chemistry

"Wine tasting is actually a complex proposition involving much more than simply sipping some fermented grape juice. There are many variable factors that affect an individual's perception of flavor in wine. There are chemical, physical, mechanical, physiological, and psychological variables.. The type and quality of the wine itself is only one aspect of tasting. Others are the size and shape of the wine glass... the individual's impartial physiological ability to smell and taste, as well as his individual flavor preferences...." Professional Friends of Wine.

"...The most important elements to pay attention to in pairing wine and food are the acidity, tannin, alcohol, and any overt wood flavors in the wine. Each one of these elements plays a dynamic role in flavor—it enhances, magnifies, or suppresses it—and in how food and wine feel in the mouth—smooth, rough, hot, or sticky. These are all feelings that can be unpleasant in excess (too much salt, for instance, or too much drying tannin). They are also elements that can clash or work to each other’s strengths. Knowing a little bit about how they combine will help you to make choices that work more often than not..."

Fatty Foods

"...Fat comes in many guises. It can be blatant, like the sizzling, juicy fat edging a steak, or a cream sauce napping a pork chop. It can be more hidden, like within the richness of goose meat, or in the dry crispiness of a French fry. Wherever it appears, it adds richness. Fat can put up a barrier to a wine, though, as it coats the taste buds and makes it hard to perceive delicate flavors. Rich, fatty foods need wines that have enough flavor and enough acidity to cut through the fat and announce themselves. A wine with good acidity can cut through that fat like a squeeze of lemon on fried fish, making it feel less rich and heavy (and, typically, inspiring you to eat more). The danger is when the wine doesn’t have enough acidity, and the combination collapses under its own weight. What works: Fatty foods and high-acid wines What to avoid: Fatty foods and low-acid wines..."Source: The Basics of Taste, Part 2 --

Careful with Salt

"...Salt will magnifies flavors, too much of it though and everything will taste like salt. Just the right amount though salt can be a very dynamic element, almost like acidity in its action. That acid-like feel is good to keep in mind when it comes to pairing with wines, as salty foods tend to taste even more addictive with high-acid wines. Think Champagne and caviar or potato chips; think Cava and the salty snacks that accompany it at the bar in Spain; think seaside restaurants serving ocean fish and crisp white wines. Salty food can also enhance the flavor of a wine, a good thing unless there are elements that don’t need exaggeration. Tannin in particular gets more unpleasant in the presence of salty things—makes sense, right, since both of them are dehydrating? Also, if a wine is very oaky and you don’t want the oak flavors emphasized any further, then don’t drink it with salty foods. What works: Salty foods and high-acid whites What to avoid: Salty foods and tannic reds, oaky wines..."From the --Notes from Wine Club Guide

Pairing wine with Fish


ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Scientists from Mercian Corporation in Japan have reported that the unpleasant, fishy aftertaste noticeable when consuming red wine with fish results from naturally occurring iron in red wine. This fishy taste diminished when the researchers added a substance that binds up iron. The findings indicate that iron is the key factor in the fishy aftertaste of wine-seafood pairings, the researchers say, suggesting that low-iron red wines might be a good match with seafood. Source: Iron Is an Essential Cause of Fishy Aftertaste Formation in Wine and Seafood Pairing


PAIRING WINE WITH RAW FISH -- Never use oak wine with raw fish. Sparkling wines, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir all seem to pair well with most raw fish dishes. 

Rajat Parr says" toast in wood offends the delicacy and purity of the rawfish." Wine needs to be able to cut through fat but not offend flavors... Riesling and Champagne -- high acid, clean, pure wines are best bet.


"...Many fish dishes have an acidic component; most white wines have more acidity than reds, and matching the dish’s acidity is an important aspect of wine pairing. But some reds have more prominent acidity than others, making them good “fish reds.” Whites also lack tannins, which can be a major component in many reds, but not all of them. And finally, whites are by-and-large lower in alcohol, and their resulting lighter-bodied character is less likely to overwhelm more delicately flavored fish...Some modern Barberas fill in that gap with oak-aging, but traditional Barbera is fruity, fairly light, and not very tannic—great for fish..".STARCHEFS.COM

"Outside of Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc (parent to both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) has another home territory: the Loire Valley. The valley’s cool climate makes for a lighter-bodied but well-focused wine, with spice notes and sometimes intense fruit. That density and spice makes this style of Cabernet Franc pairs well with earthy dishes, or oily, strongly flavored fish like mackerel or trout..." STARCHEFS.COM


Things to keep in mind when pairing fish -- Is skin on or off? Is it a pungent fish or mild fish? Is it oily from cold water or nonoily from warm water?

First simple rule: Cabernet almost never goes with fish... the exception is monkfish which needs to be prepared with mushrooms and red wine.

Salt Baked Fish -- because salt makes red wines tighten up, tasting tannins will obliterate the silk texture of most fish. So you need a red wine with low tannins. Examples -- Rajat suggests: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Valpolicella, Schiava, or light Dolcetto.

Poached Fish -- when fish is poached Rajat says: "It almost requires a white wine.". You need a white wine that matches weight. Chablis, white Bordeaux, pinot grigioj and riesling are excellent for ocean fishes of light to medium body like sardines, snapper and sole. White Burgundy and other rich wines go better with oily and meatier fishes like halibut, salmon, monkfish, cod or grouper. With fresh water fish like trout or pike or even catfish, Rajat likes a white wine with an earthy edge such as Chenin Blanc or Gruner Veltliner or something with a hint of sweetness such as a German Riesling.

Pair with the Sauce-- If a fish dish has a sauce it is good to pair to the sauce.

Sautéed or Grilled Fish- "Even wine with a little oak is apt" --grilled fish is a good opportunity to serve red wine because of the smoke" similar approach to fish sautéed in a very hot pan. Heavy wine is OK such as Pinot, Chianti or Gamay. Even bigger wines may work... Rioja or Bierzo from Spain or Barbera... for a loup de mer... Rajat liked the Cabernet Franc from Bourgeil.

Skin on Fish-- This means red wine territory according to Rajat -- Skin needs to be dry, salted and a bit wrinkled...if it has been grilled (smoked) you can bump the wine up a notch... safe bets are cabernet franc from chinon... more oil and fat try Syrah, Grenache or Sangiovese.... Note: more oil and fat can handle more tannins..

Salmon-- Rajat does not recommend Pinot even though most feel it is a classic pair..he likes pink rose ... or even a heavy rose from Bandol.

Pairing wine with Chicken -- Belinda Chang -- director for the Modern in Manhattan -- wrote wine notes for Charlie Trotter's Meat and Game 

Protein usually doesn't matter, instead it's all about the sauce and the accompaniments -- especially true with chicken and pork... General Applications: with heavily roasted, browned chicken served with a highly caramelized demi-glaze... inclined to go with red wines, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo to light Rhones.

Grilled with spring vegetables go with a rose --Chicken with a good dose of acidity such as lemon juice in sauce go with a Sauvignon Blanc.

Chang's rules for pork are similar to chicken... In some cases the cut of pork will influence wine pairing... a really meaty chop --good acidity such as Pinot Nebbiolo, Sangiovese or Rhone Syrah.

Juicy tenderloin -- which does not have a strong pork flavor, go with a light red or medium-bodied white.

Fatty belly... which has high fats go with more more tannic red to cut through the fat. Though she also likes high acid whites like Riesling.

Smoked pork -- Chang likes wines with a hint of smoke "from the terroir, not from the oak". look at Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Spanish Priorat, and some southern Italian wines.


Game Birds - Rajat says: The best match for game birds is Pinot Noir -- made to go with squab, quail, partridge, duck, game hen and goose. Pinots pure red fruits, light tannins and earthy edge are a perfect match with the finer flesh and lighter flavors of game birds.

Heavier, meatier birds like goose and duck can take heavier Pinots, such as New World wines as long as they have good acidity.Burgundies such as Gevrey-Chambertin; younger wines or wines from powerful vintages like 2003 or 2005.

Lighter birds, e.g. squab and quail, go better with lighter Burgundies, such as Chambolle-Musigny, or wines with significant age.

Game Meats -- Red wine is great with beef --"Old world reds never taste better than when paired with meat this is as feral and wild as the wines are"...wines that have a gamy or meaty component, like Brunello di Montalcino, Cote Rotie, Rioja, Barolo and aged Bordeaux are excellent with strongly flavored meats lie venison , rabbit, boar or lamb. Old world wines Rajat says generally work better than New Waorld California Cabs or Australian Shiraz not only because flavors are more woodsy and earthy, but because their is better acidity. Acid is a counter to fat... (like tannins) acid will also cut through sinuous, lean, or otherwise more densely muscled game meat.

Pairing Wine with Beef -- Main reason of pairing red wine and beef is the tannins found in red wine. Tannins need to be balanced with protein and fat in meat. a nice cut of meat can counteract any harshness in the wine bringing out more of the fruit from the wine and the savory flavor of the meat.

From Evan Goldstein -- Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings -- (his two books)

"A good red wine has everything to do with the fat content, which involve both cooking style and the nature of the beef itself". A well done steak will cut substantially the amount of fat. Without the fat the wine has less to cling to so the tannins won't get absorbed in the same way they would when serving a more marbled steak.

Rare and Unaged Beef -- Goldstein's rule -- since younger, juicier beef is redolent of blood and fat, it pairs well with slightly older Cabernets or Syrahs. Even though gentler tannins here, Goldstein says dessicating the fruit and emphasizing bottle bouquet and maturity, the juiciness of the meat will compensate for what has been lost in the wine".

Well-Done and Aged -- Will well done and stewed meats Goldstein says it is best to serve a young wine that can replace the juiciness that has been lost by stewing and aging. Since fat has been lost wine's tannins must be kept in check. so the meat will not be overwhelmed. Go with a Merlot, Cabernet Franc instead of more tannic Cabernet. -- other softer wines like Granache and Syrah are also good.

Grilled Meats -- Grilling imparts a smoky property to the food.-- also adds an acrid character to the exterior. Smoke works with oak in the wine... but bitter character in char is not going to offend tannin --e.g., it will not counterbalance the tannins... check on these notes..Goldstein says pair grilled steaks with younger reds that contain both tannin and new oak... young Bordeaux, Cal and Washington State Cabernets and Merlots; New World Syrahs; and Malbec from Argentinean.

Corn-fed vs. Grass Fed -- Grass fed meat has a different flavor and texture than the classic corn-fed beef. Grass fed beef is generally a lot leaner so less tannin is preferable. Grass fed beef can tighten up if not properly cooked so a juicy, fruitier Malbec may be a better choice than wine such as a California Cabernet which may have too much tannin. Since grass fed beef may have an earthier and gamier flavor a Cabernet-Franc-Merlot blend from the right bank of Bordeaux or northern Rhone Syrah may be a good choice.

Corn fed beef is found to be a bit sweeter and more marbled than grass fed. The steaks are richer and fattier. For these steaks it is best to go with full flavored tannic young Bordeaux or Napa Valley Cabernet.