Food and wine. You can hardly imagine one without the other. It doesn’t matter where your global adventures take you, a new friend waiting to offer you a sparkling glass of something delicious and some tasty snacks to go with it. We celebrate with wine, bond over it, and it’s a crucial part of enjoying good company. There’s only one way to make the experience better- knowing how to pair a delicious dish with the perfect wine! Wine pairing is an art unto itself, but the basics are pretty easy to learn (and will make you look doubly smart to friends, too). Here’ Louisvale Wines’ top tips for wine pairing basics everyone should know.

What is wine pairing?

‘Pairing’ a wine means matching it to a food so that they both enhance each other. Think about it. You may love two foods, but it doesn’t mean they taste great together! Wine is the same. It brings its own spectrum of tastes and textures to the table. While you won’t spoil a dish drinking the ‘wrong’ wine (and what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is subjective anyway) when you find a pair that enhances each other it lifts the experience to a whole new level.

So how do you figure out the pairing? You simply want to match up the key characteristics of the wine with the key characteristics of the dish, so the flavour profiles work with each other.

Is it hard to learn wine pairing?

At its very peak, wine pairing can be so specialized you’re hunting specific vintages to pair up to 5-star dishes. There’s so many nuances of flavour in both wine and food that it can become an art and a fun hobby if you choose. 

But the basics are pretty easy to grasp, and with them under your belt, you’ll be well on your way to making every meal super special- and impress your guests, too.

  • Red wines pair beautifully with bold flavours, so they enhance fatty dishes and red meats
  • White wines are ‘light’ on the palette, so they match better with lighter intensity flavours. Think fish and chicken.
  • Balance a fatty meal with an ‘earthy’ or ‘bitter’ wine profile
  • As a rule of thumb, make your wine more acidic than the food, or sweeter than the food, whichever is appropriate. You want them to be the same intensity though.
  • Another rough rule of thumb is that white, sparkling or rosé wines contrast with dishes well, but red wines should ‘match’ (congruent pairing).
  • Match the sauce to the wine as the priority, not the meat.
  • The weather can matter: no one wants a light rosé in the middle of winter, where heavy reds can be too much for the summer heat.
  • It’s a smart idea to consider alcohol content and the function, too. You don’t want to pair your most volatile wine to your starters, after all.

Help! What are some classic pairs!

Once you get confident with pairing, you can play around to suit yourself. Until then, why not try some classic pairs to get a feel for things?

  • Non-sweet white wines (Pinot Grigo and Sauvignon Blanc) work well with white fish or roast veggies
  • Sweet white wines (Moscato or Riesling) go beautifully with cheeses of all types, cured meats, or some desserts. Why not use them with a buffet, cheeseboard, or platter?
  • Cape Chardonnay, like our beloved offerings, are white wines with richer flavours, so they go well with meatier fish like trout or salmon, and poultry- especially ‘fatty’ poultry like duck or turkey. Cream sauces and chardonnay are always a winning combo. Don’t forget to try some of our special pairings available at Food @ Louisvale to try these out!

What about the reds?

  • Dry white wines (Pinot Noir) are also good with rich fish, root veggies, and cured meats. They are spectacular with mushrooms
  • Medium reds (Merlot) incline to lighter red meat meals. Think steak, burger, and so on.

Heavier reds are used less because of their heavy punch, but use them for fatty or heavy red meat dishes if you dare. A sishebo, stew, or similar dish is perfect.

What’s a dessert wine?

Dessert wines are sweet or fortified, meaning they can stand in place of a dessert to round out a meal if people don’t want a sweet. Or they can match up with treats like cake or tart. Light desserts, like fruit or sorbet, have more versatility for light red wines.

Of course, all rules are meant to be broken! You can experiment by pairing aspects of a meal to aspects of a wine, or just get fully experimental and see what works. But starting with the classic pairings is a great way to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Even the humblest meal can taste truly special when paired with the right wine. Don’t let pairing feel intimidating- it’s pretty easy when you get in the swing of things. You can always reach out to the Louisvale Wines team if you want to know more about what works with our special vintages, too!