After a long day in the Plated Test Kitchen, we often find ourselves daydreaming about which beverages would be the best match for our recipes. Don’t get us wrong, we firmly believe food should be excellent on its own—but there’s something about a well-chosen pairing that can make a meal feel like a special occasion, and help extend the time with loved ones over a glass of something delicious. What’s more, a great (boozy) pairing has the potential to bring out the best in even our favorite recipes—some things are just better together.
We get a lot of questions about which wines to pair with our recipes, and realize it can be daunting when trying to choose the right bottle for your meal. Though there’s no hard-and-fast rule for making food and wine friends, we’ve got a few tried-and-true, not-so-scientific tips and tricks to keep in mind when bringing together your food with your wine. The bottom line? Pairings are personal, and the most important factor is whether or not you enjoy it. Try these rules for yourself and experiment—you can learn a lot about your own taste in the process, and at the same time take your culinary game to the next level.
Like with like
The first pairing rule of thumb is simple: wines and foods with a similar flavor or texture often have great matchmaking potential. Serving a springy salad with fresh goat cheese? Try a crisp, light-bodied white wine, like Portuguese Vinho Verde. Are fresh herbs, heirloom tomatoes, and light, salty cheeses more your style? Choose a dry, fruity rosé from Provence—this wine is extremely food-friendly but would be an excellent match for the fresh, salty, and fruity flavors of Chef Elana’s Zucchini Tomato Pizza with Ricotta and Spicy Honey.
The idea behind this pairing principle is that by choosing wines to match your food (or vice versa), neither will overpower the other, and their shared qualities will be brought out even more than if they were to be enjoyed individually. Keep this rule in mind when planning your dinner menu, and it will serve you well.
Sugar loves spice
Sugar plus spice makes everything nice—at least, when pairing food with wine. A helpful tip to keep in mind: If you pair a spicy dish with a slightly sweet wine, the wine will balance out the spice, while the food will soften the sweetness of the wine. In other words, opposites attract (it’s not just true in rom-coms, folks!).
If you find yourself sensitive to spicy dishes, try pairing it with an off-dry (mildly sweet) wine, like a Riesling or Gewürztraminer. The residual sugars in these aromatic white wines make them a perfect match for chiles and curries, like Spicy Sambal Pork Stir-Fry or Thai Shrimp Curry.
What grows together, goes together
This is an age-old pairing rule, and it’s stood the test of time for good reason: Generally speaking, wines and foods from the same region pair well together. Sharing the same climate, geographic features, and cuisine all bode well for pairing compatibility. A classic example? Oysters and Muscadet, a white wine from France’s Loire Valley. The crisp, light-bodied, and slightly saline qualities of this wine are in part due to its Atlantic climate, and pair beautifully with local oysters and seafood.
OK, so we don’t have oysters on the Plated menu—but looking for other ways to try this pairing rule at home? Try matching two of Spain’s culinary darlings: Manchego cheese and red Rioja. The rich, nutty sheep’s milk cheese is an excellent match for dry-yet-fruity wine, which is famously food-friendly, especially with savory dishes. Whip up a Manchego-Mushroom Panini for an easy-yet-elegant weeknight meal, or serve the cheese on an appetizer platter with serrano ham and Manzanilla olives.
Rich meats love tannins
Is a rich seared steak on the menu this week? Try a high-tannin red wine, like a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Portuguese Douro. The mouth-drying qualities of the tannins will cut through the richness of the steak, resulting in a balanced pairing. As a rule of thumb, the leaner the cut of steak, the fewer tannins are needed to create that coveted balance. A filet mignon, for example, would pair well with a lower-tannin red wine, like a Pinot Noir or a Gamay.
When in doubt, Champagne goes with everything
When it comes to food pairings, some wines are friendlier than others. One such wine? Champagne. Generally dry with gentle bubbles, high acidity, and lemony and bready flavors, it pairs well with foods that are salty, fatty, fresh, fried—you name it. Oysters, smoked salmon, cured meats, rich cheeses, fresh fruits and veggies, eggs, fried chicken, and even potato chips (yes, you read that right!) are all excellent matches for Champagne, so you can dress your pairing up or down to your liking.
For a budget-friendly alternative, try Crémant, a category of French sparkling wines that are made in the same traditional style, but outside the region of Champagne. The result? Equally crisp, refreshing, and complex wine, minus the price tag. A Test Kitchen favorite is Crémant de Loire—try it with a salty, cheesy, gooey Prosciutto Croque Madame for pairing perfection.
Looking for tips on pairing sweet treats with wine? Check out our dessert wine pairing guide.
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