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Coravin’s Guide to Mastering the Art of Food and Wine Pairings

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Wine and food are two sides of the same coin; they’re best enjoyed together — the perfect match. You’ve undoubtedly seen wine and food pairing menus in fine restaurants, and sommeliers love talking about their favorite wine pairing. Interestingly, wine and food pairings are not exclusive to fine dining, food and wine pairings are easy to create at home if you know what you’re doing.

Let’s discuss the best food and wine pairings, and why they work. Then, let’s talk about how you can enhance your dinner parties by pairing food and wine. We hope you’re hungry because this will be one tasty wine and food pairings lesson!

Pair Local Wine with Local Food

Our first wine and food pairings strategy is indisputable. Nonetheless, not everyone thinks about the provenance of their wine and food when pairing them.

Local food evolved along with wine to be compatible. This is particularly true for old-world wine regions, where wine has been common for thousands of years. Greek food is lovely with Greek wine (try a glass of Assyrtiko with Greek salad!), and Italian tomato-based sauces shine when paired with tangy red wines like Chianti.

You’ll find this type of affinity in the new world too. Argentina is known for its grilled meat extravaganzas — it’s no surprise Malbec goes great with grilled meat. Oregon Pinot Noir is lovely with Dungeness crab and trout. Do you see where we’re going with this?

Pair wine and food from the same country or region.

Pair by Weight

You don’t need a scale for this one. When we talk about weight in wine and food, we mean perceived weight. A fish fillet cooked on a pan is lighter than the same fillet when Parmesan-crusted and baked.

Wine also has a perceived weight. A tangy Sauvignon Blanc is lighter than an oak-aged Chardonnay. A round and chewy Merlot is lighter than a structured Nebbiolo.

Consider pairing the wine and food by weight when choosing your wine pairings. Light food will pair best with lighter wine styles while heartier meals require beefy red wines.

Complementary Pairings

Also known as congruent pairings, complementary pairings play with elements (scents and flavors) in both the wine and the food to make a match. Think of a peppery steak paired with Syrah with black pepper scents. Or how about pork ribs in plum sauce with a rich Merlot with plummy notes? A buttery Chardonnay always works well when served with butter-seared seafood.

When possible, tweak the recipes to make the food compatible with certain wines.

Contrasting Pairings

Contrasting pairings work at the most basic level. We contrast flavors in the wine and food to make them compatible.

The secret behind most contrasting pairings is acidity, and wine has plenty of it. Acidity cuts through fat, so tart wines always pair well with fatty food. You can also contrast sweetness in the food with acidity. And talking about sweetness, sweet wine will always contrast nicely with spicy food made with hot peppers. Tacos anyone?

Tip: Pair tart wines with fatty or sweet food. Pair sweet wine with spicy food.

Consider the Occasion

Great pairings can disappoint if you don’t consider the setting. Some pairings only work if the occasion is right. The famous pairing of Champagne and wedding cake is a good example — the pairing works even if cake and Champagne are not compatible at all! Of course, if you’re dealing with chocolate cake, you might want to read our chocolate and wine pairing guide.

A fancy Napa Cabernet is delicious with grilled red meat; we can all agree on that. However, if you’re having a backyard grilling party, you should serve something more casual, like a mid-priced Red Zinfandel, especially if you pour the wine into red plastic cups. Summer wines exist for a reason!

There’s a time and place for all wine pairings.

Pair Wine with Your Guests in Mind

Although there’s no doubt some wines taste better when paired with certain foods, even the right combinations can be a flop if you don’t read the crowd.

Pairing a well-aged Bordeaux with hints of tobacco leaf and earthy undertones with a juicy, premium ribeye is undoubtedly a good idea. However, if your guests are not experienced wine drinkers, they might find the Bordelaise wine too harsh. In that case, a new world Cabernet with a fruitier palate would be a better choice.

A barnyardy Rhone blend with leathery notes and hints of manure might pair wonderfully with a rack of lamb. However, if your guests have never experienced that old-world charm, you should serve something else, how about a gentler Australian Shiraz?

Consider your guests’ wine experience when choosing wine.

Classic Pairings for Red Wine

Red wine is the most popular style, and it’s easy to see why — it’s complex, elegant and pleasing on the nose and palate. However, red wine can often overpower delicate foods, so they’re best served with flavorful meals, mainly if based on red meat and brown sauces. Of course, not all red wine is created equal, so you’ll need to find the right wine for your menu based on its perceived weight.

Classic pairings for red wine

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet and other full-bodied red wines like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo and Syrah can tackle hearty foods. Tannins in robust red wine mellow the fat and proteins in the meat, so pair them with fatty beef cuts and beef stews.


Medium-bodied red wines such as Merlot, Montepulciano and Malbec don’t have as many tannins as the wines above, so they’re best paired with lean red meat, including fillet mignon and ribs. Fruit-forward wines in this category are also fantastic when paired with sweet flavors like those in cranberry and plum sauces.

Pinot Noir

Pinot and other thin-skinned varieties like Gamay, St Laurent and Mencía are delightful with lean beef and roasted poultry. They can also complement oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines.

On a side note, wine and cheese are common partners at the table. However, there are as many types of cheese as wine styles, so we’ll leave wine and cheese pairings for another occasion. If you want to learn more, explore our wine and cheese pairing chart.

Classic Pairings for White Wine

We can’t discuss white wine pairings without discussing the beautiful relationship between fish and wine. However, white wine is much more than that. White wine can be bold and creamy or refreshing and aromatic. Most of the white wine in the market is on the lighter side and makes for the nicest summer pairings. However, white wine must not be underestimated — it is more acidic than red wine; therefore, it is more compatible with food, especially if you’re using the contrasting technique.

And although it’s hard to pair hearty meat-based meals with white wine, it can be done — you just need to find the right wine. Pour yourself a glass of Champagne with a steak and watch them get along!

Classic pairings for white wine

Sauvignon Blanc

This herbal and mineral wine is the perfect partner with raw fish, such as sushi, sashimi, oysters and ceviche. The wine’s lemony personality brings out the sea-scented flavors in seafood. Other wines in this category include Vermentino, Vinho Verde and un-oaked Chardonnay.

Oaky Chardonnay

This big white wine style pairs best with creamy sauces, starchy dishes like pasta and mashed potatoes, and white meat, especially roasted birds and grilled pork. Other wines in this category include Rhone white wines and other oak-aged whites.

Semi-sweet white wine

Off-dry Riesling, demi-sec Chenin Blanc and Moscato are good examples of this category. Sweetness balances spiciness, so these wines are lovely when served with Asian stir-fries, curries and spicy Mexican food.

Food and Wine Pairing Made Easy

Coravin Wine Preservation Systems are an easy way to create complex wine and food pairings for you and your loved ones to enjoy. Coravin lets you pour wine from different bottles without opening them, allowing you to offer a wider variety of wine without wasting a single drop. Pair each dish with a different wine and include special or expensive wines without committing to the entire bottle.

With the proper wine preservation system, multi-course dinner parties are always possible, even for small gatherings. Pair the right wine with every course without ending with half a dozen unfinished wine bottles; it’s game-changing!

Be Creative

The tips and tricks in this guide will help you find the best food and wine pairings in most scenarios. There’s no doubt food and wine pairing basics are a great starting point. However, pairing wine with food is also a creative endeavor, and experimentation is encouraged.

Try different pairings, break the rules and find the combinations that work for you. The best pairings are often unexpected, so try different things and invite your friends and family to test them out. Who knows, perhaps you’ll find the next classic pairing! That’s what makes the world of wine so exciting; you never know what to expect.

And if you’re passionate about entertaining friends and family and sharing your wine-pairing ideas, explore our Coravin Wine Preservation Systems. Take your dinner parties to the next level with the right pairings, every time.