Grape specific pairing info

This is simply a general overview of types of dishes that work well with certain grape varietals or regions.  For more specific recommendations on pairings that I enjoy in the “real world” see the other links.

First a few generalities on pairing.  Everyone knows the old adage, “pair red wine with meat and white wine with fish”.  Not to discount that, but it is a bit too general.  The basis of that recommendation however, comes from matching the “weight” of the food with the “weight” or body of the wine.  That is a reasonable principle to keep in mind.  A light and crisp albarino with a thick and juicy ribeye probably won’t work.  Other things to keep in mind are:

  1. Salt and spice accentuate tannins and alcohol in wine; so in general big, tannic reds don’t go well with salty or spicy dishes
  2. Acidity in food and wine can be used to accentuate each other; a high acid wine can be used to refresh a rich and heavy dish (Chablis for example used with chicken in a cream or butter base); or you can try to match the acidity in the food with the acidity in the wine such as high acid Sangiovese with high acid tomato dishes (yes the Italians nailed that)
  3. Sweetness in wine tends to mitigate spice; this is a key point to remember if you enjoy spicy foods and want to drink wines; a bit of residual sugar in a Riesling or Gewürztraminer will tamp the spice down nicely
  4. Sweet foods (including sauces) make wines taste sharply acidic and thin; I’ve been burned by this many times at restaurants getting a sweet berry demi-glace on pork that I tried to pair a pinot with and completely ruined the wine; so beware of using sweet sauces/ingredients

Ok, enough generalities, let’s get to some pairings

Pinot noir:

  • generally light to medium body with moderate to high acidity, minimal tannin, and moderate alcohol
  • very versatile with food especially depending on the region, you can find a pinot noir to pair with almost any dish
  • excellent with pork dishes, chicken and other roasted fowl (excellent with duck), heavier fish (salmon, swordfish, tuna, pike quenelle), game meat (rabbit, elk, venison), can be excellent with richer braises as the freshness and acidity cuts through the rich sauce (boeuf bourguignon would be a classic example), and can be excellent with general grill fare in the summer; also since many pinots have baking spice notes (clove, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon) dishes that have these accents are excellent; dishes with mustard flavors (Dijon is in Burgundy you know!)


  • generally medium to full body with moderate acidity, high tannins, and high alcohol
  • the savory, smoky flavors lend themselves very well to robust meat dishes
  • excellent with game (elk, venison, etc), excellent with lamb (chops, legs, shanks, racks), very good with beef depending on the preparation, excellent with braises and hearty stews, and excellent with grilled meats as the smoky aspect pairs nicely with the char from the grill

Cabernet sauvignon:

  • mostly full body with low to moderate acidity, high tannins, and high alcohol
  • given the lower acidity and higher alcohol and tannins, these wines generally pair better with hearty fair and rich meats
  • classic pairings with cabernet include lamb (especially with mint in the rub or marinade), prime rib (I like a nice espresso based rub to bring out coffee/mocha notes in the wines), and lots of other beef dishes.  Certainly cabernet is a steakhouse standard.  Game meat could also certainly work as can heavier pork dishes and hearty stews/braises

Sauvignon blanc:

  • light bodied with high acidity, minimal tannins, and low to moderate alcohol
  • these wines can vary depending on the region of origin; Sancerre and other Loire sauvignon blancs tend to have higher acidity and more stony/mineral, grassy/hay, and tart citrus notes whereas New World options such as New Zealand or California will be a bit riper and have more ripe tropical fruit, bell pepper, and slightly lower acidity
  • my favorite way to enjoy Sauvignon blanc is actually with a cheese plate; blue cheese, manchego, comte, etc all help to moderate the acidity in the wine while the wine refreshes the palate for each bite of cheese to be fully savored; can be excellent with many seafood dishes (oysters, shrimp, etc) and lighter fish dishes (especially if accented with herbs or citrus); can also work well with fowl in any sort of citrus or herb flavor profile; Loire wines also go well with vegetarian fare that has green notes (bell peppers, asparagus, eggplant); it is also one of my favorite wines to serve with a salad accented with goat cheese

Chardonnay (non Chablis)

  • I actually consider Chardonnay to be almost 2 completely separate entities depending on whether it is from Chablis or anywhere else so I will separate them here
  • This will apply to New World wines and white Burgundy from the Cote d’Or and below
  • these wines tend to be light to medium bodied, with rich round textures, moderate to high alcohol, moderate acidity, and minimal tannin
  • the classic pairing here is lobster with butter to dip in as the rich meat and the rich round texture of the wine meld into a beautiful thing; rich crab cakes can also be excellent; fowl dishes can work very well especially with stone fruit accents (apricot, peach, etc), fish with heavier butter or cream bases such as pike quenelle are stellar, and meatier fish can also work well here; scallops can work especially with any sort of sauce; pasta dishes with cream and citrus based sauces can also be excellent; creamy risotto with seafood like scallops or prawns also work well; another tip is to add toasted nuts as a garnish as many oak-aged chardonnays develop a hazelnut note that goes great when this flavor is incorporated

Chardonnay (Chablis)

  • Chablis has more in common with Sauvignon blanc from the Loire than it does with Chardonnay from California; so I generally pair it more similarly to the Loire wines
  • in general these will be lighter bodied, fresher with moderate to high acidity, lower alcohol, and again minimal tannin
  • these are also excellent with fruit/cheese plates or simply as an aperitif to sip; seafood (especially oysters, scallops that are fresh and simple with citrus accents, and shrimp/prawns, and crab, these tend to bring out the minerality and iodine notes in the wines); light fish dishes work well; lighter fowl with citrus/herb accents can be good; overall very versatile and depending on the level and producer can sometimes be matched with a little bit heavier food

Champagne/Sparkling wine

  • lots of bubbly is consumed on its own with no food and I have definitely quaffed my share of it this way, but don’t overlook it at the table where it is quite versatile
  • these wines are high acid, light bodied, super fresh due to the carbonation, and have minimal tannin; depending on the type they occasionally have a decent amount of residual sugar lending some sweetness
  • sparkling wine is excellent on its own as an aperitif; it is excellent as a partner for a cheese and fruit plate; one of my favorite pairings is with sushi as the wine cleanses the palate nicely to allow you to fully enjoy the subtle flavors in each bite; it also works incredibly well with salty flavors as the freshness in the wine is quite cleansing, think cured meats (prosciutto and melon), olives, fried chicken or fried seafood; I also really enjoy sparkling wine with rich, slightly salty crab cakes


  • generally light body with low alcohol, often with significant residual sugar, high acidity and no tannins to speak of
  • pairing partly depends on the style of Riesling, if it is dry (Alsace, Clare Valley, Austria, some German) or off dry to sweet (Germany, Austria)
  • Riesling is one of my go to wines for Asian food pairing as acidity, low alcohol, and sometimes the residual sugar make these perfect for dishes with salty soy flavors or heat; Indian dishes such as saag paneer, vegetable curries, lighter chicken curries, etc are delicious; Thai food is very good with Riesling also; light fish dishes with herbs and citrus and seafood such as scallops, shrimp, and crab; classic pairings in Alsace and Germany include ham and sausage dishes as the freshness of the wines help to cut through the salty richness of the meat; poultry can certainly work depending on how it is prepared