The Basics of Food and Wine Pairing


Hello NgoYourMeal fam! We are the Bicoastal Cooks and we are taking over Jon’s amazing blog this week to give you our quick-and-dirty guide to wine and food pairing. There is a TON of knowledge out there about wine and food pairing, at least enough to fill an encyclopedia or two. It could get a little overwhelming when you are just starting out as a chef or an enthusiast. Luckily, we shortened the rules down to three that are simple to understand and easy to follow. We also have been developing a tool to help out with Wine Pairing that might be of use.

Rule #1 - Size Matters – No…get your mind out of the gutter. When we are talking about “size” this context, we are referring to the overall intensity of the wine and food as a combination of the body, scent, alcohol level, and “punch” of the wine, and the level of seasoning, heartiness, and spiciness of the dish. To make an analogy, in wrestling, you wouldn’t pair a 126 pound wrestler to a 276 pound wrestler in a match, it just wouldn’t be a fair fight! Can you imagine Aziz Ansari trying to tackle Rick Ross? Similarly, you wouldn’t pair lightly seared scallops with a dark and tannic Nebbiolo, you will not be able to taste the scallops. You want to pair wine and food that are in an equal “weight class,” to be able to fully showcase both of their abilities. Red wines tend to be stronger and will go better with other stronger flavors such as red meat or pungent cheeses. White wines are softer and are therefore often recommended with seafood so you don’t mask any flavors.

Rule #2 - Cut the Fat and Bring on the Salt – Both salty and fatty foods just scream for an acidic wine. Similar to eating a cheeseburger with a Coke, when you are eating a fatty piece of pork belly, you want something acidic to cut through the fattiness, and ready your mouth for another bite of the juicy meat.  Salt clashes with tannins, but pair really well with something sparking and acidic. At the Astor Center in New York, we host this annual event called Fried and Fizzy, and it is the bomb and it always sells out. What do they serve? Fried foods and bubbly. When I have a plate of fried oysters and a glass of Champagne, I am in my happy place.

Rule #3 - Bring out the Subtleties – In general, you want to pick a wine that brings out the flavor undertones in the dish you are eating. The chef worked so hard to layer in all those flavors, and it would be a shame if they are buried by an overwhelming wine! Some classic pairings: Buttery California Chardonnay with butter lobster, Gruner Veltliner and its grassy undertones with a dish with lots of herbs, earthy Pinot Noir with anything mushroomy or truffly. The list goes on…and if you are looking for an easier decision process, check out our free wine pairing tool! It considers a combination of factors about your food, and recommends wines that are optimal, suitable, and ones you’d want to avoid.

Two caveats to this rule:

  • Caveat 1 - You wouldn’t want to pair a spicy dish with a spicy or high alcohol wine, your taste buds might scream in pain! For spicy dishes, go with something sweet, like a Gerwutztraminer or German Icewein. The sweetness soothes the mouth and fights the fire.

  • Caveat 2 - If you are pairing wine with dessert, remember to always choose a wine that is sweeter than the food, or else the wine tastes rather flat and sour.

Lastly, I know this post is all about food and wine pairing, but you don’t have to limit yourself to just wine. Having some spicy Thai food in sweltering 90 degree heat? I can go for a cold lager. At the end of the day, food and beverage pairing is about creating the best dining experience for you and your guests, the knowledge base of pairing helps guide your decision, but let your taste buds and your intuition be the ultimate guide. We personally side with preference rather than the set “rule”!

About us:

We are two chefs dedicated to exploring the recipe development process from exploring inspirations to developing tricks to dish execution. To learn more about the Bicoastal Cooks and our upcoming book, check us out here.

See you on the flip side!