Let’s Get Together

What’s for dinner? That’s the first question Sarah Cyr has to answer before she can match a wine to a meal. The sommelier and co-owner of the Wine Cellar & Bistro says the wine choices for her table are spontaneous, inspired by menu, season and mood.

“I always have something seasonal at my house,” she says. “White Bordeaux in the summer, lighter reds for rainy spring weather … heavy reds come in handy on snowy winter nights. To pair with meals, we usually plan the meal first, and then I choose a wine to complement second. It is usually a last-minute acquisition.”

Most of us aren’t as knowledgeable as a sommelier to pull out a perfect wine match when planning a meal. Wine and food pairings can be simple or complicated, depending on each diner’s personal taste preferences and spirit of adventure.

“It’s all completely subjective,” Cyr says. “Every palate is different.”

There is only one universal wine and food pairing rule: A good pairing is when the food and the wine do not overshadow each other. Whether you complement or contrast, pairings work best when each does not mask the other’s unique flavor and characteristics.

Matching what’s on your plate to what’s in your glass takes in four elements: weight, flavor intensity, taste and smell. Characteristics of the food — the way the dish is prepared and cooked — will affect these elements. Is the dish heavy, medium or light? Is the flavor weak, moderate or strong? Is the aroma earthy, fruity or herbal? Does it taste sweet, spicy, acidic, sour or bitter? The way your palate answers those questions — drawing from your background, culture and habits — can help determine your complementary wine preferences.

There are a few basics of traditional pairings — reds with red meats, whites with poultry and seafood. Terroir comes into play as well — matching food and wines from the same region — because it makes sense that foods, wines and cuisine styles from the same area would go together.

It all comes down to personal preference. Experiment to learn the combinations that you enjoy most. Here are a few guidelines to get you started.


Tannins are the reason red wine complements red meat so well. These phenolic compounds bind to proteins in the meat, creating an astringent reaction in your mouth. A sip of a tannic red wine after a bite of beef helps cleanse the palate and meld the flavors. Not all red wines contain the same levels of tannin, though, so varietals boasting other traits pair well with a variety of foods.

Good matches with red wines include:

Steak: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Shiraz, Petite Sirah

Roast Beef: Merlot, Bordeaux blends, Beaujolais

Pork: Oregon Pinot Noir, Chambourcin

Lamb: Norton, Pinot Noir, Rioja Tempranillo

 Ham: Beaujolais Nouveau, Zinfandel

 Wild Game: Norton, Super Tuscans, Shiraz

Salmon: Pinot Noir,

Pasta (red sauce): Chianti, Barbera

Pizza: Zinfandel, Carménerè, Chianti

Burgers: Zinfandel, Beaujolais Noveau

Barbecue: Sangria, Norton, Zinfandel, Merlot, Grenache, Rosé

Green Salads (with fruit): Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Rosé

Indian: Zinfandel

Japanese: Beaujolais

White wines are good accompaniments to fish and poultry. Crisp wines are especially good pairings with seafood — the acid in the wine counters the oils in the fish for better balance on the palate.

Good matches with white wines include:

Chicken: Chardonnay, Chablis, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc

Turkey: Gewürztraminer, White Burgundy, Sauvignon Blanc

Grilled Fish: Pinot Grigio, Chablis

 Fried Fish: Sauvignon Blanc

 Salmon: Vignoles, Pinot Grigio

 Pasta (white sauce): Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gavi

 Raw/Steamed Shellfish: Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne

 Green Salad: Sauvignon Blanc, Vignoles, Pinot Blanc

 Chinese: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc

 Indian: Chardonnay

 Japanese: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling

 Thai: Riesling, Vignoles, Icewine, Chablis, Chardonnay

 Sushi: Sake, Riesling, Vin Gris, Sauvignon Blanc

Say Cheese!

Wine and cheese is a classic combo, subject to personal preference and the addition of fruit, breads and other offerings on the platter. Start with these standard pairings:

Cabernet Sauvignon: Brie, Camembert, strong cheddar, Danish blue, Gorgonzola, Gouda

Chambourcin: Brie, Camembert

Champagne/Sparkling Wines: vintage Brie, feta, Edam, Gouda, Parmesan

Chardonnay: Gouda, Gruyere, provolone

Chenin Blanc: Camembert, feta, fontina, Gouda, ricotta

Gewürztraminer: boursin, chevre, Swiss

Merlot: Asiago, Gouda, Gruyere, Brie, Camembert, Jarlsberg

Norton: cheddar, bleu

Pinot Noir: Brie, Camembert, Gruyere

Riesling: colby, Edam, Gouda

Rioja: Asiago, havarti

Sauternes: gorgonzola, Emmentaler, Stilton

Sauvignon Blanc: Gruyere

Sherry: bleu, vintage Brie

Syrah/Shiraz: Asiago, bleu, aged cheddar