Wine Wednesday: Pairing Food & Wine

Dear Wine Habit,

I’m sorry, but you are just going to have to take it easy for a while. I’m just not feeling up to par these past couple weeks because of you. Next time you feel the urge to get carried away, please don’t. My body just can’t take it anymore. So please, go bother someone else for a while because right now – I’m kind of sick of you… Well, in a love hate sort of way, anyhow…

One woman who has drank way too much wine as of late…

For this week’s edition of Wine Wednesday, I searched and searched for a comprehensive food and wine pairing chart. Unfortunately, they were either seriously lacking in important details or they completely disregarded the importance of flavors and instead paired wine with just “meat”. How a dish is prepared and the flavors that go into it are extremely important. I thought about completing my own chart but let’s face it, I don’t have time for that. So instead, I’ve literally copied and pasted (forgive me) from various pages of the Williams Sonoma website in an effort to give you the most detailed information possible when it comes to selecting wine and food. I don’t care much for just duplicating what’s already out there – but I made an exception this time. You’re already here, why would I send you over there?

I decided to go with a food first approach, since I find that most often I know what I wanna eat, and I need a wine to go with it. Others prefer the wine first approach, but then you have to know what you wanna drink before you wanna eat.. It seems a bit ass backwards to me.

A note to think about when selecting wine to pair with your food: Rules are meant to be broken. If what’s suggested (here, at a restaurant, or anywhere else) isn’t something you like then don’t drink it. Have what you want and like and enjoy. Otherwise, your glass and your meal will be ruined..

Fish & Shellfish
With fresh grilled anchovies, try Sauvignon Blanc from California or the Loire Valley in France, or a Spanish Manzanilla sherry.

Calamari (Squid)
For fried calamari, choose a fruity Chenin Blanc from California or an Italian Pinot Grigio. For calamari cooked in tomato sauce, try a pungent Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or California.

Serve Champagne, top-quality dry California sparkling wine or unoaked French Chardonnay from Chablis.

Ceviche Fino
Sherry, dry rosé from northern Spain, or unoaked Chardonnay from Chile or California are good choices.

Serve a big, oaky Chardonnay from California or Australia. If you prefer red, try a medium-weight California Pinot Noir from Carneros or the Central Coast.

For simple steamed clams, serve a white Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire or a dry rosé. For clams in cream sauce, try a mid-range white Burgundy from France or a medium-oaked California Chardonnay. Clams in tomato sauce require an acidic Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Muscadet from the Loire in France. For clams in wine sauce, drink a better version of the wine used in the sauce.

With broiled cod, try Pinot Blanc from California or a white Bordeaux from France. With dried cod (Bacalão), serve Pinot Gris from Oregon or Sauvignon Blanc from California.

Chardonnay from California or the state of Washington are both superb matches with fresh boiled crab or mild crab cakes.

Fish Terrine
An oaky Chardonnay from Australia or California or a good-quality German Riesling are fine choices.

Serve an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc from California or Chardonnay from the Finger Lakes region of New York.

With broiled halibut, try an Italian Pinot Grigio, a California Pinot Blanc, or a lightly oaked Chilean or California Chardonnay.

For boiled lobster, buy the best white Burgundy from France or California Chardonnay you can afford. For lobster Newburgh, open a crisp Chardonnay from New York, or a light Pinot Noir from Oregon or the Russian River Valley in California.

With broiled mackerel, try a California Viognier or an Oregon Pinot Gris.

Serve a lightly oaked Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from California, or a fresh and fruity French Beaujolais.

For plain steamed mussels, choose a dry Riesling from Alsace, or an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Blanc from California. With mussels in cream sauce, try a lightly oaked California Chardonnay or a German Riesling; in tomato sauce, serve an herbal, high-acid Sauvignon Blanc; and for wine sauce, open a better version of the wine used in the sauce.

With raw oysters, serve Chablis from France, dry Riesling from Alsace, a good California sparkling wine, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc or a light California Pinot Noir.

Red Snapper
With grilled snapper, try Pinot Noir or a light Merlot from California.

Salmon is a red wine fish. Serve with California or Oregon Pinot Noir, a good red Burgundy or a Beaujolais from France. If you prefer a white wine, choose a subtly oaky, elegant Chardonnay from California.

Try grilled or baked sardines with a Spanish Albariño or a dry Orvieto from Italy.

Serve a buttery California or Australian Chardonnay, or a young Merlot from the state of Washington.

Sea Bass
White Bordeaux from France, Sauvignon Blanc from California and Chilean Chardonnay all pair well with this fish.

This dense, meaty fish calls for a Pinot Noir from New York state or a Merlot from the state of Washington.

Shrimp and Prawns
For shrimp in garlic sauce, serve a light to medium-weight red, such as a Merlot from Washington state. For fried or grilled shrimp (or prawns), try Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire in France or from California.

Smoked Fish
Serve Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris or Riesling from Alsace, or a grassy Sauvignon Blanc from California or New Zealand.

French Chablis or a lightly oaked California Sauvignon Blanc makes a good pairing with this delicate fish.

Serve grilled swordfish with California Chardonnay or French white Burgundy.

Freshwater trout is rather delicate. Serve with an unoaked Chardonnay from California or Oregon, an Albariño from Spain or a Pinot Grigio from Italy. Sea trout can take Chardonnay or Viognier from California.

This fish has red wine potential. Try a southern Rhône from France, young Zinfandel, Pinot Noir or Merlot from California. For whites, open a big, buttery Chardonnay from California or Australia.


There are many wines that taste good with beef. As a general rule, good red wine goes well with plainly cooked beef. By experimenting with sauces and flavorings, you can choose from powerful Cabernets, Zinfandels, Barolos and Super-Tuscan red wines from Italy, or lighter reds, such as Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Grilled beef is a good excuse to bring out hearty, full-flavored red wines, such as Zinfandel or Syrah/Shiraz from California or Australia. Southern Rhône, Languedoc or Provençal French red wines would also be good.

An off-dry Riesling, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc from California or even a young Zinfandel will work well with beef curry.

An intriguing wine challenge, a hamburger often comes with ketchup, pickles, onions and perhaps mayonnaise. The temptation is to go for something cheap, but a Syrah, a young Cabernet or a fruity red Zinfandel (all from California) can work well.

With calves’ liver, try a red Rioja from Spain; a lighter Pinot Noir from Oregon, California’s Russian River Valley or Anderson Valley; or a young Merlot.

Meat Loaf
With this American classic, try a young Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile or a fruity Merlot from Washington state.

Rich roast beef calls for the best. Pull the cork on a top red Bordeaux from France, a good California Cabernet Sauvignon, or one of the better French Rhônes or Italian Barolos.

Steak is always a red wine dish. The seasoning used will determine which red wine, but you can’t go wrong with a good red Bordeaux, a California or Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, a Washington state Merlot, an Argentine Malbec or a Spanish Rioja.

Beef-based stews, from classic French beef bourguignonne to homely beef goulash, are rich dishes that demand an equally rich wine, but one with some elegance and acidity. A good red Burgundy from France, a California Pinot Noir, a Spanish Rioja, an Australian Shiraz or a big California Zinfandel would all be good partners.


Red Burgundy from France is the classic match with game. Below are a few more suggestions for specific types of game.

Serve wild duck with a Syrah from the Rhône in France or from California, or with a Washington state Merlot.

Depending on the stuffing or sauce, an Oregon Pinot Noir, Beaujolais from France or Washington state Merlot would all work well with quail. If you prefer a white wine, choose an elegant Chardonnay with some oak.

With this fairly mild-flavored meat, try an Italian Chianti, a light red Burgundy or a good Beaujolais from France. For the classic rabbit in mustard sauce, you might like to try a white, such as a Pinot Gris from Oregon or a grassy Sauvignon Blanc from California.

You need massive red wine with this rich, flavorful meat. Open a cru classé French Bordeaux, a California Cabernet Sauvignon or a top French Rhône.


In general, lamb is a very wine-friendly food. It has a great affinity with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, used in red wines from Bordeaux and California. In Spain, Rioja is often served with lamb. California Zinfandel, Washington state Merlot, Australian Shiraz, Rhône reds and good Chiantis also work.

Zinfandel, young Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot from California and Rioja are good choices with broiled lamb. For a Middle Eastern-style kabob with spicy sauces, reach for the brighter flavors of Cabernet Franc, Syrah from California or Shiraz from Australia.

With lamb chops, serve a mature Spanish Rioja, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California or a Washington state Merlot.

A classic match would be a mature red Bordeaux from France (traditionally Pauillac), a first-rate California Cabernet Sauvignon or a red Rioja Reserva from Spain. Steer clear of the classic mint sauce with lamb—the vinegar in the sauce will spoil the taste of the wine.

This richly flavored dish is perfect with Spanish Rioja, a Rhône red from France, Syrah/Shiraz from California or Australia, or a big Zinfandel.

A stew with big flavors needs a wine to match it, such as a reserve Chianti from Italy, a California Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel. With a more subtly flavored stew, try a Merlot or Syrah from Washington state or California.


With its underlying sweetness, pork is a more difficult match than beef or lamb, and is often cooked with spices that are not wine friendly. The best bet is usually a younger low-tannin wine (white or red) with some acidity and fruit that can match the flavor profile of many pork dishes.

Baked Ham
Side dishes apart, an Alsatian Gewürztraminer, an off-dry Riesling from Washington State or Germany, or a fruity young California Merlot will work with baked ham.

Some of the hottest barbecue sauces are lavished on pork, which can make choosing a wine hard. Try a semidry California Riesling or a chilled white Zinfandel.

A full-flavored Pinot Noir from California’s Central Coast is a good choice, as is a spicy Australian Shiraz.

Dried Ham
With Italian or Spanish ham, dry rosé or a juicy young Grenache-based red from the south of France would work well.

A good match for roast pork is Pinot Noir from California, red Burgundy from France, red Ribera del Duero from Spain or a full-bodied red from the Rhône in France.


Some meat flavors match perfectly with certain grape varieties. In the poultry category, duck and chicken are a great match with Chardonnay.

Simple roast chicken goes with anything from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir. It won’t take a big red, but a roast bird seasoned with rosemary and garlic pairs well with Merlot, French Beaujolais (not nouveau) or a light Australian Shiraz. With curried chicken, try an Alsatian Gewürztraminer or a dry California sparkler; chicken in tarragon or mustard sauce is fine with a light red, such as Cabernet Franc, or an oaky Chardonnay from California or Australia. Fried chicken calls for a dry rosé from Spain or southern France, or a fruity California Sauvignon Blanc. With coq au vin, serve a better version of the wine it is cooked in.

Domestic duck is milder and sweeter than wild duck. Try it with a Washington state Merlot, an Italian Chianti, a California Syrah or a buttery California Chardonnay.

The richness of goose demands a good wine, such as a top red Burgundy. However, it is often served with sweet side dishes, in which case a sweetish German Riesling might be a good option. In the mid-range, you could try a California Pinot Noir, a good red Rhône or an Australian Shiraz.

The first choice with this slightly sweet meat is a fruity California Zinfandel, which can handle any of the traditional turkey stuffings and pairs well with the meat itself.

Vegetable Fare
To cut through the fatness of avocados, try a grassy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or California, or an Italian Verdicchio.

Beans and Lentils
Serve a fruity young red, such as Syrah/Shiraz, a top French Beaujolais or a California Merlot. For white, try an Alsatian Riesling or an Italian Pinot Grigio.

Serve a buttery California Chardonnay.

Serve a dry rosé or a light red wine, such as a Dolcetto from Italy or a medium-weight Chianti.

This chickpea dip is best with a crisp, acidic wine, perhaps a dry Chenin Blanc from California or an Albariño from Spain.

Serve with Pinot Noir from California, Merlot from New York state or a good French Beaujolais.

When serving olives as an appetizer, try a glass of slightly chilled Fino sherry from Spain or a California sparkling brut rosé.

An onion tart or onion soup is perfect with an unoaked white wine, such as Oregon Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire or even a mid-range Chablis from France.

With black truffles, open a top-quality Champagne, a California sparkling wine, or a Syrah from California or the Rhône in France. With white truffles, serve a good French red Burgundy or an Italian Nebbiolo, such as Barolo.

Cheese Sauce
The range of options is wide, but aim for a red or white with good acidity.

Cream Sauce
A buttery California Chardonnay matches strength to strength; for contrast, try a zingy Sauvignon Blanc.

Pesto Sauce
Serve a young red wine, such as a Dolcetto from Italy, a Beaujolais from France or a Zinfandel from California.

Tomato Sauce
Counter the acidity of the tomatoes with an acidic white wine. If the sauce has garlic and meat, however, you could go for a fruity red wine, such as an Australian Shiraz or a young red Rioja from Spain.


A simple green salad with an oil and vinegar dressing, or any vinegar-based dressing, neither requires wine nor can it really be usefully paired with wine. There are a few salads, however, that can be matched with wine.

A California sparkling wine will go nicely with a Caesar salad.

This tuna-based salad is perfect with a dry rosé from southern France.

With a seafood salad, you could serve a California Chardonnay or a mid-range white Burgundy from France.

A grassy Sauvignon Blanc from California or New Zealand, or a brut rosé sparkling wine from California, will work well.

Ethnic Foods
Within China itself there are four basic cuisines, each of which has several subcuisines, so Chinese food cannot be dealt with in detail here. In general, look for a big spicy wine, such as a Gewürztraminer, a grassy Sauvignon Blanc or an off-dry Riesling; an unoaked Australian or California Chardonnay will also work. With pork and chicken dishes, a fruity young Zinfandel or Beaujolais from France can be a surprisingly good choice.

Fusion or Pacific Rim
A popular approach to creative cooking in countries bordering the Pacific, from the western United States to eastern Australia, this dynamic blend of Asian, Pacific island and European-influenced styles is evolving into what some people are calling the first truly international cuisine. Because of the eclectic selection of spices and other seasonings, wine selections should be made on a dish-by-dish basis. Let your imagination run wild and consider seldom-met wines, such as Vinho Verde from Portugal, Viognier from Virginia or California, and acidic and delicious Finger Lakes Riesling from New York state.

As with China, there are several different Indian cuisines. In general, the more aromatic wines are best. For whites, try Gewürztraminer, off-dry Riesling or Pinot Gris. A sparkling brut rosé, if not too dry, would also be a good choice. Red wines, such as an Australian Shiraz or California Syrah, can work well against the strong, spicy flavors of many Indian dishes. A young, zesty Zinfandel would also be a good choice.

The cuisine of Japan doesn’t have the massive heat of some Asian cuisines, which makes it seemingly more open to wine pairings. However, the subtle, often salty sauces and flavorings can be a challenge. Go for off-dry Rieslings from Washington or California, semisweet white Zinfandel or sparkling wine.

True Mexican food (not the searingly hot border food) is more open to wine pairings than many people believe. Red wines are often a good choice with Mexican food, especially young Zinfandels and Merlots from California. Light Pinot Noir from Oregon or the Carneros region of California can be quite pleasing. With mole chili-based sauces (witha hint of chocolate), try a young Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Southeast Asian (Cambodian, Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese)
With the exception of Indonesian, these cuisines have fairly subtle seasonings, with rare explosions of heat. Unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, young Zinfandels and Merlots are good choices.

Southwestern U.S./Tex-Mex
The spicy Tex-Mex style of cooking can be tricky to match with wine, but classic Southwestern cuisine is full of complex flavors. In general, the same choices as for Mexican food apply here.

Growing in popularity, Thai food features such exotic seasonings as lemongrass, galangal (a relative of gingerroot), hot chilies and rich coconut milk, which make it one of the most difficult of Asian cuisines to match with wine. However, a good place to start would be an Oregon Pinot Gris, a spicy Alsatian Gewürztraminer, a fresh unoaked California Sauvignon Blanc or an Italian Pinot Blanc.

Blue Cheeses
The great blue-veined cheeses, such as French Roquefort, are a classic with Sauternes or a late-harvest California Sauvignon Blanc. Stilton is good with a mature tawny or vintage port. Spain’s Cabrales matches well with dry Oloroso sherry or a mature red Rioja. Gorgonzola calls for a big red wine, such as a Barolo from Italy or an Australian Shiraz.

A younger tawny port is a good match with these velvety, soft-ripened and triple-cream cheeses, as are fruity young red wines, such as Pinot Noir from California’s Russian River Valley or a good Beaujolais.

This type of firm, often sharp cheese pairs well with late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Oloroso sherry or a good vintage port. Red Bordeaux wine and cheddar is a combination to be avoided.

Goat’s Milk Cheeses
There is a wide range of goat cheeses, but in general they have strong flavors and are well paired with Sancerre from France, late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc from California, Sauternes, and mature tawny ports and lighter vintage ports.

An aged gouda matches very well with a mature Bordeaux wine or California Cabernet Sauvignon.

This classic Spanish cheese makes a good combination with vintage port, sweet Muscat or even a fruity Zinfandel.

Match this strongly flavored cheese with a big Italian red wine, such as Barolo or a reserve Chianti, or try a mature California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Match the nutty flavor of this firm Italian sheep’s milk cheese with Zinfandel, a lighter Rhône red wine or sherry.


If you want to drink wine with dessert, the general rule is to choose a wine that is slightly sweeter than the dessert. Fruity desserts need a sweet wine with acidity. Some chocolate desserts can go well with port.

Oloroso sherry, Madeira or ruby port would all be good choices.

Serve a tawny port, or go for a different approach and try a mature California Cabernet Sauvignon (a wine that often has chocolate traces in the flavor).

Crème Brûlée
Serve cream sherry, Madeira or a sweet Muscat—for example, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from France.

Fresh Berries
Try Monbazillac from France or a semidry German Riesling.

Fresh Fruit
Serve a dry sparkling rosé, dry Alsace Riesling or a fruity young white, such as Viognier from California or an Italian Frascati.

Fruit Pies
An off-dry Riesling from Washington state or Oregon should work.

Serve a sweet sherry or ruby port with this Italian dessert, or try a sparkling Asti from Italy.

Serve sweet Marsala (the wine used to make the dessert) or sweet Riesling from Germany or Washington state. Ruby port would also work well.

  • Heather
    August 10, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    I shockingly consumed around 4 glasses of wine this weekend (over 3 days!)…basically breaking my monthy record! You know I am a lightweight! Yowza!

  • Candace
    August 11, 2011 at 2:43 AM

    “What to Drink with What you Eat.”

    Donnenburg and Page. $20 new – Amazon

  • ClaireBear
    August 11, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    OMG. THANK YOU!! I’m going to bookmark this posting! Your the best 🙂

  • Sam
    August 12, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    This is great! Being a vegetarian, I’m always left with a list of meats that particular wines go with. Not really helpful.