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20 Oct 2016
Posted by Wade

The Art of Food and Wine Pairing

Some wines were simply meant to be paired with food. A great union can not only enhance a meal but reveal nuances to a great wine. The reverse is also true, if you’ve ever attempted to finish a glass of dry red during a sweet and sticky dessert course, you will know just how awry a bad combination can go.

Food and wine pairing is all about the balance of body and intensity of flavors. Without getting bogged down in rules, consider the basic guidelines below, experiment and discover your own perfect combinations. After all, this is supposed to be about pleasure, not pain!


A wine with low acidity will appear dull and flat paired with foods high in acid like citrus, raw onion or green apples. Look for a wine that can match the level of acidity in your food, white wines and wines grown in cooler climates tend to have higher acidity. An example of a great pairing would be Sauvignon Blanc served with seafood that has a squeeze of lemon or a salad with a vinaigrette dressing.

Bitterness and Tannins

Tannins are found mostly in red wines and produce a bitter dry mouth sensation. Avoid pairing these wines with bitter foods and rather opt for heavy, fatty and chewy foods like red meats and cheeses. The fats will break down the astringency in the wine and the tannins will help cut through the fat and refresh the palate. You can’t go wrong with a rib-eye steak and Cabernet Sauvignon or add a spicy barbecue sauce and pair it with a bold Shiraz

Desserts and sweet sauces

Sweet dishes do best with wines of equal or higher sweetness as a dry wine can appear sour and bitter. Fruit and berries pair well with a Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Noble Late Harvest and chocolate ideally with Port or Muscat. The same applies to meat dishes with sweet sauces, especially Asian cuisine. Sweet white wines pair well with the dominant sweet flavors.

Fatty foods

The acidity in wine gives balance to a fatty meal, it cuts through the grease and restores the palate.  Italian dishes contain lots of olive oil (fat) and tomato (acid) and are best paired with medium bodied cool climate reds, which will have slightly higher acidity. Sweet wines tend to also have higher acidity which makes them a good partner to rich fatty foods like pâté and foie gras. Wines high in alcohol can also mimic the effect of acidity by appearing to cut through the fat and slowing down the pace at which we eat fatty foods.  Full-bodied Chardonnay pairs beautifully with soft cheeses and rich sauces.

Spicy foods

Chilled sweet wines work very well with spicy foods; pair an off-dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Bukettraube with Asian dishes to tone down the heat. Alternatively, experiment with Sparkling wine or a light-bodied red like Grenache paired with a milder curry dish.

Salty Foods

Sweet and salty make a great team, that’s why we love Parma ham with melon, watermelon with feta even the classic peanut butter and jam sandwich. The same goes with salty foods and sweet wines, pair a blue cheese with a Port wine for perfect balance. Salty foods can also be enjoyed with acidic wines like Champagne which wash away the salty flavors from mussels, oysters, and clams.

Professional chefs and sommeliers continue to break tradition and introduce us to combinations that we would never have dreamt of. The good news is, in the process of learning and refining our pairing skills there is an awful lot of wine that will have to be consumed. I’ll drink to that!

Article written by Kim Rabe

Kim Rabe is a freelance writer and the owner of Boutique Winery Tours. She is passionate about wine, art, cuisine and her hometown of Cape Town. Kim aims to offer an exclusive behind the scenes introduction to South African wine through her private tours of the Cape Winelands.