Tim Atkin | Master of Wine

CorkTalk - Wine for Beginners

Food and Wine

by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW and Ken Arnone



In order to approach food and wine pairing successfully, it is incredibly important to understand the flavors and aroma of a food as well as the attributes of a wine and how they will react together. We have laid the groundwork for the dynamics of food and wine pairing and its drivers (main ingredient, techniques, and additional ingredients). You will be able to effectively apply these principles to create magical food and wine pairings.


Throughout our food and wine pairing exploration, we identified that the most successful pairings have several elements in common: balance, complementing and contrasting components and length of pleasing flavors on the palate.


Balance is one of the main reasons why a pairing works or doesn't work. The key factors that need to be in balance are: sweetness, acidity, bitterness, salt, umami, and flavor. Additionally, great pairings must also balance in terms of weight and texture.

Complementing and Contrasting Elements

The presence of complementing and contrasting elements is another key to great pairings. Some pairings create multiple layers of flavors where a complexing reaction occurs. When this happens, the food and the wine both taste more sophisticated and this enriches and enhances the entire experience.

Long Length

On several occasions we refer to something we call "the dance." The best pairings are those that create an extended finish on your palate. Most often this occurs because there is a rich flavor in the food that is carried by the wine on your palate without the acid in the wine stripping that richness away.


In addition to the three key elements discussed above, we make a few additional observations about great pairings.

Great Pairings Occur at All Price Points

Great pairings can happen at any place within the price range spectrum. In fact, 71% of the recipes we tested pair well with wines under $25 (36% are under $15; 11%, under $10).

General Rules Are Guidelines

The general rules are merely starting points (e.g., "white wine with fish; red wine with red meat"); you should feel free to experiment. Many of the successful pairings in this book are outside the lines of the general rules. For example, over 40% of the beef recipes in this book pair well with white wine.

Wine Knowledge Is Key

Even though wines made from the same grape share similar characteristics, there are differences that will impact a pairing (terroir and winemaking).

Knowledge of a grape variety's characteristics, terroir, and production techniques is key to understanding why one wine pairs over another of the same variety and/or region. It can also help you predict and narrow the field for suitable pairings before ever opening a bottle to taste.

Delicate Line between Complementing and Compounding

Complementing creates a bridge between the flavors in a dish and a wine. This is a delicate balance. Just a touch of grassy notes in a Sancerre may complement Grilled Salmon with Dill Butter, but a South African Sauvignon Blanc with stronger herbal tones compounds with this dish in a negative way.

Delicate Line between Cleansing and Stripping

Acid in a wine can be cleansing and refreshing for a dish. However, acid can quickly cross the line and strip the flavor of a dish. In general, this happens between high-acid wines and mild-flavored dishes that don't have enough fat or richness to balance the pairing. We experienced this when we tested a dry sparkling wine with the Hot Smoked Chicken Breast with Creole Mustard Sauce.

However, some high-acid wines pair well with dishes with high acid and with little richness or fat. An example of this is the Vinho Verde or the Eden Valley Riesling with Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche. This is because there are other elements and flavors that tie the pairing together.

Creating Pairings for a Wide Range of Palates

We recognize people's preferences for their favorite wines. People have different palates and, as we mention in Chapter 1, it is natural for you to gravitate towards those things you enjoy. For example, chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon represented a challenge during our testing. The pairing didn't always work. However, some people love Cabernet Sauvignon with chocolate. If it works for you, enjoy the pairing.

Through this book we have meticulously outlined the taste and texture comparisons between the dish and the wine and the dynamics that happen as a result of each pairing. It is our hope that by focusing your palate on these attributes and reactions you will become more objective and improve your skills in creating pairings that are magical for a wide range of palates.


Adjusting a recipe can enhance the pairing. Once the wine is chosen, the only place to make "tweaks" is the dish.

  • Reduce the amount of spice to balance heat. The majority of table wine produced and paired with food is dry and 12% abv or higher. Spices that yield heat, such as black pepper, cayenne, serrano chilis (or any within the capsicum family that have the chemical capsaicin) emphasize the heat of the alcohol and compound with tannins in a wine. Reducing the spice in a dish can provide more balance.
  • Create a bridge. Select ingredients that will complement the flavors in the wine. For example, if a wine has an herbaceous note, you can complement it by adding an element of herbs to the dish.
  • Contrast by introducing a savory element. In many cases, a savory component can contrast with the fruit in a wine, enhancing the flavor of the fruit. Savory elements we see in this book that bring out a wine's fruit are fennel, sage, prosciutto, and basil.
  • Balance sweetness. Sweetness in a dish can make a dry wine taste sour. In order to avoid this you may have to reduce sweetening elements which not only include things like sugar and honey, but also fruits and some vegetables that are sweet (such as red peppers and onions).
  • Balance bitter elements. Dishes with bitter elements can particularly compound the bitterness with tannins in red wine. Some ingredients are known for bitterness (e.g., broccoli rabe). By balancing these elements, you also reduce the risk of clashing with the tannins in a red wine (or the bitterness sometimes caused by elevated alcohol in a wine).


In some cases, the dish may be set and you have the freedom to choose different wines. This book is full of suggestions (refer to the Appendices for a list of recipes by wine and wines by recipe), but here are a few to make your wine choice more food-friendly:

  • Choose wines with low or moderate alcohol. Wines with low or moderate alcohol (generally 12–13.5% abv) have less risk of exacerbating spice in a dish.
  • Choose a wine that creates a bridge. Choose a wine that has some flavors complementary to the dish. For example, proteins with a Maillard reaction tend to complement wines with some toasty notes from their oak treatment. (You can find a list of typical wine flavors in Chapter 3.)
  • Choose a wine moderate in fruit intensity. Wines with strong fruit intensity sometimes overpower or cover up the flavors of the dish. By choosing a wine with moderate fruit intensity, you reduce the risk of overpowering a dish (particularly a mild-flavored dish).
  • Choose a wine with moderate weight. Unless you know the dish is quite rich and bold (or very delicate), choose a wine that is more moderate in its weight. This prevents the wine from overpowering the dish. (For wines with light, medium, or full body, see Chapter 3.)
  • Choose a wine with a touch of sweetness. Specifically for dishes that have intense spice or flavor, this can add balance. (For wines with sweetness, see Chapter 3.)
  • Choose a wine with modest tannins. Obviously this depends on the dish. Generally, wines with high tannins pair well with a more limited range of dishes than those with more moderate tannins. If there is any spice or element of bitterness to the dish, the tannins will exacerbate the bitterness. So, by choosing a wine that is more modest in its tannins, you reduce the risk of this happening. (For a list of wines with low, medium, or high tannins, see Chapter 3.)


With more than 280 combinations in this book, there are numerous examples from which to learn how to create the best food and wine pairings. We encourage you to have an open mind and to taste different combinations on your own for your best pairings.


There may be situations where you want the dish to stand out more than the wine or the wine to stand out more than the dish. For example, you may have a special bottle of wine that you've been saving or there may be an ingredient in season that you want to highlight.

Wine over Dish

In order to make a wine the star of the pairing, choose one that is more powerful than the dish in its fruit, flavors, and structure. Another option is to construct the dish so that it amplifies a specific complementary aspect of the wine.

Dish over Wine

To make a dish stand out more than the wine, choose techniques and ingredients that are stronger, more powerful, and more flavorful than the wine. Choose wines that have balance but do not have obvious flavors that will clash with the dish.


  • 47% of the recipes paired well with white wine
  • 32% of the recipes paired well with red wine
  • 11% of the recipes paired well with sparkling wine (half of which paired with shellfish and fish)
  • 6% of the recipes paired well with sweet/dessert wine
  • 4% of the recipes paired well with rosé wine
  • A small number of wines crossed the boundary between sweet and savoury (meaning some sweet wines paired well with savoury dishes and some dry wines paired with desserts)
  • 47% of the beef recipes paired well with white wine
  • 14% of the shellfish and fish recipes paired well with red wine
  • Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the two grape varieties with the most versatility; they paired well with 20% of the recipes in the entire book


The exploration into food and wine pairing is exciting, with discovery at every turn. We both learned a great deal more about food and wine pairing as a result of this book. Our work and experience revealed to us that if you truly focus on the reactions between food and wine, you can create magic.

This is an extract from Pairing with the Masters: A Definitive Guide to Food & Wine


Related topics: Food & wine

blog comments powered by Disqus