It’s that age-old problem: you’ve cooked a meal for a party and you have no idea what wine to serve with it. I’ve developed a bit of a cheat sheet over the years and I’m going to make this post all about what goes together.
First, let’s talk about meat. Serving beef and lamb usually calls for red wine. You’ll often hear people discussing a “full-bodied” red, and that’s what you want here. It needs to stand up to the heartiness of the meat. Shiraz or Pinot Noir are good traditional choices. For gamey meats like venison or bison, you want earthy and spicy flavors so try serving a Sangiovese.
If you’re making chicken, traditionally it is served with white wine. If you are grilling or roasting the meat, a glass of Chardonnay is an excellent accompaniment. For food that will be heavily or richly sauced, serve a Cabernet Sauvignon. For other fowl like duck or quail, you can go the opposite route and serve a merlot.
White wine is also a good choice for fish or other seafood. Try a dry Riesling for flaky fish or a Pinot Grigio. Grilled fish also pairs nicely with Chardonnay.
If your food is very acidic, like pasta with a tomato sauce, your wine will have to balance out the acid. Try a nice Zinfandel. And if what you’re serving is very spicy, you want something crisp and refreshing that your guests can drink quickly. A Riesling or a sweet Gewurztraminer will pair well with the flavors of your meal. A Chardonnay, on the other hand, should be avoided because it will actually tastebitter from the heat of the food.
Cheeses or desserts can be a little less clear. Full bodied wines go well with cheeses that are hard, and soft cheeses play well with drier wines like Marsanne. If you are serving blue cheese, try something sweet. For dessert, serving a sweet wine is also fine as long as the dessert is not as sweet as the wine.
Another good rule of thumb is to think of the recipe origin. If you are cooking a meal in a French style, pair it with a wine from the same region. If you are grilling something light and California style, look for something grown in the Napa Valley.
You can also think about the way you’re cooking your meal. Something poached or cooked delicately requires a light flavor to drink as well. If you are roasting your meat, it will have a richer flavor and therefore will stand up to a richer wine. Something barbecued or grilled will have a smokiness, so a wine aged in wood will bring out that flavor. If you are making a creamy sauce, then your meal can stand up to a heavy wine.
Keep in mind that these recommendations are based my tastes and experiences, as well as some tried-and-true combinations. You may like something else, and that’s totally fine. Or, if you make something and a guest brings a wine that you hadn’t planned on but you want to serve – no problem! Be flexible and open to possibilities.