Wine Pairing 101

Wine pairing is becoming more popular with home cooks and home winemakers alike. The key to pairing your wine with your meal (or vice versa) is understanding the flavor profiles of what is in your glass and on your plate. Many people have dedicated their lives to becoming a Master Sommelier by being able to identify the complex flavors in wine allowing them to blindly name the wine. While home cooks are not expected to be a Master Sommelier, there is a broader range of flavors that most people can identify, and those flavors will make it much easier for you to create a great wine pairing. There are three general food guidelines when it comes to pairings: what food is being prepared, how that food is cooked, and what sauces or flavors will be used on the food. I like to break the flavors down into three categories: Delicate, Earthy/Hearty, and Meaty/Spicy/Pungent. The goal is to pair a wine and food within the same category.


Preparing an earthy meal will allow you to pick from a large variety of wines to match almost anyone’s wine preferences. The list of wines that pair best with this kind of meal includes Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Merlot. This list of wines spans a variety of flavors, but you can still taste the earthy tones in each wine. Pheasant, pork, and veal are going to be three of your best choices for protein when you are looking for a great pairing with these wines. These proteins can be prepared in multiple ways and take well to a number of seasonings. You can bring out the earthiness of the wine by baking or roasting your protein. Finish the dish with a butter or cream sauce to accentuate your flavors and bring your pairing together.


The most common delicate wines are Riesling and Sauvignon blanc. A salad full of leafy greens and vegetables is a great appetizer pairing for either of these wines. The best protein you can pair with a delicate wine is a flaky fish like salmon. The fish should be poached or steamed to a medium temperature to keep the fish light and delicate. Lemon based sauces and dressings will bring out the flavor of the fish and the wines to create a great balance.


Beef will be the star of this dish, which is a good thing considering how easily accessible the protein is. Steaks or burgers will give you the ability to please any guest. Luckily, whether you’re making a burger, or a steak, you can choose the same wine for your pairing. Your go-to wines should be Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Zinfandel. Grilling or braising your beef will give you the best results in your pairing, but if it were up to me, beef would only ever be grilled. By grilling, you have total control of the temperature to which your steaks and burgers are cooked. For steaks, the best flavor comes from a rare to medium rare temperature, and burgers tend to taste best when cooked medium to medium well.

Will Slota is a wine connoisseur and co-owner of Chorus Wine in Napa Valley. Visit to read Will’s wine blog.