Pairing Wine with Food
The most important thing to remember when pairing wine with food is to have fun - there are no steadfast rules! There are lots of recommended guidelines, but the point of pairing wine with food is to make the experience more enjoyable. If one was to simplify the art of pairing, we would recommend looking at it as trying to do one of two things:
First, pair directly opposite of the food. Meaning, if you have a dish with excessive richness, butter for instance, then you want something with higher acidity in the wine to cut that richness. If you have a spicy dish, something a little sweeter will bring balance to the dish. Riesling makes a perfect accompaniment to spicy Thai dishes.
The second option would be to go as closely matched with the dish as possible. If you go to a great restaurant and they place a course in front of you that is perfectly balanced in acidity, savory, bitter and sweetness, then you want to find a wine with a similar balance. Often to accomplish this, you choose a flavor component in the dish and choose a wine that complements the same flavor component.
The most perfect pairing is often some combination of these two basic principles. For example, if you are trying to pair Osso Buco with a wine, you consider the richness of the dish, all the fat from the braising, as well as the overwhelming earthiness in the dish when choosing a pairing. In this case, a bottle of Barolo or Pinot Noir come to mind. Both have great levels of acidity and tannin to counter the richness of the fat drenched meat while they also possess different earthy flavors that can complement the earthiness in the dish. In particular, a Barolo works great because the earthiness in the wine comes across much like a mushroom which is often a complementary flavor to braised meats such as Osso Buco.
Take a look at these classic pairings and see if you can pick out the balance and complementary components.
Grilled Salmon: A rich, sweet fish goes well with both Pinot Noir or Chardonnay with good acidity. The richness (ie. Fat) in the fish benefits from the acidity, while the cherry, raspberry, apple or pear flavors complement the sweetness.
Shellfish: These can be briny (salty) and very rich. Pairing with a white wine with great acidity is always a great bet. The acid balances out the richness, the citrus brings a brightness to the pairing and if you choose a Chablis, you get a slightly chalky flavor from the soils which seems to complement the briny flavor of many shellfish.
Grilled Fish: The smokiness of grilled fish tends to do better with a white with great citrus and richness. The smokiness of the grilling is complemented by the richness in the wine, while the subtle flavors of the fish jumps off the plate with a little extra help from the citrus. A great white burgundy (Chardonnay), Pinot Grigio or Soave are great examples of this.
Roasted Chicken: Chicken requires medium bodied and layered wines, because its flavor is relatively mellow and really carries its preparation as the main flavor components. Anything too rich will overpower it, but anything too light will get lost in all of the seasonings. If it is simply spiced, a great Rhone blend or Tempranillo work well. If it is richly seasoned, go with something a little more robust, like a Merlot or Cabernet Franc.
Duck: With the richness to the flavor of the Duck meat and the amount of fat, a big, rich red pairs best. Try a Cabernet based wine or Merlot, or a powerful Burgundian Pinot Noir. The red fruit flavors of these wines are the perfect complement, especially cherry and cassis.
Steak: Pretty much any red will pair with a simple, well seasoned steak. Depending on the accompaniments, you can pair a Cabernet for richer, earthier flavors or you can pair a Syrah or Zinfandel if there is more spice.