Wine

The 5-Step Guide to Wine Pairing Like a Pro

Go beyond white wine with fish this summer

If you're still serving white wine with fish and red wine with meat, you're missing out on all the fun.

The old adage comes from a time when we had access, more or less, to two styles of wine: light-bodied whites and full-bodied reds. But nowadays, a multitude of available wine styles mean that pairings have become a lot more exciting.

So feel free to experiment; it's part of the fun. Check out our recipes and tips, and start pairing like a pro:

Full-bodied or not so much? Wine, just like food, is all about balance, so start by matching the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish. Lighter fish dishes (like Paul Bartolotta's salt-crusted branzino) pair well with crisp, light-bodied white wines whereas heavier, oilier varieties, like salmon, are often a great match for fuller bodied, buttery Chardonnays and in many cases, light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir.

Acidity is your friend. High-acid wines are naturally food-friendly. They can cut through the richness in oily dishes like this smaltz-fried potato Rösti (try it with a crisp New World sparkler) and can mirror the citrusy flavors in vinaigrette. And don't forget about reds: Pair characteristically juicy, high-acid wines, like Italian Barbera, with rich, tomato-based dishes like pappardelle al ragu.

Don't forget texture. It might seem counterintuitive to the wine newbie, but a wine's texture--also called "mouth feel"--is an important consideration in pairing. White wines tend to have varying levels of viscosity (the slightly viscous, almost oily texture of this Rotgipfler, for example, makes it a match for blue cheese), whereas in reds, it's all about tannin.

Responsible for that notorious drying effect, tannins are actually physical, organic elements in wine that are attracted to the proteins in your mouth; that mothball-like sensation is the tannin actually sticking to your teeth and tongue. But follow that sip of Cabernet with a bite of protein-rich steak or fatty cheese and it'll sweep the tannins away, sort of like a palate cleanser.

Consider your flavors. Don't pay too much attention to tasting notes here. Think about flavors in broad terms instead. Earthy varietals, like Pinot Noir, tend to work well with mushrooms (though these morel mushroom toasts pair equally well with a characteristically funky Chenin Blanc). For a very herbaceous dish, like this burrata topped with fresh parsley and basil, try a white wine with green, grassy flavors, like a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Another tip? Wines with a little bit of residual sugar (labeled "off-dry" or "demi-sec") can help to tame the heat in spicier dishes, like these shrimp toasts with sweet chile sauce or this Thai-style peanut, pork and shrimp dip. Pair them with an off-dry Riesling and taste for yourself.

What grows together goes together. A region's wine will often match its food, so it's hard to go wrong pairing a classic Piedmontese polenta with mushrooms and chestnuts with a bottle of the region's Roero Arneis. Equally delicious? A traditional Catalan romesco spooned over grilled baby leeks and served with a bottle of Cava, Catalonia's famous sparkler.

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