There are certain aspects of culture and life that no one expects you to know until they suddenly do. Wine pairing, I’ve recently learned, is one of them. It’s time for a dinner party, or a fancy meal out, and suddenly you’re being asked about which wine will go best with your roast chicken, or your eggplant parm, and people are throwing around words like wine weight and it can be super overwhelming. 

Here’s a quick primer to get you started, and five books to check out to learn more and become something of an expert. 

Weight/body/richness

Let’s break down some vocabulary

Body is the weight and fullness of a wine that you taste as you drink it and let it cross your palate. Weight is usually related to the alcohol content of a wine–most “light” wines are less than 12% alcohol, and most “heavy” wines are 14% or higher. According to most experts, you should pair based on ‘weight’ and ‘body’ of a wine, as opposed to color.Some examples of light-bodied wines include: Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, and Dolcetto. Some examples of heavy-bodied wines include: Bordeaux, Zinfadel, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. 

“Rich” wines are wines that are high in extract, flavor, and intensity of fruit. This includes many “dessert wines” like Moscato d’Asti, Sweet Riesling, and Schiava. 

Focus on the main portion of the dish

When you’re deciding to pair a wine to a meal, consider the main portion of the dish. You may have a main meat and some sides, but focus on that main meat. Chicken? Steak? Seafood? Identify the most “prominent” aspect of the dish. Is it the WAY it was cooked? A sauce used? What is the overall impression of the dish? If it’s earthy, consider a red wine. If its simple or has some citrus flavors, consider a white wine. 

“What grows together goes together”

There are a few axioms that permeate the wine/food industry, and one of those is ‘what grows together goes together.’ What is meant by that differs by person, but it is generally accepted as meaning the foods that are grown together (in the same region, specifically) taste good being served together–it’s a cultural thing. This is a great blog post to learn more about the concept–but keep in mind where your food is coming from when considering the perfect pairings. French wines with French foods, for example. 

Some sample pairings

Here are some examples of how certain wine pairing experts have paired popular main dishes with specific wines. Of course, the Internet is your oyster, so if you are drawing a blank, consider searching “best wines to pair with eggplant parm” and then go buy a bottle of what is recommended: Zinfadel or Copertino

Grilled Red Meat & Malbec

Sauteed Chicken & Pinot Noir

Berries & Moscato

Lobster & Chardonnay

Smoked Pork & Zinfadel

Here’s a great chart to help get you started as well!

Related reading

Check out these five books about wine pairings to help elevate your experience

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member