Basic guide to wine pairing

Wine pairing is an art that combines tradition and innovation

Wine pairing is a constantly evolving art that seeks to enhance the virtues of dishes and wines by creating synergies

In mathematics, it is undeniable that 1+1=2. However, in other fields, such as wine pairing, the result of the sum may be different. If you enjoy a good wine whose aromas and textures complement those of a delicious dish, the result can be an honorable mention. On the other hand, if the wine accompanying a dish has such a marked personality that it overshadows it, the gastronomic value of the food will be diluted until it disappears.

As a consequence, the art of wine pairing has been cultivated for centuries. It is a complex and fascinating discipline that attempts to establish harmony between gastronomy and wines to offer people a total sensory experience and enhance their characteristics.

Through wine pairing, the aim is to complement the virtues of gastronomy with the qualities of an elaboration that is as fascinating and has as much personality as wine.

How can you know which foods and dishes wine is best complemented by? Are there a series of guidelines for successful wine pairing? What are the factors that should be taken into account when deciding which wines to pair with a menu?

We have prepared a basic guide on wine pairing to help you enjoy harmonious gastronomic and wine experiences that can conquer all your senses.

Playing with flavors, textures and aromas

Wine pairing is, above all, an art focused on successfully combining three essential elements of wine and cuisine:

  • Flavors. Wines and gastronomic dishes can be salty, sweet, bitter and acidic.
  • Textures. There are wines and culinary elaborations that are more or less oily, buttery, and even crunchy or creamy.
  • Aromas. One of the differentiating factors between wine and other beverages is its fascinating aromatic composition. A single elaboration can detect Dozens of aromas: citrus, spices, toast… There are wines with such surprising notes as hydrocarbons or freshly baked brioche. Therefore, it is critical that the aromas of the wine complement or contrast the notes of the dish with which it is to be paired.

How can the flavors, textures and aromas of wines and culinary preparations be combined? By knowing perfectly a:

  • The wines (their variety, where they have been produced, the winemaking process…).
  • The dishes with which they will be served (ingredients, cooking procedures…).

Why? Each aspect influences wines’ flavors, aromas, textures, and gastronomic delights. If we know that a pasta dish is creamy, we should look for a wine that is unctuous on the palate. If we are going to eat a grilled steak, we should pair it with a wine with spicy notes, body, and structure.

The importance of acidity, sweetness and spiciness of food

Acidity is a central characteristic of wines, mainly white wines. In wine pairing, elaborations with high acidity are fantastic options to complement fatty dishes and products, such as meat or fish. Likewise, citric acid wines such as Albariño or Sauvignon are the best options to enhance the delicate flavors of exquisite products such as seafood.

Regarding sweetness, the most common is accompanying sweet dishes such as desserts with sweet wines. However, other wines that are not sweet but have a high level of sugar, such as those made with a late harvest like the Gran a Gran from Pazo Baión, in addition to desserts, can be paired with spicy dishes, which brings us to another critical aspect of the food: the spiciness.

Spiciness plays a fundamental role in some of the world’s most prestigious cuisines, such as Mexican. Therefore, it is essential to consider which wines can best complement a spicy dish when designing the pairing. In this sense, an exciting option to counteract the spiciness is to opt for semi-dry or semi-sweet wines that refresh a spicy dish and establish a fascinating balance that can enhance a gastronomic experience.

Finding the balance between the intensity of the dish and the wine

Not all gastronomic preparations and wines have the same intensity. There is an abyss between a baked sea bass with baked potatoes and a very spicy chicken curry. Therefore, it is essential to consider each dish’s intensity and power when thinking about wine pairing.

In general, it is recommended that a wine with a low intensity be chosen for a dish with a reduced intensity. Why? If a dish with subtle flavors and aromas is paired with a wine with a too-marked intensity, its aromas and flavors may completely overshadow the dish, breaking the balance between one elaboration and the other.

Very intense dishes do coexist well with powerful wines, as they are not overshadowed by elaborations with a lot of personality, a high alcohol content, or a great body.

In this sense, it is essential to understand that pairing wine and gastronomic delights is not a battle in which one product should prevail over the other but quite the opposite: a collaboration in which the goodness of the wine should enhance the virtues of the dish and vice versa.

Wine pairing has its own rules

Wine pairing by similarity

Based on the tips in this basic guide on wine pairing, we can now examine the two main types of wine pairing: resemblance and contrast.

What do we mean by wine pairing by similarity? This approach involves combining dishes and wines with similar characteristics in such a way that a perfect harmony is achieved between them. For example, a sweet dish like a chocolate cake can be paired with a sweet wine. Alternatively, if the dish has a high level of acidity, a wine that stands out for its acidity can enhance both dishes.

As mentioned above, the objective is to build a harmonious sensory experience in which one wine does not devour the other by the intensity of its flavors or aromas but rather enhances its virtues.

Wine pairing by contrast

In contrast to wine pairing by similarity, many people opt for wine pairing by contrast, which consists, as its name suggests, of pairing a wine with a dish that has contrasting aromas, flavors or textures.

For example, we have already mentioned the possibility of contrasting a spicy dish with a semi-sweet wine. Still, we can also opt for white wines whose freshness counteracts the burning sensation caused by the spiciness on our palate and nose. Something similar happens with cheeses with a high salinity level perfectly balanced by wines with a good sugar level.

In this sense, the union between wine and gastronomy is similar to a couple’s relationship in which opposite poles attract each other because one person complements the other by offering what they lack and nuancing his most notorious characteristics. Just as a very salty dish does not ask for a wine with a high saltiness but one that brings sweetness, an introverted person will marry better with an extroverted one and vice versa.

Classics never die: What dishes do each type of wine pair best with?

Although wine pairing by contrast, has been gaining relevance in recent years, in the heat of a growing commitment to innovation in the field of wine pairing, the classic rules that associate each type of product (meat, fish, vegetables…) with the significant types of wine are still in force:

  • White wines are the travel companions par excellence of fish, seafood and white meats, such as chicken or turkey.
  • Red wines, on the other hand, pair better with red meats such as veal or pork.
  • Rosé wines pair best with light dishes (salads, cheeses).
  • As mentioned above, sweet wines are traditionally paired with sweet dishes such as desserts and various cheeses.
  • Sparkling wines are usually tasted with appetizers and desserts.

These basic rules have been in gastronomy for centuries and are applied in restaurants and celebrations. Without going any further, at a wedding, it is usual that seafood and fish are paired with white wines, while red meats are served with red wines and sweet or semi-sweet sparkling wines are reserved for dessert. Does this mean that white wine cannot enhance the flavors and textures of a veal dish? Not at all. A long-aged white wine can have a body and spicy aromas, making it an ideal accompaniment for this type of meat.

In other words, the traditional rules are an excellent guide when conceiving wine pairing, but they are not the stone tablets God gave Moses with the Ten Commandments.

Order is critical when designing a menu and its pairings.

A wedding menu allows us to approach another essential tip about wine pairing: order. When you are going to enjoy a menu composed of several dishes and wines, the order of the factors does alter the product. If you first want an intense dish accompanied by an aged wine with a very marked personality and then taste a light dish and a young wine, the second elaborations will not be enjoyed optimally. Why? The flavors and aromas of the first elaborations will have overshadowed them.

Consequently, it is usual for a menu to start with lighter dishes and wines and then give way to dishes and wines with a higher level of intensity.

The menu’s order and the wines accompanying it have become a critical issue for haute cuisine, where fascinating tasting menus are created. Chefs and sommeliers, therefore, need to plan precisely the logical order of the dishes and the wine elaborations that should accompany them to lead diners on an enveloping, harmonious, and coherent sensory journey.

The value of the local. When wine pairing has a long way to go

Although today we have a volume of information unparalleled in history and scientific research has multiplied, tradition remains an essential source of knowledge. Therefore, when thinking about wine pairing, we must consider the historical pairings of each region or country. For example, in Galicia, seafood, one of the essential products of its gastronomy, is paired with white wines and, above all, with albariños. On the other hand, for Galician stew or meat ao caldeiro, mencía wines are preferred.

The same can be said of the great gastronomies of the world, such as French or Italian.

For centuries, an intense link has been built between a gastronomy’s typical dishes and the wines produced in its region.

In today’s global world, a Rías Baixas can be tasted in Osaka with a delicious sushi dish. But this is not an obstacle for it to continue being the favorite travel companion of a seafood dish in O Grove.

Valuing the locals through gastronomy and viticulture is a way to enjoy more powerful experiences and discover a place’s soul through its cuisine and wine pairing.

If you want to learn how to pair wine, all you have to do is experiment and let yourself be carried away by the aromas, flavours and textures

Wine pairing is not an exact science. Dare to take a risk and trust your senses.

As we have pointed out throughout this introductory guide, there are two essential binomials in wine pairing: the pairing of dishes and wines and the constant tension between tradition and the avant-garde. Although all the rules we have outlined are handy because they are the repository of knowledge that has been refined over the years, they are not unbreakable. Experimenting and innovating are two actions of vital importance to continue advancing in the field of wine pairing.

To this, we must add the fact that each person is different. Even if there are objective reasons to justify an association between a wine and a dish, a person may not be convinced by this union. Our senses are deeply subjective. That is why we may discover pairings that contravene the elementary rules yet can offer total gastronomic and sensory experiences.

Does this mean that we should pair wine randomly? No, the most important thing is to know well both the characteristics of the wine and the dish and, from this basis, try ways to combine their aromas, textures and flavors to achieve a result that takes over our senses.

An example. How to pair Pazo Baión Rías Baixas wines

Let’s move from theory to practice through the pairing of the three Rías Baixas produced at Pazo Baión: Vides de Fontán, Gran a Gran, and the winery’s flagship, Pazo Baión. These three Albariños are made using only the grapes harvested in the vineyards of this vineyard property and yet have three different personalities. As a result, each pair is best paired with different products and dishes.

  • Pazo Baión, which Vivir el vino recognized as the Best Young White Wine of Spain in 2024, is a wine that carries the most iconic characteristics of the albariño grape: it is fresh, with good acidity, and has citrus and aromas of white fruits and flowers. These characteristics make it an ideal wine for seafood and dishes with elegant flavors and medium intensity. Virtually any fish, no matter how it is prepared, can be enjoyed with Pazo Baión, enhancing its flavors.
  • Vides de Fontán, on the other hand, is an Albariño with three years of aging that gives it body and spicy and toasted aromas. It is also oily and enveloping on the palate. For this reason, this Rías Baixas combines perfectly with fish, poultry, and meats such as lamb or suckling pig.
  • Gran a Gran is a semi-dry, raised Albariño with honeyed aromas and jam and candied fruit notes. Its characteristics enhance the flavors and aromas of various cheeses and other appetizers while pairing naturally with exquisite desserts.

Beyond these traditional pairings of Pazo Baión wines, it is possible to taste these Albariños with delicatessens from other cuisines such as Japanese, Peruvian or Mexican. You just have to dare to try and experiment.

Therefore, the most important thing when entering the fascinating world of wine pairing is to be willing to learn and innovate, starting from tradition to achieve winning combinations that allow you to enjoy superb culinary experiences.

A good wine pairing can make 1+1 equal 10.



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