Food and Wine Pairings - Part 2

Last month we began our discussion about food and wine pairings with some ideas on regional pairing.  Regional pairing works great in places where wine has been made for hundreds of years such as Burgundy, Tuscany and Jerez, since the food has developed with the wine.  

It doesn't work quite as well in places that are relatively new to wine production, for example California, Chile and Australia.  For this article we will discuss the idea of pairing food and wine using the guidelines of "weight" or "intensity".   

You are looking to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food.  Light, delicate dishes can be overpowered by robust (heavy) wines like Cabernet Sauvignon while a light wine like Pinot Gris would be overwhelmed by a hearty, braised meat dish.  

To make this match successfully you must first determine the weight of the dish - is it light, medium or heavy?  There are three main factors to consider:

The Ingredients:

Light - Fish (halibut or sole), shellfish, vegetables

Medium - Poultry, some pork dishes, some fish (salmon), veal

Heavy - Lamb, beef, game

The Method of Cooking:

Light - Steamed, boiled, poached

Medium - Roasted, sautéed, baked, seared

Heavy - Grilled, braised 

The Sauce:

Light - Citrus, lemon, tomato

Medium - Butter, cream, oil


Heavy - Braising jus, demi

A key to pairing using weight is to determine the dominant factor in the dish.  The method of cooking and or sauce can sometimes change the perceived weight of a protein.  For example, light fish that is baked in a cream sauce would be considered a medium not a light weight dish.  In other cases the protein can be the determining factor, such as a roasted leg of lamb with a mint relish would still be considered a heavy dish.  

As with the food, there are different weights to be associated with different grapes or wine varieties.

Looking at some of the most popular varieties we can classify them as follows:

Light:  Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis


Medium:  Chardonnay, Viognier, Oaked Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Merlot


Heavy:  New World Chardonnay (heavily oaked), Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Bordeaux, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino

Now that we have the specifics out of the way, it is time to use this information to make some pairings.    


Chablis is a light weight, white wine from Chardonnay grape.  It would pair very well with raw oysters.  If you were to fry the oyster you would add weight to the dish.  A heavier version of chardonnay such as an oaked, buttery California chardonnay would be a better option for the fried oysters. Same grape, same basic dish but two very different results.

Chicken is a very versatile protein.  .  It is generally considered to be medium weighted food but cooking style and accompanying sauces can produce vastly different weighted dishes.  As such, chicken can be successfully paired with a multitude of wines.  A light chicken salad with fresh fruit salsa can be superb with a Riesling, change to a cream sauce and some pasta and we move to chardonnay (light or no oak).  If you decide to cook the chicken in a red wine sauce (coq au vin), a light weight burgundy red is the perfect choice.  Throw the chicken on a barbeque, served with a rich barbeque sauce and we bring the heavier red wines such as Syrah/shiraz or zinfandel into play.

Remember, these are guidelines, not rules, have fun with your food and wine pairings and if you find one that hits it out of the park, let me know, I'm always game to try something new.


Grant Soutar - Restaurant Manager