Food and Wine Pairings Part 3

Welcome to the third and final installment of our guide to wine pairing.  We have previously discussed the ideas of regional pairing and the matching of food and wine by weight.  This article will discuss the process of pairing food and wine using the taste elements within each aspect, then we will finish off with a few pairs you always want to stay away from.  

The taste elements for your dish can be broken down into 4 basic categories: bitter, salty, sour or sweet.  Whereas the taste elements of wine are sweetness, acidity, tannins (bitter), oakiness and alcohol.   Successfully pairing these elements can be done by either comparing similar elements or contrasting very different ones.  

Think about some of our common food pairings that use these methods - cake and ice cream (sweet and sweet), prosciutto and melon (salty and sweet), tea and cookies (bitter and sweet) or beer and pretzels (bitter and salty).  These same pairings can work very well for food and wine.

To use this pairing method we need a background in the general flavour profiles of common grapes and wines.  

Click here to see a detailed chart of these profiles. Remember that these are general profiles that may vary by region or producer, so keep that in mind when pairing.

Using these profiles, we'll look at some of the most classic pairings and discuss why and how they work so well together: 

Champagne and Caviar:

  • Flavour profiles - Champagne is highly acidic with effervescence; caviar is salty, fishy and fatty. 
  • Why it works - The saltiness of the caviar softens the acidity of the champagne, at the same time the acidity and effervescence of the champagne cuts through the fattiness and fishiness of the caviar.


Vintage Port and Stilton:

  • Flavour profiles - Vintage Port is sweet, acidic, tannic and alcoholic all at once; Stilton is strong, salty, stinky and creamy.
  • Why it works - As the two mix in your mouth the extremes of each are softened.  The port no longer seems so sweet and the stilton no longer reminds you of weeks old gym socks.  Together they are a perfect blend of sweet, salty and creamy.  


Sauternes and Foie Gras: 

  • Flavour profiles - Sauternes is a beautiful balance of sweetness and acidity; Foie Gras is rich, salty and buttery.
  • Why it works - The blend of honey' d sweetness and zesty acidity cuts through the saltiness and richness of the Foie Gras, producing a complete balance of flavours in the mouth.


Cabernet Sauvignon and Grilled Rib Steak:

  • Flavour profiles - Cab Sauv is rich and full bodied with firm dry tannins and flavours of cassis, pepper, smoke and leather along with medium to high alcohol.  The steak has many of the same smoky, peppery and caramelized flavours from the grilling process.
  • Why it works - The complimentary flavours of pepper, smoke and richness bring out the fruitiness in the wine.  A lesser wine can be lost in the robust flavours of a good grilled steak.

Although these are classic pairings, you can use the flavour profiles of popular grapes/wines to create your own pairings - be creative and have fun with it.    

To determine the results of the pairing you should have both the wine and food in your mouth at the same time.  If you can taste elements of both at the same time and the combination is pleasant, then the pairing is a success.  If the result is a level of enjoyment greater than the individual components, then you have a great pairing.  Nicely done!

However, if one of the two is completely masked by the other, or the result is an unpleasant taste or texture, then you are on the wrong track. Here are a few tips that can save you from making pairings that are doomed from the start: 

Fish is best paired with white wine - the high tannic flavours in red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon react with iodine in the fish to produce an unpleasant metallic flavour.  

If you are wanting fish and just can't bear to have white wine try an Oregon Pinot Noir or a Barbera from Italy.  Both wines have light tannins and high natural acidity which enable them to work well with fish.  


You should never pair a highly acidic wine with a cream based dish.  Imagine what would happen if you were to squeeze a lemon into a glass of whole milk, a similar reaction would happen if you tried this pairing.  

Finally, high alcohol wines should not be paired with spicy/hot food as the alcohol will make the food taste even spicier.  Gewurztraminer can be a good pairing for these dishes as many are off-dry to semi-sweet and as a result are slightly lower in alcohol.  The low alcohol and slight sweetness are a great contrast to the spiciness of the dish with the spice making the wine taste less sweet and the wine helping the food seem less hot.

So what have we learned over the past 3 articles?

  1. What grows together goes together.
  2. Match the weight of food and wine.
  3. Acid goes with acid.
  4. Sweet goes with salty.
  5. Forget the rules... have fun and drink what you like!!


Grant Soutar - Restaurant Manager