Classic Food and Wine Pairings

10 Matches that have Stood the Test of Time


Food and wine pairing is really simple business. Problem is, with all the choices out there it's easy to make a basic mistake and create a really jarring combination of flavors. There are just a few key points worth noting that can makes those mistakes a thing of the past.

1) Match weight and texture: So a light dish needs a light wine, and a rich dish a rich wine.

2) Match the intensity of flavor between the wine and food. One will have to take the lead, but the other should folow closely.

3) Either contrast the flavors of the food and wine, as with famous sweet and salty pairings, or allow the flavors to compliment each other as fruity, acidic Sangiovese does with tomaotes. This can work with textures as well, as when a sharp, acidic white helps to cut through the richness of a cream sauce.

Champagne & Caviar

Champagne and Caviar is not simply one of "the" party pairings, it's also a classic example of a complimentary food pairing. The lightness of texture and intensity exhibited by both elements helps to form a seamless experience. There is a hint of contrast here though as the fruit of the wine plays off of the salty tang of the caviar, further drawing out the complexity of both.

Pinot Noir and Grilled Salmon

The Pacific Northwest has always been famous for its fresh Salmon so it's no surprise that when Pinot Noir become the emblematic red grape of Oregon, it was paired with Salmon. What has come as a surprise is how well these two work together. The medium wieght of both match up well as do the subtle intensities of their flavors, but what seals the deal is the interplay between the salmon's richness and the fine edge of acidity that is the signature of Oregon Pinot Noir. Grilling the salmon gives the wine an added element that seem to help buffer any oakiness the wine may have.

Sauvignon Blanc and Goat Cheese

While this classic match up has deep roots in France, first gaining fame when Sancerre was paired with the local goat cheese, it has since spread across the globe. The vivid flavors and vibrant acidity of Sauvignon Blanc cuts through the richness of the tangy goat cheese like al laser. This dance of wine and food features both the complimentary aspects of weight, texture and acidity, as well as the contrast between the fruity yet herbal wine and the creamy cheese.

Rioja and Paella

As with the goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc,  this pairing arose out of necessity; what else would you drink with Paella except for the local wine? While there are many versions of Paella, one of the classics includes a variety of meats and seafood in saffron flavored rice. With such a complex dish it's a good idea to opt for a simplier wine to offer a single contrasting background note. A young, fruity Rioja with bright acidity is just the ticket; bold enough for the intense flavors of saffron and chorizo, but light enough to not overpower shrimp or chicken.

Muscadet and Oysters

One of the greatest examples of complmentary matching ever has to be Muscadet and oysters. This light bodied, minerally, almost salty wine comes from near the Atlantic coast of France and is yet another one of those matches made out of necessity, but boy does it work well. Both the wine and the oysters share a mineral edge, bright, brisk flavors and a lightness on the palate. The interplay of acid and salt in the mouth is a gentle contrasting note that helps bind the two elements of this match together perfectly

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  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    A very good slideshow, Greg.

    With champagne and caviar neither, in my view, 'takes the lead'. That's the beauty of one of the classically premier combinations in all of wine matching.

    You had sauternes and roquefort, but what about Port and Stilton, or sauternes and foie gras? These are every bit as classic as any of the matches you provide (and more reliable than an across-the-board recc for any pinot and any salmon). In addition, picpoul de pinet or brut champagne are as good a match for raw oysters as muscadet is. I love all three, and you can even throw in Chablis and make it four. Love that variety. You were also correct in mentioning all the varieties of paella thus leaving open the door for other matches. I made a clam and squid (and chorizo) and saffron paella last night that I had an Albarino with. Tempranillo would've flattened the flavor profile a bit, while the white lifted it up.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 2:36 PM

  • Stilton and Port is a classic, but try Stilton with Gros Plant du Pays Nantais ('sur lie' is best), they are made for each other.

    Oct 01, 2010 at 12:07 PM

  • Snooth User: bennamn
    562772 15

    Um, can I just say that while I'm pleased to read (and learn) about these classic combinations, I'm particularly displeased to see all of the spelling mistakes in the copy. Double-check the work, and everyone looks better. Thanks!

    Oct 04, 2010 at 9:20 PM

  • Snooth User: AdamJefferson
    Hand of Snooth
    226143 283

    ben, easy on the poor spellers among us, please. Just thinking about a dictionary causes me to have flash-backs to a gallery of humorless grade school teachers who counted my spelling as among the score of reasons I dissappointed them. Our patron, Mark Twain, was an unflinching critic of uniform spelling, contending it diminished the subtle nuances which marked the author's style, and likened dedication to spelling with chastity--something which is "alright" but can be taken too far. Cheers!!

    Oct 12, 2010 at 8:02 AM

  • Snooth User: Diderot
    104965 104


    I note that your missive was checked for spelling. Nice job, apart from "alright." :-)

    In on-line comments or American folk humor, trivial misspellings are not a concern. In formal presentations and on-line articles, especially about wine and food, correct spelling is essential.

    Names of foreign wines and exotic ingredients can be very tricky to spell and pronounce. That is one reason wine lore seems so arcane and even daunting to many people. Prospective customers should be able to count on correct spellings of the names of wines or unfamiliar ingredients so they can be sure they are buying the right products for an important dinner or other occasion. It does matter.

    None of us is perfect but certainly we should do what we can to make sure that we are helping people and not confusing them. Cheers!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 4:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Bigguy49
    573758 2

    Off topic but since I frequently like to print articles for future read/archiving, I really dislike the "powerpoint" slide presentations of various topics such as the recent "10 Zinfandel" column, which require printing of each page. Thank you for your consideration.

    Oct 15, 2010 at 6:08 PM

  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 29

    A great combination for the big occasion, albeit with a Specific Wine, is Roast Lamb or Hogget (a little older) with Henschke Hill of Grace.

    Oct 15, 2010 at 10:48 PM

  • Snooth User: dirkwdeyoung
    Hand of Snooth
    231231 328

    All this talk about wine and food really makes me want to drink wine and eat good stuff!! I am going to try the grilled salmon with Pinot Noir, that's a new one for me.

    I just wanted to mention that it doesn't have to be sauternes with Roquefort, please also try Monbazillac, Jurancon, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Quarts de Chaumes and also try other blue cheeses for lower cost and interesting variety.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but do other people think that Roquefort has gotten saltier over the years?

    Oct 15, 2010 at 11:48 PM

  • Snooth User: heesack
    497997 10

    Not to be a pedant, but doesn't the wine complement (that is complete) the food, not compliment (that is praise) it?

    Jun 15, 2011 at 1:52 PM

  • It's getting to the point where I can't read these articles anymore. It is frustrating to see so many errors in spelling and grammar and the PowerPoint presentation-style wastes minutes of my time.

    Jun 15, 2011 at 6:01 PM

  • How can you not mention sauterne and fois gras ?????

    Aug 10, 2011 at 4:09 PM

  • Snooth User: spicycurry
    764650 53

    The paella discussed isn't real paella. It's a combination of two different regional styles, neither of which come from Rioja. Valenciana is the seafood version, and the meaty version is inland (Murcia, etc). Doesn't sound like a classic pairing to me! And I'm a little disappointed (again) that a prominent wine writer has perpetuated falsehoods about a classic dish. Got the food info straight, people.

    Dec 15, 2011 at 12:26 AM

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