For many people, selecting food and wine pairings is one of the most intimidating aspects of planning a holiday meal or dinner party. But it needn't be. Gone are the days with stuffy, snobby rules governing the way we decide which wine should be served with our food.

Today's wine experts take a more relaxed approach to pairing food with wine. Wine is meant to be shared with people you care about. This means the right bottle to accompany your meal is simply the one you and your loved ones enjoy drinking together the most. It's the shared experience that matters.

That being said, there are definitely specific wines that pair beautifully with certain foods. They enhance the flavor of your meal and make each sip and bite more sumptuous than the last. If you want to knock your guests' socks off, carefully selected food and wine pairings will definitely do the trick.

Here are our suggestions for pairing food and wine the next time you entertain.

Red Wine Pairings

Friends raise glasses of red wine.

1. Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a lighter red wine. It pairs well with most meats, although much depends on the preparation. Bold, spicy sauces overpower most Pinot Noirs and wash out the flavor. This means that barbecue, curry, or peppery sauces don't show off this lovely wine to its full advantage. Examples of foods that work well with Pinot Noir include:

  • roasted turkey
  • chicken
  • pork loin
  • prime rib
  • truffles
  • mushrooms
  • nutty cheeses such as Gruyere or Swiss

2. Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernets are on the opposite spectrum of a Pinot Noir. Cabs are bold, heavy wines with strong tannins. If you drink them too young they can have a bit of a bite, but Cabs mellow and become softer as they age. If you serve a cab with a delicate meal of white fish, a simply cooked chicken breast, or a salad, chances are the wine will outshine the food.

Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent pairing for bold, flavorful dishes, such as:

  • lasagna
  • spicy meatballs
  • enchiladas
  • steak
  • spicy sausages
  • sharp cheddar and aged gouda

3. Merlot

Merlot got a bad rap from the movie Sideways in the early 2000's, but it's steadily making a comeback, and wine lovers are beginning to appreciate this delicious, hearty grape again. Merlot pairs well with a variety of foods, such as:

  • gourmet cheesy potato or pasta dishes
  • roast pork
  • blackened or cajun style meats
  • roasted squash
  • pizza
  • burgers
  • cheeses
  • smoked cheddar, asiago, and Havarti

4. Grenache

Grenaches are a beautiful wine to pair with food. This is a versatile red you can have with both casual and sophisticated meals. Examples include:

  • Thanksgiving turkey¬†
  • flatbread
  • macaroni and cheese
  • lentil soups or casseroles
  • rabbit
  • stews
  • medium cheddar or red Leicester cheeses

A Note On Reds

Friends enjoy snacks with different varietals of wine.

It can be challenging to find a great red for under $20 a bottle. $30 a bottle might even be a little more realistic. If this is more than you're comfortable spending, don't fret. You can bring out the best in an inexpensive red by decanting it in advance.

Pouring your wine into a decanter, or even a glass pitcher if there's no decanter available, for two to three hours before your meal is served exposes the wine to air. It opens up the flavors and aromas, softens the tannins, and gives the funky cheap wine smell a chance to dissipate.

If you want to serve an inexpensive red in a hurry, you can speed this process by simply putting your wine in a blender for 30-60 seconds for an instant injection of air. If you have any doubt this can work, reserve a tiny sip of the wine before you run it through the blender and taste it side by side with the blended version. The blended version will be much softer on the palate than the non-blended version.

Decanting doesn't just apply to inexpensive reds. Exposing high-end reds to air will help you experience them in all the glory the winemaker intended.

White Wine Pairings

White wine with a spread of food on a picnic table.

1. Chardonnay

Chardonnay is arguably one of the most popular white wines to serve with dinner. If you want to serve a Chardonnay with your meal it's important to recognize there are essentially two types of Chardonnay: oaked and unoaked.

Oaked Chardonnays have a rich, buttery, and well, oaky taste. Unoaked Chardonnays are lighter and crisper in contrast.

Oaked Chardonnays go best with the following styles of dishes:

  • creamy, rich sauces seasoned with butter
  • dishes with mustard sauce
  • pasta alfredo
  • stroganoffs
  • croissants
  • brie and other rich, buttery cheeses

Unoaked Chardonnays are better for delicately seasoned dishes:

  • roast turkey
  • chicken breast
  • fresh salads
  • white fishes without heavy sauces
  • lightly roasted vegetables
  • Creamy goat cheeses

2. Viognier

Viogniers are full of peachy, floral flavors and aromas. It basically tastes like summer in a glass. Viognier pairs beautifully with fruit flavored dishes and certain spicy dishes, such as:

  • meats stewed in apples
  • butternut squash
  • pumpkin dishes
  • fish or shrimp with sides of mango chutney
  • salads with fresh slices of pear
  • lobster and crab.
  • Thai food and curries.
  • brie, goat cheese, and apricot stilton.

3. Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigios are perfect for pairing with a variety of foods, including:

  • oysters
  • salmon
  • ham
  • asparagus bisque
  • artichoke dip
  • pork.
  • barbecue
  • hot wings
  • pizza
  • muenster or cheddar

4. Semillon

The refreshing, lemony notes of a Semillon are the perfect companions to the foods you associate with summer and dishes with cream or lemon. Some foods for thought include:

  • white, creamy sauces
  • chowders
  • shellfish
  • white fish in lemon sauce
  • citrus salads
  • pasta primavera
  • spring vegetables,
  • pork and chicken dishes.
  • blue cheese and gouda

A Note On Whites

Glasses of red and white wine and grapes.

Most people serve white wine at a temperature that is far too cold. This is because the average host stores the bottle in the refrigerator until it's ready to be served.

The optimum temperature to bring out the flavor of the majority of white wines is between 50-55 degrees. Since refrigerators are normally programmed to hold the temperature at 40 degrees are below, this means that serving white wine straight from the refrigerator to the glass is not ideal.

Luckily, there's an easy fix. Simply let the bottle sit on the counter for 15-20 minutes before you serve it.

Tips For Guests

If you're a guest attending a dinner party, you may have questions about wine that have nothing to do with food and wine pairings. Price is probably chief among them. Many guests struggle to figure out how much to spend on a bottle of wine for a dinner party. The answer is simple. Let the dinner be your guide:

  • If you've been invited over for a casual evening of pizza or tacos, your wine selection can be equally casual. This means something at the lower end of your acceptable price spectrum will suffice.
  • If however, you've been invited over for a multi-course gourmet meal, this means your host likely spent a considerable amount of time, energy, and money to provide you with a special experience. The wine you bring should reflect that.

We hope this took some of the mystery and guesswork out of pairing food and wine. But most importantly, we hope you remember is that wine is supposed to be fun. Every time you share a bottle with people you care about, you can be assured, you've made the right pairing.

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