A Beginner’s Guide to Wine Pairing

After attending so many swanky wine tastings over the years, I thought I’d be better at deciphering the various notes and bouquets in each bottle – or at least say something about a glass of wine beyond, “This one’s red.” That being said, I’ve learned enough to compile a sort of “beginner’s guide to wine pairing.” Most people already know the basics: red wine pairs well with red meat, while white wine is better for seafood.  But there’s also some other wine pairing rules that are simple enough for even the most novice wino to remember.

I was recently gifted with two fabulous bottles of Italian wines for an at-home wine pairing night – Chianti Classico from Castello Di Albola, and Attems Sauvignon Blanc. If you want to try your own wine pairing combinations, I definitely recommend starting with these two, as they’re distinct in flavor but well-rounded enough to suit various types of dishes. Once you pick out a good wine selection, keep these easy guidelines in mind:

1) Consider the notes of the wine.

The aromas and flavors of each wine always give away the types of foods they’ll complement. For the Chianti Classico, which was full-bodied and had notes of red fruit and oak, I opted for olives, marinated mushrooms, cherry peppers, balsamic onions, and prosciutto – all, foods with an earthy and meaty quality.  The Sauvignon Blanc, which had a great acidity to it, was perfect when paired with tangy goat cheese and a classic pot of mussels steamed in the same wine.

2) Let your sauce be your guide.

If a dish has a sauce in it, pick a wine that complements that sauce more than anything else. Pasta with a hearty red meat sauce, for example, practically begs for a good Chianti or Merlot. But for an Alfredo or light garlic sauce, white wine will be your best bet.

3) Sweetness makes a difference.

I tend to prefer sweeter wines like Riesling, Moscato, or Lambrusco – but they’re not always ideal for pairing with richer, more savory foods. Of course, all three options can pair well with a varietal cheese and fruit platter, but main courses and heavier dishes usually balance out better with drier (aka “less sweet”) varieties like Chardonnay. If you’re not a fan of extra dry wines, then Attems Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect alternative.

4) A good table wine is always a keeper.

One of the best foodie finds in the world is coming across a quality, all-around wine that pairs well with just about anything. A couple bottles of Chianti Classico from Castello Di Albola and Attems Sauvignon Blanc are fantastic table wine picks for any dinner party or gathering, as they’re both delicious without being too overpowering or “niche.”

On a side note, I can’t even describe how amazing steamed mussels are with a glass (actually, a bottle) of good white wine. If I knew how easy mussels were to prepare, I would’ve started making them ages ago. Just steam a bunch of cleaned mussels in about an inch of white wine and whatever herbs you like for about five minutes. Take them out, then reduce the wine with some cream before pouring over the mussels. Et voila!