When I first started drinking wine, all I wanted was something I could guzzle and throw down my gullet. I didn't want to think much about what was happening in my mouth, I just wanted something "smooth" and "fruity" - a fairly standard request from most.
Fast forward 15 years and wine for me is very much, if not all about, finding that sensational food pairing. Every time I try a wine, I'm thinking - what can I pair this with? When you successfully make those memorable pairings - it becomes addictive. The wine elevates the food, the food elevates the wine - everything just tastes so much better.
Here are my guidelines for achieving successful pairings:
Match weight with weight.
A light bodied wine isn't going to pair well with something heavy, likewise a full bodied wine won't pair well with a salad. Think about the weight of the wine and the food on your palate. You want them to be similar in terms of body and how they dance on your palate together.
Match wines with the same foods of the region it came from.
This was one of the first tips I was given when I began my wine career many moons ago. It's a pretty safe bet that the wines produced in a certain region, will go well with the food that comes from that region too.
Pair high acid wines with grease.
Riesling and hot dogs. Champagne and potato chips. Sauvignon blanc and fritters. Acidity cuts through grease, and oil. It cleanses your palate, keeps your tastebuds salivating, and prepares your tongue for that next bite of food.
Match the primary flavours in the food with the primary flavours of the wine.
Case in point - I made a gremolata sauce (parsley, garlic, lemon) that could only be paired with one type of wine - Sauvignon Blanc! The herbs, and "green-ness" in the sauce needed to be matched with like flavours in a wine. Sauvignon blanc is high in a chemical compound known as "methoxypyrazine" that is responsible for those grassy, tomato leaf, herbaceous aromas. No surprise here, the pairing worked perfectly.
Match sweet with sweet.
When pairing wines with dessert - always match it with sweet or sweeter. Fortified wines, late harvest, or ice wines are all safe bets when serving desserts. The good news is they also go well with savoury food, which leads me to my last tip.
While many of my tips call for matching similar traits in wine to food, there are always exceptions. Off dry or sweet wines can work well with really salty food, or spicy food. A rich, unctuous Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley is dreamy when paired with super salty roasted potatoes, or olives, likewise an off dry, perfumed Alsatian Gewurztraminer is sensational with a spicy green curry.
These are *general* guidelines of course, and there are always exceptions. I once had Thai food paired with a Lodi Zinfandel that I thought would be the worst pairing I've ever tried - but it actually worked! Trial and error is a safe bet, but over time you'll start to see patterns you can stand by.