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Food and Wine Pairing: What it is and Why it Matters

Category: Wine Pairings

Food and Wine Pairing: What it is and Why it Matters

In Short:
Want to make the most of your wine? This simple food and wine pairing guide will teach you the basics. We look at the art - and science - of the practice. You’ll also discover some classic pairing examples, offering failsafe ideas to impress at your next dinner party.

What is food and wine pairing?

Wine and food pairing is the practice of matching specific wines with complementary dishes to enhance the flavours of both. By understanding how different flavours interact, you can unlock the full potential of every wine you ever open, ensuring that every sip is enjoyed to its fullest.

Pairing food and wine isn’t only a skill for wine professionals; it's an art that anyone can learn in order to enhance every dining experience. When you carefully match a wine with a dish, it's like crafting a perfect harmony of flavours, where each element elevates the other. The right pairing can turn a good meal into something extraordinary, delighting the senses and creating memorable moments.

In the same way a chef will carefully plan to balance every single element of food in a certain dish, a sommelier’s job is to consider those elements and select a wine that complements all the components. A well-paired combination can uncover hidden subtleties, intensify flavours, and balance out any culinary imperfections. Done right, it can leave a lasting impression on the palate.

So, the next time you plan a meal, take a moment to consider the perfect wine pairing. It's an investment in maximising your dining experience, enriching each sip and bite with nuanced flavours.

Why is food and wine pairing considered to be important?

Food and wine pairing matters because it elevates your dining experience by making sure each sip and bite complement each other. It's not just for experts; anyone can enjoy the benefits of a well-matched meal and wine. Understanding how flavours work together helps you appreciate the full potential of what you're eating and drinking.

Pairing correctly brings out the best qualities in both the food and the wine, making each taste even better. It's like discovering new layers of flavour that you might have missed otherwise. Ultimately, it's about enjoying good food and wine together in a way that makes each meal memorable.

The science behind food and wine pairing

We often talk about an individual wine’s aromas, flavours, structure and style. But it’s all too easy to forget that what we’re drinking wasn’t designed to be enjoyed in a vacuum. From Tuscany to Burgundy, Alsace to Rioja, Barossa to Mendoza, wine has always been made to be enjoyed with food.

World winemaking traditions have developed hand in hand with culinary ones, and local ingredients, cooking methods and climate have all had their influence on what’s in your glass. There’s a reason, for example, that Chianti goes so well with meaty pasta and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc with French goat’s cheese. They grew up alongside one another.

Depending on the pairing you make, different elements of your dish or wine can be totally transformed, enhanced or contrasted. Acidity or sweetness might be amplified or tempered, certain spices or ingredients accentuated or mellowed. Finding a great pairing is a science, but it’s an art too. Just like there’s not one ‘best’ example of a classic recipe or wine style, there’s no such thing as just one ‘right’ match. So you can get your pairing confidence up, take a look at our general guidelines below. They’re grounded in science, but even still, these are just starting points – there’ll always be exceptions and finding your own way is all part of the fun.


1. Match body with body
Ideally, the ‘weight’ of your food and wine should be in balance.Bigger-bodied wines go better with bigger-bodied foods, and vice versa. This is why people often suggest having red wine with beef: they’re usually thinking about a rich tannic red like Cabernet. Sauvignon from Bordeaux. But a light-bodied red – say, a cool-climate Pinot Noir or Gamay – might go really nicely with lighter-bodied fish or vegetable dishes.

2. Take into account the cooking method
It’s not just about what’s in your dish but also how it’s prepared. Gently steamed or poached foods – whether that’s chicken, fish or vegetables – suit lighter wines, like Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay, which won’t overpower them. Barbecued or slow-cooked dishes with lots of flavour might go better with a bold red, say from the Barossa Valley.

3. Think about fat and protein
Dishes that are high in protein and fat often go better with wines that have lots of tannin or acidity. For example, a steak goes well with hefty red wines from hotter regions in Spain, Italy and Australia because the tannin molecules help to soften the fat in the meat. But some high-fat foods like cheese or cream are great with crisp white wines. A zesty Chardonnay with lots of acidity will do a great job of cutting through the fat in Brie, for example.

4. Consider sweetness
Very salty foods – for example cheese or nuts – can be great with a slightly sweet wine that offsets them. That’s why people often pair Port or Sauternes with a cheese board. Meanwhile sweet dishes such as desserts are almost always best paired with a wine that’s at least as sweet, or even sweeter. This keeps the dish from tasting bitter or unbalanced.

5. If in doubt, look to the origin
Remember, food and wine cultures around the world have developed together over hundreds or even thousands of years. So if you’re not sure what will be a great match, look local. Italian red wines like Valpolicella tend to go superbly with pizza and pasta. Albariño from the north coast of Spain pairs well with seafood, a local speciality. And Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley is the perfect match for tangy goat’s cheese.

Want to learn more?
Our wine subscription service, Wine Club by Majestic, has just launched its second case release of the year. Themed around the science of food and wine pairing, it provides everything you need to get to grips with understanding how to make the most of every bottle.

Take a look at every food lovers’ favourite wine subscription here.

Ali Mountjoy
Majestic Copywriter & Wine Club Lead

Ali first gained a taste for everything ‘wine’ when she moved to France after university. Upon returning to England a few years later, her equal love of good food led her to work as a sommelier in some of the country’s best restaurants, including Gidleigh Park, Rick Stein’s, Texture and Lucknam Park. Ali gets just as much pleasure from writing about wine as she does tasting it.