Don’t wine about it: A guide to pairing wines and food

Sip, sip, hooray.

There is a grape big world of wine out there, and it can be hard to sift through it all. Cheap wines are synonymous with college life, but if you pair the wine with a good recipe that will bring out the flavors, it will elevate the cheap wine taste. Get away from your comfort zone, and stop and smell the rosé. Wine not?

Acidic flavors

If the food you’re eating is acidic, match the acids in the wine with the acids in your dish. Chianti, a strong red wine, can be an easy match for any vinegar- or acid-based beef or chicken dish. Cheap Chianti is often better than the insanely expensive Chianti, and the wine has a cherry-toned acid flavor that is perfect with most dinners. If you’re looking for a sure bet, Chianti is for you. This applies to foods like salad, too, that have rich dressings.

**My recommendation:** Cecchi Chianti Classico or Straccali Chianti

Beef

For a good grilled beef dish, the goal is to get a wine that doesn’t melt under the big beef flavors. A flavorful red zinfandel will match the fatty flavors of the beef, especially if it has strong seasonings. Zinfandel also features notes of raspberries and pairs perfectly with strong cheeses, so it’s great for a fancy dinner party. For meat-heavy dishes, a Cabernet-based wine will also pair nicely. The savory, dark fruit flavors of a Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, will bring out the best parts of a perfectly-cooked steak.

**My recommendation:** Doña Paula Los Cardos Cabernet Sauvignon

Chicken

Nothing pairs better with a lightly-seasoned roast chicken quite like a Chardonnay. Even though Chardonnay is a cheaper wine that is sought after by many wine-loving college students, it too often gets passed over by wine newbies because of the dry flavor and cheap taste. People like to say they’re in the ABC party (Anything But Chardonnay), which is pretty harsh. If you pair Chardonnay with the right recipe, the entire world is open to you. With a rotisserie chicken, the fruity, acidic flavor of the Chardonnay will deepen, rather than just being a wine people drink out of a box at a party.

**My recommendation:** Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Fried foods

Fried foods are essential for every college student, but pairing red wines with french fries or mozzarella sticks makes the wine taste extremely bitter. Your best option here is to go for a New Year’s Eve classic and pick a carbonated wine. The carbonation will bring a light note to the heavy fried flavors and clear your palette. You can choose either a sweet or acidic sparkling wine — depending on what you’re eating.

My recommendation: Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco

Seafood

Seafood pairs best with Vinho Verde, a Portuguese-Spanish wine that has a light fizz. This wine is perfect to pair with everything from shrimp to crab, because it has a very light flavor and is akin to drinking an alcoholic soda with dinner. Vinho Verde is also pretty cheap, so if you find yourself springing the cash to buy more expensive seafood, you can buy a more relaxed wine. Vinho Verde also pairs well with breading, lemony sauces and fried foods, so any side dish you choose is going to work with your seafood-wine dinner.

**My recommendation:** Aveleda Vinho Verde White

Desserts

The number one “don’t” of pairing with desserts: Don’t pick a dry red wine. Nothing is worse than ruining a dessert with a bitter wine that would better pair with meat. Pair your desserts with something rich, sweet and light, like a White Zinfandel. The White Zinfandel is a pink rosé wine that has a bad rep among winos. The wine is ubiquitous at college parties because it tastes like juice, but it is a great, inexpensive introduction to wine for newbies.

My recommendation: Oak Leaf White Zinfandel (It’s less than $3 at Walmart.)

Bonus: Apple desserts

A sweet wine that pairs perfectly with apples? Sauternes. This wine is a super sweet wine from France, and it pairs perfectly with the sugary, acidic crunch of an apple. You can kick it up a notch by adding a cinnamon crunch using pieces of nuts (almonds or walnuts), cinnamon, sugar and a touch of vanilla.

**My recommendation:** Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes

Edited by Katherine White | kwhite@themaneater.com

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