How to Pair Wine with Common Entrees

By Ted Rollins , last updated August 29, 2011

The problem of how to pair wine with common entrees can arise in many forms. You may be planning a romantic night in with your significant other, and you want to show her you care by picking out a perfect wine to go with the amazing seafood dish you spent all day preparing. Or perhaps you’re out on a date with someone new, and you want to impress him or her with you knowledge of wine pairings. It could even be that you just want to know which wines go well with entrees because you genuinely care about food and wine. No matter the circumstances, knowing more about wine is always a good thing. Every food goes better with certain wines than with others; just make sure not to get too wrapped up in your wine and forget to drink in moderation.

Some people think that seafood only goes with white wines, which is definitely not the case; many seafood dishes work well with pinot noirs and merlots as well. Among shellfish, chardonnays, white rhone varietals and brut sparkling wine go well with lobster dishes. These wines also work well when accompanying crab dishes, as does sauvignon blanc. Clam dishes should be served with champagne, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc or pinot blanc, as should light entrees centered around mussels. Oysters are well served by pinot gris, pinot blanc, riesling or chardonnay. Among fish dishes, red snapper and striped bass go well with chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, while salmon matches with pinot gris, vin gris or pinot noir. Although it varies slightly depending on the raw fish in the sushi or sashimi, both pair well with brut sparkling wine, dry riesling and sake. Scallops work well with a wide range of wines, including sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and semillon. Among other whole fish, swordfish goes well with vin gris and pinot noir and tuna with merlot and chardonnay.

Generally, meats tend to go best with red varieties of wine, the tannins of which help bring smoky and rich flavors to the fore. Chicken entrees tend to go best with whites, however, such as chardonnay and riesling; however, smokier and heavier chicken dishes often work well with pinot noirs and zinfandels. Main dishes including duck are best accompanied by wines including pinot noir, merlot, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. If you’re planning a classy barbecue but you don’t want to serve beer or mixed drinks, consider pairing hot dogs with riesling or beaujolais; if you’re grilling burgers too, opt for cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel or gamay. Lamb dishes work well with merlot, pinot noir, zinfandel and chancellor, while pheasant is best paired with a pinot noir or syrah. For gamier rabbit dishes, select a riesling, barbera, merlot or zinfandel, and when serving sausage, you should choose a sparkling wine like rosé, beaujolais, syrah or zinfandel. Most steak dishes go well with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, brut sparkling wine or rhône blends, while you should enjoy turkey with merlot, chardonnay or beaujolais.

While pairing your wines simply with the type of meat or fish you’ve chosen to serve works in most circumstances, you may also want to tailor your beverages with the particular type of entrée you have prepared. Beef wellington, with its bold umami flavors and peppercorn sauce, goes well with similarly bold reds like riojas. Malbecs may accompany braised short ribs served with cheesy pastas, while tamer sweet pasta dishes such as butternut squash ravioli are best served with pinot blancs or Argentine whites. Most honey mustard sauced meats, such as pork tenderloin, can be served with pinot noirs, and creamy risottos match well with syrahs and piedmonts. When serving puttanescas with a boldly flavored fish like a swordfish, you should pair the entrée with something like a pinot blanc.

Finally, main dishes of poultry that are stuffed with Mediterranean flavors go well with mid-range whites like a Chardonnay. If you’ve decided to order in but still keep things classy, you may want to know what wines go well with different takeout options. Although your choice may vary depending on what your order on a pizza, the classic delivery option goes well with Cabernets, most sparkling wines and Zinfandel. In general, spicier Chinese foods should be accompanied by riesling, pinot blanc, merlot or pinot gris, while Mexican goes well with chenin blanc, pinot gris and beaujolais. Finally, if you’ve opted for Thai food, go for a brut or rose sparkling wine, riesling or pinot blanc. Or, if you feeling like relaxing and taking it easy, just pop open a standard American can of ale and don’t think too much.

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