Pairing the right wine with food creates something greater than the sum of the parts. A complementary wine can enhance and add new dimensions to food, and vice versa. Matching food and wine is a fairly recent concept. In the past, people simply served the local foods with whatever wine was available, especially in wine-producing areas—an evolutionary, though not conscious, pairing. Over the years, the teaming of good food with fine wine has become an art form. Here you'll find the basic principles along with suggestions of specific wines to accompany foods in a range of categories (see links at right).
There are two fundamental ways to approach pairing wine and food: Either match a rich, strongly flavored dish with an equally rich, powerful wine, or set off a strongly flavored, spicy plate of food with a light, acidic wine.
The acids in wine and the natural acids in food must be considered when making a match. Acidity in a wine is very helpful in food pairings. An acidic wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, is useful in balancing a rich or spicy chili-based dish.
An older wine may be overwhelmed by strong flavors. Let the complex flavors of the wine shine on their own against a simpler dish—for example, a grilled steak with an aged Bordeaux.
It is important to keep the body, or weight, of the wine in mind. A heavy, full-bodied wine will match well with a rich dish, such as beef bourguignonne.
A young wine that still tastes of oak tannins tends to obscure subtle foods. That is one reason why young, oaky Chardonnay is often best served as an aperitif with a salty snack. A subtle oakiness in wine is not a problem.
A sweet wine is best matched with a high-acid food, such as a blue cheese. Sweet foods tend to distort wine flavors and make dry wines taste flat and insipid
Adapted from The Wine Guide (Time-Life Books, 1999)