—foodie fun creating memorable flavor harmony

Eveline Chartier, June 4, 2024

Photo by Eric Malcolm

The perfect food pairing can make a wine sing!

The goal is to have the wine and food taste better together than on their own. In other words, the sum is better than its parts. A great food pairing will bring out favorable elements in your wine and vice-versa!

Today I will guide you through this part art, part science process.

We will discuss three of the most common approaches to pairing. Keep in mind that preferred pairings will depend on the person experiencing it – this is very subjective and personal.

The key elements in food and wine that I want to discuss for pairings are:

  • flavor profile
  • flavor intensity
  • wine’s body/food’s weight

PAUSE! I don’t understand flavor intensity in wine.

Think of a wine’s intensity as its sound volume on the nose or palate – how loudly it speaks to you! Just like food, some wines have more subtle flavors and aromas (mild cheddar cheese) while others have strong flavors (blue cheese).

Lastly, remember you can start with the food and find a wine to pair with it or vice versa.

Complementary pairings

This approach attempts to match one or more of the food and wine elements discussed above. For instance, if the wine has an anise/fennel flavor, it may pair nicely with food flavored with dried fennel. This would be a flavor profile pairing. A full-bodied wine with high intensity flavors would make a good pairing for a heavier meal with strong flavors. This would be both a flavor intensity and a body/weight pairing.

Contrasting pairings

In certain circumstances, opposites attract! Offsetting key food and wine elements results in greater overall balance. In other words, instead of matching we use opposing food and wine elements.

A good example is spicy (aka hot), bitter, or salty food pairing well with wines with sweetness. The higher the spice, the sweeter the wine should be! A spicy dish could also pair well with a low intensity wine, as the wine doesn’t compete with the food and provides a respite from the food intensity. Lastly, high acidity wines pair well with rich foods. The acidity in the wine cuts through the richness (aka fat or starch), acting as a palate cleanser or a reset after every sip.

Regional pairings

“What grows together goes together.” Pizza or lasagna pairs well with an Chianti. It is a way of saying that wines from a certain region pair very well with regional food. I learned in Austria that a Grüner Veltliner complements a Schnitzel or Goulash swimmingly! These pairings work because they either complement or contrast the key elements!

Can we walk through a specific wine?

Pairing the featured wine

Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir 2022 from Willamette Valley, Oregon is fresh and bright, yet it has an enticing earthiness – a contrast in itself! It also has flavors of red fresh cherry, blueberry, and blackberry, with the added complexity of earth and an especially attractive mushroom note ending with a hint of ‘fresh leather’. It has a medium flavor intensity.

Fresh leather, huh?

(Yes, that note was to get a reaction out of you!)

In this case I would zone in on the most alluring note: the mushroom!

This led me to mushroom based dishes (complementary). Since this wine has high acidity, it can hold up to rich foods (contrasting). My mind goes to mushroom risotto, mushroom soup, stuffed portobello mushrooms. Since the wine doesn’t have pronounced intensity, I would not stuff the pepper with a strong flavored cheese such as feta or chèvre nor strong flavored foods or spices. I think those would clash with the wine’s elegance.

Now my mouth is salivating.

Mine too.

Okay, but you would never pair this with fish for example?

Actually, my favorite pairing with salmon is Pinot Noir.

This Pinot Noir is medium body, matching the weight and texture of the salmon (complementary). Salmon is also an oily fish, so the wine’s high acidity would cleanse the palate after every sip producing a refreshing effect (contrasting).

What could backfire here?

If you glazed the salmon with teriyaki or hoisin sauce. As this is a dry wine, these sauces are sweeter than the wine, ergo breaking the rule that the wine needs to be sweeter than the food.

Okay, I am starting to understand this!

I will leave you with this: don’t be afraid to play around with pairings. Consider it a fun exploration! I have definitely flubbed the odd pairing. It can be tricky, particularly if you don’t know the wine. Luckily it IS just wine! Worst case scenario you choose another wine, or you finish the food then have the wine with cheese for dessert! No stress! Yay!


Photo credit: Eric Malcolm


Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir 2022 from Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA

Style: New World Medium Body Red

Varieties: 100% Pinot Noir

This wine’s fresh and bright elements are beautifully contrasted by its earthy elements. It has fresh red cherry, blueberry, and blackberry, with the added complexity of earth and an especially attractive mushroom note ending with a hint of ‘fresh leather’. The tannins provide just enough grip to enhance the body without offsetting the elegance of the wine.

Best pairings: Mushroom Risotto, Mushroom Soup, Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, Cedar-Plank Salmon, Pork Tenderloin, Soft or Semi-soft Cheeses: Brie, Havarti, or Gouda.

Serving Temperature: 14 degrees Celsius

Price: ~$37 (including 5% tax and shades of grape discount – for subscribers)

Serving Tips: Just enjoy!