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Wine Pairing Guide | Best Wine Pairings

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Dreaming up memorable dishes is as challenging as it can be rewarding. Whether you’re an experienced sommelier or restaurant owner, or simply love making meals at home, wine pairing is a skill that requires time. 

As you try out different meals, you’ll discover that changing a single ingredient alters the full meal’s experience. Having the right wine to go with each kind of recipe brings out each subtle flavor, rather than overpowering it. 

Knowing what types of white wine and red wine match certain flavors is the fast track to culinary mastery. Keep reading to discover wine pairings for cheese, turkey, salmon, chicken, and more. 

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Wine And Cheese Pairings

Wine and cheese is a form of hors d'oeuvres that’s been around for thousands of years. People love combining tart, tangy cheeses with all kinds of acidic, sweet, and earthy wines. 

The terroir, grapes, length of fermentation, and more all contribute to which wine goes with a cheese. Keep reading for the inside scoop on perfect cheese and wine pairings. 

Wine And Cheese Pairing Chart

Instead of diving in and hoping for the best, it helps to know what wine enthusiasts have paired before. The types of wine chart below contains several recommendations for cheese pairing: 

Red Wines

Wine Varietal

Wine Body

Wine Sweetness

Cheese Pairings

Zinfandel

Medium-to-full bodied

Fruity; semi-sweet to dry

Gouda; blue; feta; asiago

Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium-to-full bodied

Dry to semi-sweet

Gorgonzola; cheddar

Merlot

Medium bodied

Fruity and sweet

Cheddar; gouda; brie; camembert

Pinot Noir

Light-to-medium bodied

Fruity and sweet

Gruyere; feta; port salut; Swiss

Port

Full bodied

Fully sweet

Blue; gorgonzola

White Wines

Wine Varietal

Wine Body

Wine Sweetness

Cheese Pairings

Chardonnay

Medium-bodied

Creamy and mildly sweet

Gruyere; gouda; blue; goat

Sauvignon Blanc

Light to medium-bodied

Dry or sweet

Parmesan; havarti; muenster; cheddar; Swiss

Chenin Blanc

Light to medium-bodied

Medium dry

Brie; gruyere; goat; cheddar

Riesling

Medium to light-bodied

Dry, semi-sweet, or sweet

Havarti; brie; Monterey Jack; Jarlsberg

Moscato / Muscat

Medium to light bodied

Sweet

Brie; camembert; blue

Best Wine And Cheese Pairings

While there’s no single wine that’s a perfect match for every cheese, you can’t go wrong with Champagne, Pinot Grigio, or Merlot. Champagne has nearly universal appeal for cheese pairing because it’s a low acid wine and comes with neutral flavors. This creates room on the palate for the cheese selection to shine through.

When both the drink and food are too salty or rich, it overwhelms the palate and makes flavors difficult to discern. Pinot Grigio is another white wine with prominent pear, honeysuckle, apricot, and green apple tastes.

The tartness of these flavors is a counterpoint to the soft creaminess of many cheeses. Additionally, Merlot is a crowd favorite and provides cherry, chocolate, and berry flavors. 

Blue Cheese Wine Pairing

Some of the best blue cheese wine pairing choices include Port, Sherry, and Prosecco. Blue cheese is a popular selection for dinners and snacking and goes best with sweeter wines. Port carries flavors like blackberry, caramel, and raspberry, which mix well with the salty, spiciness of blue cheese.

Sherry has a more complex taste, including flavors like jackfruit, lemon, and mushroom. Finally, Prosecco’s aromatic, fruit-centric tastes like pear, apple, and melon cut through the mold’s signature flavor on the first sip. 

Goat Cheese Wine Pairing

You’ll find useful goat cheese wine pairings with Vermentino, Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Vermentino has low-to-medium sweetness, with fruity tastes of green apple, lime, and grapefruit. Its higher acidity and dryness balances out the dominant creaminess of goat cheese. 

Malbec and Pinot Noir are two red wine types with raspberry, foresty, blackberry, and light oaky notes that contrast tart cheeses. Finally, Syrah--or Shiraz--has tobacco, blackberry, and blueberry accents that lay nicely over the palate. 

Pairing wine with cheese is a good first step, but it won’t be enough for an entire evening. That’s where full meal pairings come in--one example of which is turkey dishes. In the next section, we’ll look at popular turkey recipes and wine that pairs nicely. 

Turkey Wine Pairing

Turkey is a popular dish that’s enjoyed in casual and formal settings. Whether you’re preparing a simple roast turkey or are gearing up for a full Thanksgiving experience, there’s a wine for the occasion. 

Given the mild flavor and texture of turkey, it’s important not to overdo flavor on the wine side. Check out our suggestions for the most common forms of turkey preparation here.

What Wine Pairs With Turkey?

While any wine that matches your recipe’s flavor will be a good call, three leading wine pairs for turkey are Pinot Noir, Champagne, and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is one of the adaptable red wine types that suits meals of varying kinds. 

Champagne is a great turkey wine pairing for its higher acid content, smooth mouthfeel, and low tannin levels. Depending on the Champagne you pick, you may enjoy a bready, almond flavor, or an orange zest, melon, and apple taste.

Chardonnay is another classic wine choice for turkey pairing. Its natural bubbliness, high acidity, and abundant fruitiness accentuates the lesser-tasted aspects of turkey. 

Best Wine To Pair With Turkey

No two turkey dishes are going to be the same, but a Burgundy Chardonnay, Rioja Bordeaux, or Spanish Garnacha are great all-around choices. A Burgundy offers yellow plum, lemon, and pear flavors with a denser mouthfeel and fresh aromas. 

The Rioja Bordeaux is one of a few red wine types that isn’t too strong for turkey, as it has plum and herb notes, a full mouthfeel, and stronger tannins. Spanish Garnacha is another versatile red wine that brings plenty to the table for a turkey pairing. This wine has deep red fruit flavors like pomegranate, cherry, and red apple, balanced by violet and cinnamon notes. 

Best Wine Pairing With Thanksgiving Turkey

The flavors associated with Thanksgiving meals are both savory and tangy, which means Champagnes make a great fit. Duval-Leroy’s Femme de Champagne Brut Grand Cru is an excellent choice for its high acidity and floral, apricot, and citrus tastes.

Another great selection is Bernard Lonclas’ Blanc de Blancs Brut, a strong floral Champagne. This is similar to the Brut Grand Cru but with fuller lemon and citrus flavors. 

Once you’ve experimented with turkey, it becomes easier to see which wines pair with specific meals. The acidity of white wines works perfectly in some recipes, whereas the sumptuousness of red wine is a better fit other times. 

Chicken is similar to turkey, but it’s important not to assume that the same drinks work with every meal. Chicken-centered recipes often take on bolder, zestier flavors that require bolder wines. Continue reading for our take on chicken wine pairings.

Wine Pairing With Chicken

Though each chicken recipe will take on different herbs and tastes, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are smart choices overall. The smooth mouthfeel but high acidity level of Chardonnay makes it a good match for the already neutral taste of chicken. 

A wine pairing rule of thumb is to balance the meal’s flavors with those of the wine. For example, a recipe with bright, herbaceous flavors can tolerate a slightly stronger wine. The lighter nature of the meal leaves room on the palate for additional flavors. 

A dish that makes heavy use of cream or otherwise has intense, peppery flavors should have a lighter wine pairing. This prevents the palate from being overwhelmed and allows the beverage to act as a sensory break between bites of food. 

Chicken Marsala Wine Pairing

Take your chicken marsala wine pairing up a notch with a lighter red wine or a fuller white wine. Red wine examples include Malbec and Pinot Noir, and white wines include Riesling or Chardonnay. Chicken marsala is a heavy, cream-based dish, so your wine selection should be based on complementary flavors.

The ingredients in marsala sauce include cream and mushrooms, which reach their full potential with lighter wines. The acidity of Chardonnay or the fruitiness of Pinot Noir brings out the richness of the meal’s base ingredients. 

Chicken Parmesan Wine Pairing

Get your chicken parmesan wine pairing just right with a light-to-medium-bodied red wine, like Merlot or Pinot Noir. The savory saltiness of this dish requires just enough boldness to round out the palate. 

Merlot has a lighter mouthfeel, smooth tannins, and offers raspberry and cocoa flavors. Pinot Noir’s baking spice, cherry, and forest floor notes accent the dense tastes of a cheese- and meat-heavy dish. If your chicken parmesan recipe makes heavy use of tomatoes, you can pair it with a bolder red wine like a Grenache or Chianti. 

Fried Chicken Wine Pairing

If you’re looking for a fried chicken wine pairing, you can’t go wrong with an extra-dry Chardonnay or a quality Grenache. The breading of fried chicken plus the meat’s inherently mild taste requires a subtlety in pairing that isn’t easy to strike. 

Chardonnay offers tart citrus and apple flavors that cut through fried chicken coating without taking away from the food’s sensory experience. This low calorie wine is also dry enough to balance out the rich, fatty presence of chicken on the palate. 

Grenache has higher wine alcohol content and comes with juicy red fruit flavors, like strawberry and raspberry. It also has subdued notes of violet, cinnamon, orange, and tobacco. It makes a sophisticated match for the bold simplicity of fried chicken. 

Trying new wines with your favorite chicken dish is sure to produce useful information. You may find that you need a lighter wine for a richer meal, or that going light on a sauce brings out deeper flavors in the wine. 

This kind of attentiveness helps you master other kinds of wine pairing, such as salmon meals. This widely consumed fish can take on dozens of flavors that influence which wine goes well with the meal. Take a look below for our ideas on salmon wine pairings.

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Wine Pairing With Salmon 

Since salmon can be prepared several ways, there is no single wine pairing that suits all meals. It depends completely on the recipe at hand and how the salmon is cooked.

To get the most out of your salmon pairing, it’s essential to understand the four components of any wine’s taste: mouthfeel, acidity, sweetness, and tannins. Let’s briefly cover these wine terms. 

Wine Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel of a wine is what describes the thickness or consistency of wine while you are drinking it. Viewed another way, wine with a thicker mouthfeel will be “chunkier,” whereas a thin mouthfeel wine will be a water-like consistency. Wines with denser mouthfeel also tend to have more prominent wine legs.

Wine Acidity

Wine acidity describes the degree to which a drink is sour or smooth. Alcohol is naturally acidic, but different kinds of wine are fermented for more or less time to create varying acidity levels.

Meals that lean towards spring and summer themes, like a salmon dish with several herbs, should be paired with a more acidic wine. Salmon dishes that are baked, seared, or broiled are a better fit for less acidic wines. 

Wine Sweetness

Wine sweetness is exactly as it sounds--how dry or sweet a wine is. The sweetness of a wine is determined by how much sugar is left over after the fermentation process. 

Wine Tannins

The tannins in wine are responsible for the bitterness and plant tastes of a particular flavor. Wines with higher tannin levels have darker, earthen tastes and a dense mouthfeel. Wines with lower tannin levels, like rosé and white wines, are good pairs for lighter salmon dishes.

Smoked Salmon Wine Pairing

If you’re gearing up for some smoked salmon, there are several wine pairings at your disposal. One of the most popular is Blanc de blancs champagne, a type of Chardonnay. Any Chardonnay is going to have a medium-to-full mouthfeel, moderate acidity and tannins, and higher level of dryness. 

Best Wine To Pair With Salmon

While there’s no single best wine to pair with salmon, many times an oak-aged Chardonnay is a great choice. The naturally-occurring flavors of pineapple, mango, and apple, notes of vanilla, and smooth body of Chardonnay match the delicate, buttery texture of salmon. 

Having salmon wine pairings down pat takes you from novice chef to up-and-coming connoisseur. With these wine recommendations at your side, you’ll know what to select whether you’re serving customers or having a big family dinner. 

Up next on the list of popular, challenging meals to pair wine with is steak. This timeless dish can be made in so many ways that it’s critical to understand which drinks go with it. Keep reading for our top choices when pairing wine with steak. 

Steak Wine Pairing

There are many wines that pair with steak, but sweeter red wine types tend to be the best fit. Most red wines offer fruity aromas and tastes that bring out the savory, spiced, and herby elements of steak. They also have different tannin levels, offering you light or strong dryness depending on the recipe you’re making. 

Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel are some of the most popular choices to pair with steak. Each of these wines embodies various red and black fruits, ranging from the sweetness of strawberries to the tangy, woodsiness of currants and cherries. 

Red Wine To Pair With Steak

Steak is a dish that can be prepared dozens of ways--from sweet, leaner dishes to peppery, spicy, and fatty ones. For richer steak meals, both Shiraz and Sangiovese varieties make excellent pairs.

Shiraz has a peppery sweetness to it that both complements fatty dishes and provides a counterpoint for them. Shiraz has higher tannin and acidity levels, deepening the flavor dimensions in fat-heavy steak dinners. 

For lighter dishes, Malbecs and Pinot Noirs are great choices. Malbec is a well-rounded classic for its chocolatey notes, red fruit tastes, and because it’s a low acid wine. 

Pinot Noir is similarly light and fruity, offering cherry, forest floor, and vanilla flavors. Its natural sweetness comes partly from being aged in oak barrels, partly from the grape type, and partly from its terroir.

Best Wine To Pair With Steak

There’s no single best wine to pair with steak, but on the whole, sweet red wines make excellent matches. Zinfandels and Cabernets are two such examples that offer you variety in meal pairing. 

A Zinfandel is great if you want sweet red and black fruit flavors, like boysenberry, plum, and cranberry. Cabernet is a great choice as well, largely for its herbaceous and oaky tastes. Cabernets also offer black cherry, pepper, and blackcurrant flavors, which are bold and acidic. 

When you’ve mastered the delicate art of steak wine pairing, you’ve gained a skill few people have. You can now find your way through laid-back cookouts and formal family dinners. 

Another meal to pair wine with is lamb, which is similar to steak, but it has its own characteristics. Read the next section to discover our tips on lamb wine pairing. 

Lamb Wine Pairing

Though every lamb dish is going to differ, the best general wine pairing is an Italian red wine. Examples include Dolcetto, Barbera, Sangiovese, Primitivo, and Valpolicella. 

Red wines are typically red and black fruit-flavored, including raspberries, cranberries, chokeberries, or elderberries. Other wines with these flavors include Lambrusco, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese. 

Wine Pairing With Lamb Chops

Pairing a Bordeaux red blend or Pinot Noir with lamb chops works well. These red wines provide sweet and tangy flavors like French Oak, raspberry, and cherry. 

Rack Of Lamb Wine Pairing

Both red and some types of white wine are good choices when looking for a rack of lamb wine pairing. Lamb that involves more herbs goes great with a Sauvignon Blanc. This is a white wine with grapefruit, lime, and passion fruit flavors, which provide a counterpoint to savory dishes like this one. 

Dishes that are a little bit lighter can be paired with stronger wines, like a Rhone Syrah. This red wine type has high tannin levels, is full-bodied, and embodies blueberry and olive tastes.

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Best Wine To Pair With Lamb

Southern Italian red wines, Spanish red wines, and red blends are usually the best wines to pair with lamb. Their red fruit flavors, medium-to-full bodies, and strong acid content cut through the other ingredients in a lamb dish. 

Most lamb recipes are dense, rich meals that easily overpower low calorie wines. Since red wines have stronger tannins and higher alcohol content, they match the heartiness of the meat and any sauces included in the recipe.

A short time ago, pairing wines up with your own meals may have been intimidating. Sifting through large amounts of information often leads to more confusion, not less. 

Now that you have these proven wine pairing ideas at your disposal, there’s no meal you can’t take on. From boosting bar sales with the right drinks to hosting the party of the year at home, these wine recommendations can be used again and again.