The Basics of French Food and Wine Pairing

wine pairings

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No other world cuisine benefits from food and wine pairing as much as French food. The heart of French tradition is rooted in savoring the balance and flavors of food, both as individual ingredients and complicated dishes. A perfect French wine pairing only enhances the food. 

Exactly How do You Pair Food and Wine?

The French enjoy a glass of wine with many of their meals, a small luxury on a daily basis. This wine will be local, even, a homegrown and made wine. Complex wines are kept for special meals and occasions. 

The Basic Rules on Pairing

Rule 1: Red wine goes with meat, and white wine goes with seafood and poultry.

Rule 2: Forget that rule and drink what you enjoy,

The hard and fast rules for enjoying wine with food are now archaic and irrelevant and the point is to take pleasure in sipping the wine and enhancing your dining experience.

Four Factors on Pairing Food and Wine to Ponder

If, like most people, you have a small number of wines that are your favorites and don’t do much experimenting beyond those few bottles, try pairing different varieties of wine with the meals you cook to understand the basics of wine tasting. The acidity, body, aromas, and flavors of wine are all factors to consider when searching for one to match a specific dish. These attributes mean different thing to different palates.

Acid: Sour and sharp notes of the wine will determine the acidity level. This is much like biting into a super sour apple feels on the palate as it hits your tongue with a sharp sensation.

Body: The body of the wine is established by the weight and mouthfeel when you taste it. It can be light, also called thin, or it can be heavy, creamy even oily. As with all wine attributes, the body is an opinion of the taster.

Aroma: The aroma, or bouquet, of wine, is about the smell. The nose of wine can be one or two notes or a complex mix of aromas that blend and change as the wine is swirled and exposed to air. Try to identify earthy, floral, fruity, and nutty notes, among many others.

Flavor: The flavor of the wine is mostly determined by its aromas; what we smell is what we taste which will be unrelated to the smell. For example, a wine may have a light, fruity bouquet, or deep, earthy flavors. You are likely to find wines with nutty aromas that become coffee-chocolate notes of flavor.

Putting It All Together

Matching the food to wine is easier than it sounds. Determine if it is light, spicy, sweet, or rich, and match it to your dish. The rule of thumb is to pair wine with food that equals its intensity. A flavorful chicken recipe will go well with a light, spicy-sweet white, a steak with a heavier sauce to a full-bodied, strong red.

Suggestions for Excellent Food and Wine Pairings

  • Sauternes with bleu cheese.
  • Chardonnay with chicken, scallops, lobster, and brie.
  • Sauvignon Blanc with shrimp, acidic pork, oysters, and whitefish.
  • Pinot Noir with salmon, fatty fish, and duck.
  • Zinfandel or red/white Burgundy with turkey, pheasant, and quail.
  • Red Bordeaux with lamb.
  • Beaujolais with traditional pork.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon with beef, venison, and grilled meat.
  • Burgundy with braised meat and game.
  • White wine served with skate wing with brown butter.

Updated by Elaine Lemm