5 Secrets Sommeliers use at Pairings: Food and Wine Crash Course

Food and Wine Pairing Crash Course

Over the years wine and food and their appreciation has evolved. Gone are the days wine was merely for washing down meals after a long day at work. Granted, at decadent soirees, there is considerable emphasis placed on each ingredient both in the food and in the wine. Sometimes, it all seems a jumble of words and phrases that the sommelier is privy to and we can only sit and nod while getting a little buzzed. So, slamming the proverbial fist on the table, we set out to make sense of it all and came up with the five secrets sommeliers use at pairings that you can use in the comfort of your home to wow your wine snob friends.

Forewarning, reading this will mean you might have to throw out learned rules like matching white wines with white meat and red with red. Even though they are established, sometimes a little adventure reveals a wonder-world. 

1. Understand the flavor of food

Food comes in five recognized favors; sweet, salty, bitter, umami. Umami is the savoriness of food. 
Think of a lemon, it tastes bitter yet there is a mouth-coating sensation that makes it palatable, that's umami. Every dish made has either of these components or one dominant flavor that takes the lead. Cremé bruléè is creamy, Kimchi is tangy, 

Granted, there are foods that are bland and work off other food's flavors. These pair well with medium bodied red wines with low tannins like Pinot Noirs and Merlot.

Once you find what flavor to focus on, you can easily find wine to match it.

Tip: It is much easier, preferable even, to start with a dish in mind then work backwards and choose the wine to pair it with.

2. Get in tune with your wine's structure

The structure of wine is made up of tannin, acidity, sweetness, body and their overall balance. The finish only matters if you would like to cellar it for a while, or merely looking at the label to gauge how much tannin (or acidity in white wine) there is.

Tannins are a mouth watering sensation that cause your lips to pucker and leave a little gritty feeling on your teeth and lips. Like nibbling on a lemon rind would or drinking strong tea. Acidity works in contrast with sweetness. It renders the taste refreshing and contributes in great deal to the fruity or floral aromas of the wine.Ever noticed how some acidic wines taste slightly sweet at the finish? It could be due to residual sugars after fermentation, or that the fruity/floral notes on the nose have tricked the brain to think the vino is sweet.

The body of wine can range from light to medium to full. Picture a glass of sparkling water, another of passion juice and yet another of milk. Each will have different weight on the tongue and texture too!

3. Match like for like.

Now that we have our bases covered, pairing elements of food that are similar to the wine should be a breeze. Fatty, full flavored dishes will match perfectly with full-bodied wines, perhaps with some acidity to boot. Here's where white on white works. A creamy sauce against a Chardonnay. Classic.

Tip: While pairing sweet wines with desserts, make sure the dish is wine than the dish. Otherwise the wine will come off light and lose its charm.

4. Pit contrasting flavors against each other

Salt vs sweet, spice vs body(full-bodied wines). It will matter little how spicy your dish is if you pair it with a full bodied Syrah. The grape not only packs its own spicy punch, but the broad body will mellow out the attack on your tongue.

5. Serve in the proper order.

Indeed, there is an appropriate order. Dry or young wines first progressing into sweet or elegant and maturer wines. Say you included three wines, a dry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, a Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and a sweet special late harvest non-vintage. That would be the order to serve them during dinner matched from starter to dessert. This way, there is less chance of tiring out you palate and dulling it against the next wine.


Habitually use the wine you will serve in a dish that calls for wine and never, ever, ever use cooking wine in recipes. They are typically made with limited character. This is golden advice from Karen McNeil, " When these wines are heated, they reduce and release their off flavors into the food."
A brilliant start for wine pairing at home would be the Adelaida Cellars 2015 Picpoul Blanc  with a grilled Salmon with a honey dressing.
Join the Paso Robles Wine Club to taste more great wines from Paso Robles Wine Country.