When choosing a beverage to complement a meal,
there’s no reason to restrict yourself to wine. Although
wine can be suave and elegant or simple and refreshing,
when food is spicy or very robust it can overwhelm or
compete with a wine unless you choose very carefully.
What follows is all you need to know to get you started
choosing, serving, and enjoying wine with ease.
Know Your Wines
There are two kinds of wine: red (which includes rose)
and white. Wine is described primarily by its relative
sweetness. A dry wine lacks natural sugars (but it still
can be perceived as fruity), a semidry wine generally
tastes sweet, and a sweet wine is very sweet.
White wines range from very dry (Manzanilla
sherry) to very sweet (Tokay), while red wines are usually
dry (except for some kosher-type wines). In general,
wines are named either for the predominant grape
used in production (cabernet sauvignon) or for the region
of production (Chianti). A wine is judged by
three basic components: its color, aroma (bouquet),
and taste. White wines range in color from pale yellowgreen
to straw yellow to deep gold, whereas red wines
range from purplish red to ruby red.
What is a good wine? Any wine you enjoy drinking.
Let your eyes, nose, and mouth be your guides.
One of the most popular wines,
chardonnay is produced the world over. Most chardonnays
are buttery, fruity, and fairly dry; they are often
aged in oak. Chardonnays that have been aged in small
oak barrels (sometimes new ones) are often characterized
as being “oaky,” a quality that can mask a wine’s
lovely fruity qualities. Serve with summer foods, such
as grilled salmon or chicken, as well as with roasted
chicken or fish.
A specialty of Alsace, France,
although it’s produced in other countries as well. It is a
spicy wine that can be dry or semisweet. If dry, serve
with fish, poultry, or spicy foods. If sweet, serve with
This wine has a floral fragrance with
hints of honey. Late-harvest Riesling is produced from
super-ripe grapes that are intensely sweet, making it
one of the world’s most delicious wines. German Rieslings
are much sweeter than Alsatian Rieslings. They
are excellent with Chinese food, lightly spiced food,
and roast chicken. Alsatian Rieslings are ideal summertime
Wines from the Burgundy region of
France are elegant, highly prized, and among the most
expensive in the world. Burgundys, made from 100
percent pinot noir grapes, are lighter in body and color
than some other red wines. They bear no resemblance
to the typical California Burgundy. Enjoy with salmon,
red meat, pork, poultry, and game.
Produced in many countries,
this well-known wine is full-bodied and can be
complex, with hints of spice and ripe fruit. It complements
hearty meats, poultry, and stews.
One of the most famous Italian wines,
true Chianti is Tuscan. This sturdy, dry wine goes
nicely with tomato-based pasta dishes, steaks, hamburgers,
Rich, fragrant, and smooth bodied, this
wine is easy to like. Serve with robust foods such as
lamb, sausages, stews, braises, and Cornish hens.
This intensely flavored wine is now
produced in Oregon and California—often with great
success. The wine can be light or full bodied. It goes
with almost any food but is especially good with
salmon, poultry, pork, veal, ham, and cheese.
Originally grown in Europe, “zin” has
become a uniquely California wine. It has a spicy,
fruity, slight raspberry flavor. It can stand up to hearty
foods, such as steaks, lamb, veal chops, game birds, and
Madeira, Sherry, and Port These are wines that
have been fortified with a spirit (usually brandy) to increase
their alcohol content. They are usually enjoyed
after a meal, although dry sherry is often sipped before
dinner as an apertif.
This light-bodied wine is made from red
grapes: The grape skins are left on just long enough to
produce the desired pink color. (Inexpensive roses are
often tinted.) Serve well chilled, before dinner or with
These bubbly wines range from
slightly sweet to dry. Champagne is the most famous
(even though we often use the term to mean any
sparkling wine). True champagne is produced only in
the Champagne region of France by the traditional
methode champenoise, but other countries also make
fine sparklers, too. Sparkling wines go with every food,
Serving wine at the proper temperature helps to bring
out all its flavor. Red wine is often served too warm,
while white wine is often served too cold, which makes
it difficult to fully appreciate them. Red wine should
be served at cool room temperature. If it’s too warm,
place it in a bucket of ice water for five minutes. Some
young and fruity reds, such as Beaujolais, are best
when slightly chilled. White wines and sparkling wines
should be served well chilled but not so cold that their
delicious flavors are hidden. To quick-chill white or
sparkling wine, submerge the bottle in a bucket or pot
filled with half ice and half water. Or wrap the bottle in
several thicknesses of wet paper towels and place in the
freezer for 20 to 30 minutes or until chilled. (Check to
make sure the wine doesn’t freeze.)
Wine is traditionally served in stemmed glasses: The
large flat base allows you to swirl the wine, which helps
release its aroma and flavor. When drinking wine, hold
the glass by the stem. This is especially important with
chilled wines; it prevents the heat from your hand from
warming the wine. Glasses should be filled one-half to
two-thirds full to leave enough room for swirling.
Exposing wine to air lets it “breathe” and release its
flavor, but simply uncorking the bottle doesn’t do
much—the wine needs to be poured. If you wish,
decant it (pour it into a decanter) before serving. (If decanting
an aged wine, leave any sediment in the bottle.)
Pairing Wine With Food
There really aren’t any strict rules when it comes to pairing
wine with food, but try to match the intensity of
the flavors. For example, serve a light wine with a delicate
entree and a robust wine with a full-flavored dish.
Gewurztraminer is a good match for gingery Asian
dishes, while zinfandel can stand up to the spicy flavors
of Mexican food. An easy way to pair wine with food is
to serve a wine from the same region or country as the
recipe you are preparing. For example, a paella is best
enjoyed with a Spanish wine, while pasta with tomato
sauce is ideally matched with an Italian red wine.
Here are a few rules of thumb: Red wines go well
with meats, roast chicken, salmon, tomato-based pasta
dishes, and hard cheeses (like Parmesan). White wines
are a good match for delicately flavored fish, skillet
poultry dishes, vegetable dishes, cheese-based pasta
dishes, and soft and semisoft cheeses.