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Wine and Food Pairings – Which Wine to Serve with Dinner

Most people love to throw dinner parties for their friends and family.  But, they may avoid serving wine because they do not know exactly what to serve.  Do you serve red or white with fish?  Will Merlot be okay if you are serving a Mexican dish?  Do not stress over it – there are some basic wine rules you can follow.

The number one rule of thumb when choosing wine is “red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat.”  This is not always true, but it generally works quite well when you are unsure.  One exception is chicken.  The meat is white, but a nice fruity red wine goes well with it.  The same can be said for tuna or salmon, so you do not have to always follow the rule of not serving red wine with fish.  The second rule is the rule of complements.  It is okay to match sweet seafood such as lobster with a sweet white wine.  The next rule is the opposites attract.  While you usually want to match like flavors, sometimes a contrast, such as a White Bordeaux with bluefish can be wonderful.

Outside of the basic rules, there are certain things you can look for and certain things you can avoid depending on what you are serving.  Here are some hints as to what to serve with particular types of food.

Salads and Appetizers

You should avoid serving wine during your salad, as vinegar and wine do not mix well.  But, if you are having an appetizer, you need to consider the ingredients in the appetizer to help you choose your wine.  If you are having a cheese tray, the type of cheese will help you determine the wine.  For example, cheddar is best with dry reds, Merlots, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Pinot Noir goes best with Swiss.  Camembert and brie are great with a Chardonnay.  The cheese we tend to think of as Italian such as parmigiano, romano, and reggiano go well with Italian dry red wines like Chianti and Barlol.  If you are serving something a fried appetizer, consider serving a crisp, fruity white or red wine to help cut the oily flavor.

Beef, Steak and Lamb

Do you remember the “red wine with red meat” rule?  That one is great to use when serving beef, steak, and lamb.  Choose a dry red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or a burgundy like Pinot Noir.  You can also consider serving an Italian red such as Barolo or Chianti.

 Fish and Seafood

To be safe, stick with a dry, crisp white wine.  Sauvignon Blanc goes well with white fish while Sancerre and Muscadet go well with oysters.  If you want to be different, try a fruity red wine (without tannins).  But, use caution when serving red, especially if you are serving white, delicate fish.  Cabernets with tannins combined with fish can leave a metallic taste in your mouth.

Poultry, Pork and Veal

For the most part, you want to follow the “white meat, white wine” rule with these.  White chardonnays and Pinot Blancs are great.  If you want to serve red with chicken, remember to choose a wine that is fruity like a Merlot or Zinfandel.


Think back to Thanksgiving.  Do you remember how well your cranberry sauce went with the turkey?  The same rule applies here.  For turkey, since it has both white and dark meat, you want something fruity and tart such as a Beaujolais for red or a Riesling for white.

Spicy Foods

If you are planning on service something spicy like Thai or Indian food, a sparkling wine works best.  Avoid wines with tannins and look for something fruity.  And, make sure the wine is well chilled.  Cold wine goes well with spicy foods.


The best thing to serve with a delicious dessert is a dessert wine.  In fact, you can skip the dessert part and just serve a dessert wine to your guests.  These are sweet wines often sold in smaller bottles as you don’t drink as much dessert wine as you do regular wine.  Wines such as Sauternes, Beerenauslese, Bermet and Cammandaria will make a great end to any evening.

The most important rule about what wine to serve is to avoid being snobby about wine.  There are no right answers, only basic rules to go by and even those, as you have seen, can be changed.  Do not be afraid to experiment with different tastes.  Chances are if you do not act like there is anything wrong with the wine you are serving, your guests will not either.

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