Food&Wine pairing – rules

Pairing food with wine is perceived as something complicated and reserved only for professionals… However, flavour pairing has a few basic rules and patterns; if applied, we can enjoy them immensely. If you know the ingredients you use in the kitchen, and you know the wines enough to distinguish the basic styles (whether the wine is dry, what kind of body it has, and whether it has a fruity or some other character), you can start an endless game with flavours.

Rules for flavour pairing…

There are five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. When we talk about flavour pairing, we can try to pair the same flavours or completely opposite ones. In addition to taste, what we look at when pairing is: the strength (weight) of food, aggregate state, temperature, texture and method of preparation.

Rule number 1

When we talk about pairing the weight of the food itself with the wine, we must take care that the food does not overpower the wine and vice versa. We will mention two extreme examples in both cases.


Example If we serve a light red wine (young Pinot Noir, Kadarka or Prokupac) with the aged beef rump steak, the food will prevail, because in this case, the wine does not have enough strength to wash away the strength and weight of the rump steak. Similarly, if we serve aged Vranac, Plavac mali or Cabernet Sauvignon with the pumpkin tart, the wine will definitely prevail with its strength and weight in relation to the food.

Rule number 2

Wines with more pronounced acidity can be paired with dishes that contain a certain amount of sweetness or a certain amount of acid. When we talk about sweetness here, we don’t mean sugars, but fats, which our taste buds detect as something sweet. Likewise, when we talk about acids, we don’t mean vinegar, but the natural acidity that comes from fruit.


Example As a first example, we can take a combination of lamb under the sach and wine from Žilavka, and for the second example, we can give grilled perch with marinade and squeezed lemon juice in combination with wine from Smederevka.

Rule number 3

For extremely salty segments on the plate, we try to pair wine with pronounced acidity as well, considering that acidity and saltiness neutralize each other and go very well together.


Example Deep-fried sardines or fishlets in combination with Istrian Malvasia wine or Grašac. With these examples, we can mention another food element, which goes very well with wines with more pronounced acidity, and that is crispness (texture).

Rule number 4

In the case of red wines, in addition to the weight of the wine and the food, we are guided by the presence and ripeness of tannins (which tighten our mouths and leave a feeling of dryness on the palate). If the tannins are still astringent and in the ripening phase, we can pair such wines with less roasted meats, meats with more pronounced fat or dishes that have something creamy in their composition. However, if you like better-roasted meats or eat something that does not have fat or a creamy structure, you will not like wine with more pronounced tannins or wine of a variety characterized by the presence of tannins.


Example If we serve Vranac from North Macedonia with confit pork ribs and cauliflower puree, it would be a good pairing (the fat from the meat and the creamy structure of the puree match the tannins). However, if we serve the same Vranac with pork loin and grilled vegetables, that amount of tannin from the Vranac would have nothing to bind to in the food and that pairing would not be good (both segments from the plate are “dry”, and that dryness would only highlight the tannins ).

Rule number 5

In the case of red wines that have pronounced fruitiness or sweetness (sweetness because of the region they come from, but are otherwise dry in style), we do not try to emphasize that fruitiness or sweetness with fruit on the plate, because fruit on the plate (fruit-based sauce) would cover the fruitiness of the wine, leaving us with acidity only. Here, we try to choose food that will highlight the fruitiness, not hide it. This we can make with caramelized onions or use fruit for the marinade in which the meat rests. Such combinations give the meat a certain “fruity” element that will very nicely highlight the fruitiness of the wine.


Example If we were to pair the same Vranac from North Macedonia (Northern Macedonia gives us more alcohol due to the greater amount of sun, and in combination with the fruitiness of the Vranac, a certain amount of sweetness) with steak and forest fruit sauce (call it a “trend”), the fruit from the sauce would cover the fruitiness of the wine, which is an important feature of the wines from those areas. However, if we were to serve the same steak with caramelized onions, we would highlight exactly the main element of such a wine (fruitiness).

Rule number 6

With desserts, or with the sweet segments on the plate, for example, we try to make sure that the food is not sweeter than the wine or that the weight of the wine can handle the strength of the dessert. If the dessert is sweeter than the wine, the wine will fall into the shade and the pairing will not be good, because the sugar from the food will prevail over the sweetness from the wine and only the acidity from the wine will remain.


With desserts with intense chocolate, we try to pair, for example, Port (there are several types and we will write about it later). While with cakes with less pronounced sweetness (carrot cake with pomegranate gel and white chocolate ice cream), we would best pair certain late vintages of Riesling or Tokay.

Why do we pair food with wine?

Food and wine pairings can serve many different purposes. The most important thing is what we want to achieve with that pairing. Do we want to emphasise food or wine in that pairing, or do we want wine to be another ingredient on the plate that will complement the food and with its presence create some new flavours that do not exist in either the food or the wine if they were consumed separately?

In the end, the most important thing is whether you like something or not, and if you can influence some combinations, there is no end to your enjoyment…

Author : Nemanja Papić