Many wine pairings focus on complementary characteristics, finding something -- body, flavor, color or region -- shared by both the food and the wine. But another approach that can work well is to focus on contrast. Find something in the wine that's different from the food in a way that will make both taste better. What you're aiming for is not a horrible clash of elements, but balance.
Pair a wine with high acid content with very hot, spicy food, for example. The wine will make you salivate and help cool your mouth. If you're serving a fish or poultry dish with a rich, creamy sauce, serve a wine that's crisp and highly acidic.
Wines high in tannins taste softer and less bitter when served with fatty, protein-rich foods. Think red meat and cheese. If a wine is almost too sweet, drink it with salty foods. The wine will taste less sweet, and the salty food will taste better. Sour wines such as Sauvignon Blanc can cut the richness in fatty foods.
Do you like cranberries with turkey, a relatively bland meat? Then serve a wine with red berry flavors, maybe a Pinot Noir, with your turkey.
Keep reading for the single most important rule in pairing food with wine.