5 Best Food and Drink Pairings

Glasses of red and white wine with food
Pairing flavors in your meal with flavors in your drink can enhance the taste of both. See more easy weeknight meal pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/Daniel Korzeniewski

Everyone has their own favorites when it comes to washing down a meal, whether it's that ice cold bottle of Japanese beer with your California roll, a frosty mug of icy soda to go with your pepperoni pizza or the classic milk and cookies combination.

Selecting a beverage whose qualities complement a dish can kick up subtle elements of flavor that you didn't even know existed. But how do you get started? The trick is in identifying the key flavors in your food and pairing it with those in your beverage. This can take some practice, but to get you started, here are some classic food and drink pairings that come highly recommended.


5: Red Wine with Beef

Plated tenderloin steak with red wine
A red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon, tastes good with steak.
©iStockphoto.com/Rohit Seth

Pairing wine with food is all about finding one of the four basic tastes -- sweet, salty, sour or bitter -- in a dish and finding a wine that fits with it, either by having similar qualities or by contrasting them properly. Red wine is commonly paired with beef, and for a good reason. Cabernet sauvignon, for example, is a very bold wine with flavors of black currant, plum, cherry and spice. The boldness of the cabernet pairs perfectly with rich, dark meats.

For a winning pairing, try a flavorful cabernet with some braised beef short ribs and grilled vegetables. In fact, you can even use cabernet in your short rib recipe for the ultimate pairing experience. If you're not a fan of the cabernet sauvignon, you might also try a merlot or pinot noir with your beef dish.


4: Wine and Cheese

White wine and cheeses in California
White wines, such as chardonnay, go well with mild cheeses.

Wine and cheese is a classic combo for parties, picnics and intimate gatherings. A good cheese pairing is known to smooth out the wine and actually enhance its flavor. There are thousands of cheeses and wines, leading to a seemingly limitless number of potential combinations. To avoid being intimidated by this notion, learn just a couple of basics and then explore some tastes on your own.

Red wine generally matches well with hard cheese, while white does well with the soft ones. But there are many exceptions here -- cabernet with brie is a nice match, as is chardonnay with mild cheddar. Try some different pairings to see what satisfies your taste buds. Also, if you're still not sure where to start, you might look for free wine and cheese pairing classes at your local wine shop or cooking supply store.


3: White Wine and Seafood

White wine with plated tuna and scallops
A dry white wine is a good match for many kinds of seafood, such as ahi tuna and scallops.
©iStockphoto.com/Jonathan Bielaski

While white wine has undergone some innovative changes when it comes to pairing in recent years, it has traditionally been paired with fish and other kinds of seafood. Chardonnay is a popular white wine that comes in a variety of different flavor profiles. It's typically a little sweeter than a dry pinot grigio, for instance, and tastes excellent with seafood.

For a great menu to go with your chardonnay, pair it with a mild cheddar for a light first bite. Crab cakes or oysters make a great appetizer pairing, and you can follow that with a main course of fish or shrimp. Pasta with a light cream sauce can be served as a side dish or as part of the main entrée. If you're not a fan of chardonnay, a light sauvignon blanc or a dry riesling also would match well with seafood dishes.


2: Beer and Any Food

Mug of beer with shrimp
Many kinds of beer, such as ale, pair well with seafood.
©iStockphoto.com/Eugene Bochkarev

Pairing spirits with food isn't limited to wine. There's also a movement in which great chefs are pairing some of their menu items with micro-brewed beers. Much like wine, craft beers are often known for their complex and bold flavors. The craft brewers use everything from fruit to chocolate and coffee in their recipes, and these flavors can match well with the right food.

Almost any kind of ale, from ambers to porters, is great with most beef recipes. Pilsners and lagers are typically paired with pork and poultry. A wide range, from light pilsners to wheat beers and even dark stouts, can be paired with seafood.


1: Dessert and Wine

Red wine and chocolate mousse
Several red wines enhance the flavor of chocolate desserts.
©iStockphoto.com/Bill Lawson

Most folks know a little bit about pairing their favorite entrées with the right variety of red or white wine, but they might be a little more in the dark when the dessert menu rolls around. Chocolate desserts are a staple for many and the flavor can be enhanced if you pair it with a vintage port wine. Cognac (a spirit made from distilled wine) and bordeaux also taste good with chocolate recipes. Dark chocolates go well with the softer flavor of a merlot, and desserts combining chocolate with berries can be paired with the rich, deep flavors of a cabernet sauvignon.

Cheesecake is a tough match, but your best bet is a dry or sweet riesling. This is also a good wine to pair with any kind of fruit tart, pie or turnover. When in doubt, serve some champagne or sparkling wine -- they should go with most any dessert recipe.


To learn even more about how to match drinks to your meal, follow the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Brewers Association. "Pairing Beer with Food." Beertown. 2009.http://www.beertown.org/education/pairing.html
  • Cooking Solutions. "Food & Wine Pairing, Wine Pairing Advice." 2009.http://www.cooking-solutions.com/winepairing.html
  • Koscica, Milica. "Cognac: The Elixir of the Gods." American University. April 2004.http://www1.american.edu/TED/cognac.htm
  • LeDraoulec, Pascale. "Ten Perfect Food & Wine Pairings." Forbes. March 4, 2008. http://www.forbes.com/2008/03/04/wine-food-pairing-forbeslife-cx_pl_0304wine.html
  • Shea, Lisa. "Chardonnay Wine Food Pairings." Wine Intro. 2009. http://www.wineintro.com/food/types/chardonnay.html
  • Shea, Lisa. "Red Wine and Food Pairings." Wine Intro. 2009.http://www.wineintro.com/food/charts/redwine.html
  • Shea, Lisa. "White Wine and Food Pairings." Wine Intro. 2009. http://www.wineintro.com/food/charts/whitewine.html
  • Shea, Lisa. "Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide." Wine Intro. 2009. http://www.wineintro.com/food/cheese/winechart.html