SMOKE WITH OAK
Pair grilled or charred foods with wines that have been aged in oak (e.g. California Chardonnay). Because oaked wines are often more intense, they can overwhelm the flavors in a dish, so they need to be paired with foods that match that intensity. Grilled/charred foods tend to tame that oaky intensity and to bring out the fruit flavors of the wine instead.
SWEET WITH HEAT
Pair exotic spicy foods with wines that have some residual sugar (e.g. German Riesling or and off-dry Chenin Blanc). Residual sugar actually cools down spice and creates balance between the food and the wine. Alternatively, avoid pairing spicy food with highly alcoholic or tannic wine (e.g. Italian Barolo). The heat of the food will actually intensify the alcohol and the tannins in the wine, which in turn will fan the flames and exaggerate the heat to seem even spicier.
MATCH FLAVORS AND TEXTURES
Pair foods with wines that have similar—or complementary—flavors and textures. An easy way to do this is to match mildly flavored wines with mildly flavored foods and big, flavorful foods with big, flavorful wines. Similarly, rich foods should be paired with rich wines. When food and wine have similar qualities, they complement each other and enhance the textures/flavors that they have in common. There’s a reason lobster with butter sauce is often paired with California Chardonnay—they are both buttery in flavor and share a rich, creamy texture. The same goes for French, un-oaked Chablis and raw oysters—both are briny in flavor and share a light, delicate texture.
ACID AND TANNIN WITH FAT
Pair fried or fatty foods with wines that are high in acid (example: French Sauvignon Blanc) or tannin (example: California Cabernet Sauvignon). Acid cuts through richness in food and rounds out the flavors in your mouth. It also acts as a palate cleanser, which helps create balance between rich/oily foods and wine. However, avoid pairing acidic wines with creamy sauces. (Think of squeezing lemon into a cup of milk!) This pairing will clash, so you’re better off pairing cream-based dishes with a complementary wine instead.
Like acid, tannin also cuts through richness. This is another reason why the red wine with red meat rule works—the tannins in a wine like Cabernet Sauvignon cut through fat and help strip it from your palate. Tannins essentially act as a palate cleanser so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the richness of the dish.
SWEET WITH SALT
Pair sweet wines with salty foods. If you’ve ever had chocolate-covered pretzels or kettle corn, you know firsthand that salty and sweet can be a magical pairing. This same principle applies to salty foods paired with off-dry (slightly sweet) or sweet wines. The combination makes sweet wine taste less sweet and more fruity, and salty food taste less salty and more savory. In effect, the sweet counteracts the salt and vice versa so that both elements shine. A classic example of this is pairing blue cheese with Port.
SWEET WITH SWEET
Pair dessert with wine that is at least as sweet as the dessert itself, if not sweeter. Sweet wines showcase the sweet flavors in food, but if the food is sweeter than the wine, the wine will just taste flabby. Another good rule to follow is to pair dessert with a sweet wine that has complementary flavors. For example, Tawny Port has a sweet, nutty flavor that goes nicely with sweet, nutty desserts.