Pairing food and wine is an innovative endeavor. Experimentation is part of mastering this exquisite craft, yet some pairings are so good that we go back to them again and again.
These are the classic food and wine pairings, and although they’re not written in stone, consider them your culinary loadstars. Classics are known to spark some spirited debates, however, so if you want to become an expert, check out our listings of sommelier classes and wine schools.
Chablis and Oysters
Chablis is an acidic, mineral-driven, French white wine made from the Chardonnay grape. It might be a coincidence, but the chalky vineyard soils of Chablis are dotted with fossilized oyster shells. The salty, briny notes of this cool-climate wine make it a perfect pairing with raw oysters. This is a delicate pairing that accentuates the salty minerality on both sides; Chablis is discrete enough to let the subtle oyster flavors shine through.
But be careful: Chablis can be bolder than you think. Oak aging can ruin your delicate pairing, so for this one, simple is better. Oysters also pair well with other French whites with a similar profile, like Muscadet.
Coq au Vin and Red Burgundy
Coq au vin is chicken cooked in the wine, usually a Burgundian red. The cooking method makes the dish immediately compatible with the wine itself. A tart, red Burgundy of medium strength matches the weight of the hearty, comforting dish. Flavors mirror each other in this food and wine pairing in an unambiguous manner; it is an exciting gastronomic experience.
Chucrut Garnie and Riesling
Alsace, the French region with German spirit, makes a distinctive plate of charcuterie, sausages, and fermented cabbage they call chucrut garnie. The region is famous for its white wine production, in which Riesling is king. Alsatians drink local wine, and in this case, the results are pitch-perfect. The dish goes well with other Alsatian whites like Pinot Blanc, but Riesling is hard to match.
Note: Most Alsatian Rieslings are dry (trocken), perfect for food pairing.
Bistecca Fiorentina and Chianti Classico
The rolling hills of Tuscany are home to the famous, immense Bistecca Fiorentina, a T-Bone steak made from the large Chianina cattle. There’s no doubt that this bulky cut would be great with a firm Napa Cab, but there’s something magical about pairing it with a local Chianti Classico. Chianti is light to medium-bodied at most; it lets the beef take center stage.
Champagne and Caviar
Classic food and wine pairings are sometimes concept-driven, not just a sensory experience. It’s like driving a Ferrari while sporting Persol shades and Ferragamo shoes: luxury upon luxury is rarely a bad thing.
Technically, the crisp acidity in Champagne cuts the salty, briny, unctuousness of caviar. The wine freshens the palate after each bite. Premium Champagne also has a creaminess that compliments caviar’s mouthfeel. This is one you have to taste to appreciate fully.
Brasato al Barolo and Barolo
Like coq au vin in France, the Piedmontese slow-cook tough cuts of meat in red wine. The result is a dish, Brasato al Barolo, born to be enjoyed with local red wines from the Nebbiolo grape. Cooking with Barolo is a pricey proposal, but substitutions like a Barbaresco or Ghemme will hardly disturb the result. This is also the home of aromatic truffles, so any dish flavored with this delicacy partners perfectly with the fantastic Nebbiolo wines of the region.
Steak and Cabernet Sauvignon
This is the classic pairing that turns people into Cabernet Sauvignon lovers for life. The affinity of steak with this classic Bordeaux grape is based on the interaction between structured red wine tannins and protein. Tannins in the wine tame the meat, making it feel softer. You may enhance this pairing by butter-searing your steak with a sprig of rosemary. The aromas and texture of the wine will become enlivened in this preparation.
Lobster and Chardonnay
Lobster’s luxurious mouthfeel is enhanced when poached or grilled in butter. You can find the same buttery flavors in a premium oaked Chardonnay. The pairing is not just precise but deeply satisfying. Both food and wine are plentiful and unctuous. And the citrusy acids in the wine add a splash of excitement to every bite.
Sauternes and Foie Gras
Foie gras de canard is a fatty delicacy found in every French celebration. Traditionally paired with Sauternes, this pairing never goes out of fashion. The honeyed sweetness in this botrytized dessert wine adds to the silky nature of foie, with the wine’s acidity creating a bright note on the palate. It is a mouth-watering combination that shows opposites can attract.
Port and Stilton
While intense Stilton blue cheese can be overpowering, a late bottled vintage Port, or even a 10-year-old Tawny, has the strength to balance it out. There’s no better way to end an evening than with a glass of Douro’s and a big slice of veiny, blue cheese. If that sounds too old-fashioned, think again. This is a pairing that shows some traditions should never be forgotten.