When it comes to pairing wine with your party food, everyone has their own rules. There's the tried and true "White goes with fish. Red goes with red meat.”
And then thousands of tips on the internet. You might get overwhelmed, throw up your hands and say "Who cares, as long as it has alcohol in it!”
To help you cut through the noise, we’ve compiled 5 rules to follow when trying to pick the perfect wine to go with your party.
Rule 1: Pair salty with sweet
If you love chocolate-covered pretzels, you know this rule is definitely true.
The reason it works is that salt is an ingredient that enhances flavor, whether you’re adding it to chocolate chip cookies or a steak.
So when you combine something like a rich, salty cheese with a sweet wine, the saltiness enhances the sweetness, so that both elements shine.
If you’re planning a fancier event, oysters and champagne are a classic “salty/sweet” combination, as is port and blue cheese.
If the party is more casual, salty popcorn with a buttery-sweet chardonnay could do the trick or try salt & vinegar chips with a tangy, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which will balance out the vinegar flavor.
As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless, so don’t be afraid to experiment and have some fun!
Rule 2: Pair fat with acid
If you’re serving any fatty dishes at your party, like croquettes, meatballs, or cheesy dips, you’ll want to look for a wine that’s high in acid or tannins.
The reason acid works so well with heavier foods is twofold: first, it’s simply refreshing.
Second, the acid acts like a palate cleanser, stripping the fat from your tongue, so the richness of the food doesn’t become overwhelming.
To start, look at your menu and decide if your food would go best with whites or reds.
For example, if you’re serving crostinis with lemon and ricotta, try a Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chablis, or Muscadet, as these are all high-acidity wines.
If you’re serving beef sliders, try a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, or Sangiovese, as these wines are all high in tannins.
Rule 3: Pair smoke with oak
If you’re serving any grilled or charred foods, like blackened chicken, charred veggies, steaks, or even a gourmet grilled cheese, you’ll need a wine that can hold its own against intense flavors.
In these cases, opt for an oaky wine, meaning the wine has been aged in oak barrels.
The reason this works so well is that the smoky flavors subdue the oak, which brings forward the vibrant flavors of the fruit.
While chardonnay is typically thought of as an “oaky” wine, there are many other varieties of wine that have been aged in oak barrels, from Cabernet Sauvignon and Rioja to Pinot Grigio.
If you’re not sure how to find the right oaky wine, head to the local liquor store and ask the clerk to point you in the right direction.
Rule 4: Pair spice with sweet
If you’ve ever eaten spicy food then tried to wash it down with a bold red wine, it may have felt like you were igniting the flames, rather than calming them down.
This usually happens with highly alcoholic or tannic wine, as spice can actually intensify the alcohol and the tannins in the wine, which can make a spicy dish seem unbearably hot.
With spicy dishes, oaky wines can also cause issues, as oak tends to be an overpowering flavor that doesn’t offer enough crisp acidity to complement the spice.
So if you’re planning on serving any spicy dishes, like curry, chicken wings, or a spicy chili, we’d recommend skipping the Barolo or Cabernet and sticking with something light, fruity, or sweet.
Light, fruity, and sweeter wines generally work with spicy foods, as there are fewer tannins in the wines (less bitterness to compete with your dish), and more fruity sweetness from the residual sugar, which offers a nice contrast, and balances the heat of spicy dishes.
For whites, try something like an Albariño or Vouvray, and for reds, try something like a light Zinfandel or Beaujolais.
Rule 5: What grows together goes together
If you’re throwing a party with a regional theme, for example, a Parisian-themed bridal shower or a Spanish tapas night with the girls, you can’t go wrong by abiding by Rule 5.
Generally speaking, food and wine that come from the same region share the same terrain, which means they naturally have flavors that complement each other.
So if you’re serving a charcuterie plate with Manchego and Iberico ham, selecting a Rioja or a Tempranillo would be an excellent choice.
And if you’re hosting a Parisian bridal shower with brie and mini baguette sandwiches, try a Chenin Blanc or even a French rosé.
What are your tips for pairing wine with your party menu?
As you know, there’s a million ways to pair food and wine.
Which approach has worked best for you? Have you discovered a new pairing combo?
Share your tips and stories below!