Wine, Wine Pairing, Wine Tasting



The Harvest Wine Festivals in New Mexico—Las Cruces and Albuquerque—is fast approaching. I’ve worked many wine festivals and one of the common comments or questions I get has to do with how a wine will pair with a particular food. Now things can get a bit dicey-spicy in New Mexico where over half of the wines really need to pair with red or green chile. In fact, I think a lot of the reason people either find wine too bitter or desire really sweet wine is because of the heat inherent in most of our New Mexican foods.

Nonetheless, not everyone is from New Mexico AND we really do eat some foods without added chile. If you’re planning a trip to the wine festival, or you just want a good wine to pair with your weekend BBQ and friends, I hope this little guide will help you select your next wine.

In the past—the wine snob past—there were some hard and fast rules about wine and food pairings. For example: Never have red wine with fish or chicken. Never have white wine with steak. You can never go wrong with wine and chocolate.

False! False! False! You can have a red/rosé wine with fish and chicken AND you can have a white wine with steak AND chocolate with wine doesn’t always translate into “I love you.”

There are really only 2 things you MUST know about wine and food pairings. After that, my general “rules” are really just suggestions. But, you MUST know that:

  1. All people taste wine and food differently so a hard and fast rule can/will be broken.
  2. The BEST wine with your food will ALWAYS come down to personal preference.

The problem is that most people don’t really know what they prefer. When someone tells me they only like a sweet wine, it could be that they simply don’t understand dry wines and how to pair or serve them. Many people don’t really know what their personal preference is when it comes to putting wine with food. When you spend $20 – $120 on a bottle of wine, you want it to taste good. You want to eat while you drink, and, most of all, you want to have an enjoyable, memorable experience.

At its very core, the wine that flows from the bottle is a combination of the grapes used and a hundred different decisions made by the winemaker. If you want to enjoy good wine and food pairings, then it pays to start expanding your palate to include a variety of wines. It also helps to understand how wine interacts with different flavors. Food will almost always have a greater impact on the taste of wine than wine will have on your food.

Our tongue recognizes 5 different taste profiles—sweet, salty, savory, bitter, and sour (acidic). The taste of food, however, begins in the nose. Once we smell food and then taste it, flavor is produced. The goal of pairing food and wine is to create a pleasurable combination that turns mealtime into an experience and, hopefully, good memories.

I’ve been drinking, studying, drinking, pairing, drinking, and serving wine for a VERY LONG TIME and I learn something new with every bottle of wine I open. My whole family enjoys wine, and it is at the center of all our family gatherings. My husband and I have 8 children and 2 in-law children so there is no way one type of wine is going to be enjoyable by all 12 of us at the same time. No matter what food I’m serving, I’m always going to offer at least two very different wines, but that are both compatible with the food. Over the years, I’ve come up with my own set of “rules” for pairing food.

CAVEAT: ALL of these “rules” can, should, and will be broken at one time or another.

  • The intensity of wine should be similar to the intensity of the food you are pairing with it. While Cabernet Sauvignon may be your favorite wine, I don’t recommend it for your turkey dinner.  If you like red wine, try a Beaujolais Nouveau with your Thanksgiving Dinner or a Cranberry wine. Likewise, don’t grab a Pinot Grigio to sip with your New York strip. If you only like white wine, find the boldest, most full-bodied white you can. An oaked Chardonnay may be your best option otherwise the delicate flavor of the wine will be totally lost and you may as well drink water.
  • Sweet foods make wine seem more drying and bitter. The sweetness and fruitiness of wine is diminished and may take on an unpleasant acidity. Pair sweet foods with a wine of similar sweetness. When it comes to desserts, you should probably consider the color, as well. Chocolate and white wine isn’t the best combination. Crème Brulee and red wine is not the best combination. Light color desserts needs a white or rosé wine. Darker desserts like chocolate need a red wine.
  • Savory foods (also known as umami) can also diminish the fruitiness of the wine, making it seem more bitter. Since the natural (good) bitterness of red wine is found in tannin, choose a low-tannin, high-acid red wine like a Chianti. Dry to off-dry sparkling wines with notes of brioche and aromatic white wines like Riesling can also pair well with savory dishes. Depending on the dish, a medium sweet wine might do well, but don’t go too sweet.
  • Salty foods pair with a variety of wines. Salt can bring out any sweetness in the wine and highlight its fruity flavors. Salty foods can add body to the wine and make it feel more luxurious on the palate. I like acidic, fruity, crisp white wines with salty foods, but various off-dry to sweet wines can pair well with salty foods. I prefer dry and off-dry sparkling wines and wines higher in acid, but I recommend you shy away from oaky, low-acid whites and high tannin reds. Salt can make the alcohol in red wine seem hotter and the tannins in red wine make salty food seem more salty.
  • Acidic foods like tomato sauces or citrus based desserts need a high acid wine. Sometimes we confuse acidic with bitter or with some kind of negative taste, but acid is important to wine because it is what makes wine refreshing. It makes your mouth water. Don’t try to pair a sweet wine with acidic food. Neither one will taste very good. Match acid for acid, and when choosing a red wine.
  • Oily foods, rich, buttery foods generally need a high-acid wine to cleanse the palate. But stay away from high acid if the food is creamy.
  • In New Mexico, West Texas, and Arizona hot and spicy foods are common. People tend to talk about the taste of spicy food, but spicy food is really a burning sensation in the mouth caused by capsaicin in the chiles. The alcohol in wine can increase the burning sensation caused by spicy foods. Unless low in tannins, I would steer clear of full-bodied red wines when eating Mexican food. A better combination is a fruit-forward, high acid white wine such as a warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. Other good choices are medium-bodied reds, rosés, and light to medium bodied whites.
  • People often think about pairing wine with the star of the meal—steak, pasta, fish, etc. I recommend pairing your wine with the supporting actress—the sauce. A great Cabernet Sauvignon goes with steak, but if you are serving it with a mushroom sauce, think again. Pair your wine to the flavor profile of the sauce.


Don’t be afraid of wine. Just as we try new foods, we should also try new wines. If some one gave you a bottle of wine that you have no idea what to do with, try to find out its notable characteristics. Is it Sweet? Dry? Acidic? Full-bodied? High in alcohol? Etc. Once you know the basic flavor profile of the wine, use this guide to help you plan a meal that will highlight the wine.

If you have a great recipe you want to make for friends, but you don’t know what wine to serve, this guide might help you choose a good wine.

Never be afraid to ask your restaurant server what wine to drink with a meal and don’t be afraid to ask the winery manager what wine to purchase for a particular dish. People who work around wine should be able to answer those basic questions. If they can’t help or you want to fact check their recommendation, well…there’s always GOOGLE!


Not all foods are meant to be paired with wine and not all wines are meant to be enjoyed with food. As much as it pains me to say, sometimes you just gotta drink a beer!

Until next time…



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