Red with steak, white with fish. If this is the extent of your wine-pairing knowledge, don’t fret! Although wine pairing is steeped in subtlety (and perhaps a dash of snobbery), it’s true that some cuisines really do shine when paired with the right wine. The combinations don’t necessarily have to be complex, either. A vacation to Europe is the ideal opportunity to sample a diverse variety of wines alongside the perfect local accompaniment. Read on for five of our favorite timeless pairings for a match made in heaven.
Chianti & Parmigiano-Reggiano
This is the power couple of the pairing world. The signature crumble and nutty umami flavors of an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese coupled with the rounded fruity notes of a good Chianti is a mandatory gastronomic experience when in Italy, especially in Tuscany. Since the Chianti regions of Tuscany are only a stone’s throw away from the region of Emilia-Romagna (the birthplace of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a handful of other renowned Italian commodities), this pairing is not only quintessentially Italian, it’s also affordable and extremely accessible. Don’t stop at just one bottle either; the high acid content and course tannins of Chianti means it pairs well with just about any rich Tuscan dish, from slow-simmered ragù to bistecca and even pizza.
Cava & Tapas
It’s fun to say and even more fun to eat. Cava and tapas is a versatile pairing that’s perfect for your DIY Spanish tapas crawl. With most tapas being on the heavier side—like patatas bravas, manchego, fried croquetas and chipirones—you’ll want something light to cut the fat if you want to make it to the next stop without feeling like you need a nap. The bright citrus notes of an effervescent Spanish Cava refresh the palate and highlight the flavors of the food. The crisp acidity will have you craving the next bite, and each salty morsel will leave you wanting another sip to wash it down. It’s the perfect dance to sustain you for an entire day of sipping and savoring.
Sauternes & Foie Gras
If you haven’t tasted this sweet, late-harvest white, a trip to France is the perfect opportunity to get acquainted. Made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes from the Bordeaux region, Sauternes embodies the spirit of French cuisine—rich, yet perfectly composed. Think honeyed apricot and liquid butterscotch with a punchy alcohol content balanced out by just a hint of tart acidity. Its perfect counterpart? A silky, savory foie gras or meaty terrine. Sauternes and foie gras is such a classic combination that some wine connoisseurs will argue that it’s become a cliché, but ignore the haters. When in France, this is a tried-and-true combo that can’t be beat.
Riesling & Spice
Wine pairing 101 usually suggests seeking congruent flavors—light with light, bold with bold and so forth—but when it comes to spicy food, opt for the opposite. A spicy red like Shiraz, with its high alcohol content and full body would accent the heat of a spicy dish and mute many of the nuanced flavors of the wine. All you’ll taste is burning. For some dissenters, that’s the goal. For the rest of us, the better accompaniment for any dish with a bit of heat—whether that’s Indian vindaloo, Thai curry or even southern barbeque—is a slightly sweet and acidic white. The chameleon of whites, Riesling is one of the easiest wines for pairing. For German foods, anything especially bold—Tafelspitz with a spicy horseradish sauce, bratwurst with sauerkraut and sharp, coarse-ground mustards—will sing alongside Riesling.
Port & Stilton
You can’t visit Portugal without ordering Port. So why is it that so many travelers are intimidated by it? On the surface, Ports can seem confusing—tawny versus ruby, late-bottled vintages, passing to the left and something about the Bishop of Norwich—but don’t get too caught up in the details. This fortified dessert wine comes in many forms, all of which are fabulous with a pungent blue cheese like stilton or Roquefort. The captivating contrast of salty and sweet is sure to erase all the anxiety of choosing the right bottle. While in Portugal, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad Port at all. So order any bottle, pour up a glass and pass to the left.