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French Food and Wine Pairing for Beginners

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French Food and Wine Pairing for Beginners


Robert S. Donovan

Perhaps no other world cuisine can benefit from food and wine pairing as much as French food. After all, the heart of French tradition is rooted in savoring the balance and flavors of the food, both as individual ingredients and complex dishes. A perfect wine pairing only serves to enhance the experience.

How do you pair food and wine?

It is a well-known fact that the French enjoy a glass of wine with many of their meals. It’s a small luxury that can be done on a daily basis, with no expert guidebook necessary.

The Rules

Rule 1: Red wine goes with meat, and white wine goes with seafood and poultry.

Rule 2: Throw out the first rule and drink what you like.

Fortunately, the hard and fast rules for enjoying wine with your meal are archaic and irrelevant, at best. The point is to take pleasure in sipping the wine and enhance your dining experience, not meet strict guidelines created for another person’s palate.

Four Factors

If you’re like most people, you have a small number of wines that are your favorites and don’t do much experimenting beyond those few bottles. The key to start pairing different varieties of wine with the meals you cook is to understand the basics of wine tasting. The acidity, body, aromas, and flavors of a wine are all factors to consider when searching for one to go with a specific dish. These attributes mean different thing to different palates.

Acid: Sour and sharp notes of the wine will determine the acidity level. This can best be equated to the way biting into a super sour apple feels on the palate; it will literally hit your tongue with a sharp sensation.

Body: The body of a wine is established by the weigh and mouthfeel when you taste it. It can be light, also called thin, or it can be heavy and creamy. As with other wine attributes, body is a personal opinion of the taster.

Aroma: The aroma, or bouquet, of a wine is all about how it smells. The nose of a wine can be predominantly one or two notes, or a complex medley of aromas that blend and change as the wine is swirled and exposed to more air. Try to identify earthy, floral, fruity, and nutty notes, among many others.

Flavor: The flavor of a wine is largely determined by its aromas; what we smell is what we taste. You will rarely identify a flavor that is completely unrelated to the aroma. For example, you are unlikely to encounter a wine that has a light, fruity bouquet, only to find that it has deep, earthy flavors. You will be much more likely to find a wine with nutty aromas that develop into coffee-chocolate notes of flavor.

Putting It All Together

Matching food to a wine is actually easier than it sounds. Once you’ve tasted a wine and determined if it is light, spicy, sweet, or rich, you can match it to your dish. The general rule of thumb is to pair a wine with food that equals its intensity. A flavorful chicken recipe will go well with a light, spicy-sweet white, whereas steak with a heavy sauce is better suited to a full-bodied, strong red.


  • Sauternes with bleu cheese.
  • Chardonnay with chicken, scallops, lobster, and brie.
  • Sauvignon Blanc with shrimp, acidic pork, oysters, and whitefish.
  • Pinot Noir with salmon, fatty fish, and duck.
  • Zinfandel or red/white Burgundy with turkey, pheasant, and quail.
  • Red Bordeaux with lamb.
  • Beaujolais with traditional pork.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon with beef, venison, and grilled meat.
  • Burgundy with braised meat and game.

If in doubt, Champagne will be a welcome selection with nearly every food, from appetizer to dessert. Bon appetit!

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