Most people enjoy having a dinner party with friends and family even if there is no special occasion. However there is often confusion when it comes to pairing food and wine and often that means serving the wrong wine or perhaps none at all.

The perennial questions go like this. Do you serve red or white wine with fish? Is it acceptable to have a merlot with a Mexican dish? Do not stress over it – there are some basic rules you can follow when pairing food and wine.

The number one rule for pairing food and wine is “red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat.” This is not always the case but it generally works quite well when you are unsure.

The one notable exception is chicken.

The meat is white of course but you will find that a nice fruity red wine goes well with it.

The same can be said for tuna or salmon as these are fish with quite strong flavors. Consequently you do not have to always follow the rule of not serving red wine with fish.

The second rule covering pairing food and wine is the rule of complements. It is very acceptable to match sweet seafood such as lobster with a sweet white wine.

The third basic rule is the opposites attract rule. While the usual tendency is to match similar flavors, sometimes a contrast can work very well. An example of this would be a white Bordeaux with bluefish – a truly wonderful food and wine pairing.

Outside of these basic rules, there are certain things you can look for and certain things you can avoid depending on the food you are serving. Here are some hints as to what wine to serve with particular types of food.

Pairing Wine with Salads and Appetizers

It is advisable to avoid serving wine during your salad as vinegar and wine do not mix well. But if you are having an appetizer, you need to consider the ingredients in the appetizer to help you choose your wine.

If you are having a cheese tray, the type of cheese will help you determine which wine to serve with it. For example, cheddar is best with dry reds, merlots and cabernet sauvignon while pinot noir goes best with Swiss cheese. Camembert and brie are great with a chardonnay, while the Italian styles such as parmigiano, romano and reggiano go well with Italian dry red wines like chianti and barolo.

If you are serving a fried food appetizer, then it is best to serve a crisp, fruity white or red wine to help cut the oily flavor.

Pairing Wine with Beef, Steak and Lamb

The previously mentioned “red wine with red meat” rule is worth following when serving beef, steak and lamb. Choose a dry red wine like cabernet sauvignon or a burgundy like pinot noir to bring out the best of the meat flavors. An Italian red wine such as barolo or chianti will also work well here.

Fish and Seafood

To be on the safe side when serving fish, serve a dry, crisp white wine. Sauvignon blanc goes well with white fish while Sancerre and muscadet go well with oysters.

To be a little adventurous with your seafood pairing, try a fruity red wine (without tannin) but use caution when serving red wine especially if the fish has white, delicate flesh. A cabernet style containing tannin can leave a metallic taste in the mouth when drunk with fish.

Pairing Wine with Poultry, Pork and Veal

The pairing food and wine rule of “white meat, white wine” should be observed with these foods. White chardonnay and pinot blanc are the best option but if you want to serve red wine with chicken make sure it is a fruity variety like merlot or zinfandel.

Pairing Wine with Turkey

If you are familiar with how well cranberry sauce goes with turkey, then the same rule applies here. As turkey has both white and dark meat the best wine to serve is something fruity and tart such as a Beaujolais for red or a riesling for a white wine.

Pairing Wine with Spicy Foods

When the meal includes something spicy like Thai or Indian food then a sparkling wine definitely works best. Again it is best to avoid wines with tannin but go for something fruity and make sure the wine is well chilled. It is a fact that cold wine goes well with spicy foods.

Pairing Wine with Dessert

The best thing to serve with a delicious dessert is a dessert wine. Even better, skip the dessert part and just serve a dessert wine to your guests. These are sweet wines often sold in smaller bottles as dessert wine is consumed in less quantity to regular table wine. Wines such as Sauternes, Beerenauslese, Bermet and Cammandaria will make a great end to any evening.

Overall, when it comes to pairing food and wine the most important rule is to avoid being snobby about wine. There are no indisputably correct answers as to which wine to serve, just some basic rules to go by and even those can be changed.

The are some wonderful books available on this subject – have a look at the great selection of Pairing Food and Wine Books at Amazon.