My infatuation with food wasn’t born exclusively out of taste. I’m in love with the whole sensuous experience of it: the faint clink of glasses and forks against plates, sweet and savory aromas mingling in the air, the warmth from familiar hands as they pass the salt, and the tingling mouthfeel of that sip of cabernet just after a bite of cool, tender steak. Enveloped in every sensation, this is my happy place.
On a microcosmic level, wine pairings recreate this sensory magic. Just think about that rush of tongue-tickling bubbly after the saltiness of prosciutto wrapped feta, or a baptismal sip of refreshing pinot grigio following the bright, lightening acidity of citrus glazed scallops. With the right wine by its side, a dish becomes more than just the flavor of its ingredients. The welcome ritual of bite-and-sip embraces everything from the complementary nose of a wine to the harmonious color palette of a plate. On the other hand, competing flavors can reconstitute the experience of a meal...in a bad way. All the more reason to think twice about the wine you’ll be serving at your wedding.
Especially for a plated dinner, expertly paired wines can elevate the evening into something extraordinary. It’s a luxury to have these dynamite duos pre-selected for your guests, and also takes the guesswork out of choosing your own glass from the infinite variety of an open bar. Just one of the many reasons why I would suggest pairing a wine with each course of your meal.
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I can see those dollar signs flashing in your eyes—but wine pairing at your wedding doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think. You can still offer an open bar during your cocktail hour, but have your bartenders pack their bags once dinner is served. Guests will be able to get their fair share of liquor before switching to a vino-only format. They probably won’t even notice it’s missing with the added gourmet feel of a per-course wine pairing. In reality, this will help you control alcohol consumption—reducing both your liquor bill and chances of overindulgence.
Sumptuous and practical? Talk about the best of both worlds. Which is why I want to share a few sample wedding menus with you, wine pairings and all. But first, some general rules to keep in mind:
- Match like with like. This goes for weight, texture, flavor intensity, and depth of color. Delicate wines will get lost in contrast to rich, bold dishes, and vice versa. Lighter plates love light wines, while big flavorful foods crave equally full-bodied wines.
- Keep acidity in mind. Acidic wines are needed to keep pace with bright acidic plates, or alternatively to cut through fatty foods. Likewise, salty foods will help soften a wine’s perceived acidity while sugary bites will accentuate it and make the wine taste bitter. And one big no-no: stay away from acidic wines altogether if you have a rich, creamy dish.
- Cleanse with tannins. The tannins in wine are regular champs at cutting through rich, fatty flavors and acting as a palate cleanser. Think of tannins and acid in the same breath: both do similar things when served with fatty foods.
- Champagne to start. Even though it’s often found next to a slice of cake, champagne is generally too dry to go with ultra-sweet desserts. That being said, it’s one of the most versatile food pairing wines and can accompany an appetizer beautifully (especially if the dish is on the saltier side). If you still want it as an after-dinner drink, opt for desserts that highlight the slight bitterness of dark chocolate or the tartness of raspberries.
- Stay away from spice. I’m talking extremely strong spice, like hot chili peppers. This can often destroy the flavors in a wine (and singe your taste buds in general). To combat the heat, stick to a wine that’s equally spicy and sweet: a riesling or gewurztraminer. The sugar will balance out the flavors and help to cool it down.
Sample Menu 1:
- Crispy Udon Noodles with Nori Salt with a Brut Champagne
- Sesame Soy Salmon with a buttery Chardonnay
- Coconut Wedding Cake with an Ice Wine
Sample Menu 2:
- Pâte en Croûte with a red Burgandy
- Duck Confit with a Madiran
- Crème Brûlée Cheesecake with a chilled Sauternes
Sample Menu 3:
- Classic Caesar Salad with an unoaked Gavi
- Parmigiana di Melanzane with a full-bodied Barolo
- White Chocolate and Lemon Wedding Cake with an Australian Moscato
Sample Menu 4:
- Garlic Seared Shrimp with an oaky California Chardonnay
- Grilled Filet Mignon with Herb Butter with a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon
- Layered Chocolate Wedding Cake with a Portuguese Ruby Port
One of the biggest wine pairing rules? Drink what you like. Don’t serve a merlot for the sake of the dish if it’s your least favorite vino. It’s good practice to pick your favorite bottle first and find dishes with flavor profiles to match. This is where your caterer comes in. When you sit down with them to decide on a menu, make sure you understand the nuances of the dish before choosing a wine to go with it. The end goal? Like marriage, to love the wine you’re with.