Food and wine pairing is an art that involves selecting the right wine to complement the flavours and textures of a particular dish. For the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 Award in Wines, you more or less revisit material from Level 2 - but are now expected to write about it.

One of the most important principles of food and wine pairing is to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. This means that lighter wines, such as Pinot Grigio or Riesling, are best paired with lighter dishes, such as salads or seafood, while fuller-bodied wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, are better suited for heartier dishes, such as steak or lamb.

Another important consideration is the intensity of both the food and the wine. In general, more intense wines are better suited to more intense flavors in food, while lighter wines are better suited to more delicate flavors. For example, a bold, spicy Shiraz would pair well with a similarly heavily spiced dish, such as a tagine or casserole, while a lighter wine, such as a Pinot Noir, would pair better with a more subtly flavored dish, such as roast chicken.

table with selection of cheese, fruit, crackers and sweet wine

Food Elements and impact on Wine

Here’s a table that outlines how different elements of food can impact our perception of sweetness, umami, acidity, saltiness, bitterness, and chili heat:

Element of FoodIncreased PerceptionDecreased Perception
SweetnessBitterness, Astringency, Acidity
Warming effect of Alcohol
Body, Sweetness, Fruitiness
UmamiBitterness, Astringency, AcidityBody, Sweetness, Fruitiness
AcidityBody, Sweetness, FruitinessAcidity
SaltinessBodyBitterness, Astringency, Acidity
Chili HeatBitterness, Astringency, Acidity
Alcohol burning sensation
Body, Sweetness, Fruitiness, Richness/Texture

The Basics of Food and Wine Pairing

There are a few basic principles to keep in mind when it comes to food and wine pairing:

  1. Local - Sustainably sourced, slow-food movements have highlighted benefits of locally-sourced pairing
  2. Like with Like - white with white, red with red - but also …
  3. Contrasts - Sweet wines with Cheese (High Acid, High Fat)

Ultimately, the best food and wine pairing is one that you enjoy. While there are general principles to follow, there are no hard and fast rules. Experiment with different pairings and find what works best for you. Cheers!

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Meet the author

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Damien Saunders
WSET3 award - Has been on a journey to learn more about wine, viticulture since I started travelling. Every country has something to drink.
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