Choosing a wine to pair with your meal is an intimidating task. Selecting a wine whose flavors complement your dish can heighten your entire dining experience or ruin it if you choose a poor pairing. So how are you supposed to know how to choose the best wine for different types of dishes? Well, the good news is, there is no right or wrong answer. If it tastes good to you, then you chose a good pairing, but if you want to have some baseline knowledge in your back pocket for the next time you’re out having a fancy dinner, then we’ve got all of the info you need.
We recently spoke to Martha Cisneros, a sommelier, wine educator, and founder of Wine Divaa, to put together a handy guide to choosing the perfect wine. Growing up in Mexico, wine wasn’t as common as beer or tequila at the dinner table, but when Cisneros studied abroad in Madrid, she fell in love with wine and has now dedicated her career to sharing the joy of wine with her audience and showcasing the talented and brilliant winemakers in the Hispanic community.
“If I am in a French restaurant, and I am going to be having French dish, I’m going to want a French wine,” Cisneros told SheKnows. “My rule of thumb is if they grow together, they go together.” Cisneros added, “I am also very into adventurous pairings. I like to try, for instance, French food with Mexican wine or the other way around. But that’s better for when you’re a little more comfortable.”
Cisneros’ main rule of “if it grows together, it goes together,” is simple enough to remember but if you want to take things a step further, we asked Cisneros for her top wine recommendations for different types of dishes so you can maximize the flavor potential of your meal and impress everyone else at the dinner table.
First up, we asked Cisneros about the best wines to pair with dishes like pasta, rice, bread, or potatoes as a base. “You know, it really depends more on the type of sauce or flavors added to your pasta or rice or risotto,” Cisneros explains. For acidic or tomato-based dishes, Cisneros suggests going with a chianti. “Or even for something like pizza, I would always go with something Italian, maybe even a Brunello.”
If your dish is more on the creamy side, Cisneros recommends a Côtes-du-Rhône white.
The best wine to pair with steak is going to depend on how the steak is prepared and what it is served with. “For something simple like a grilled steak, I would go with something like a zinfandel from Lodi, California or a Primitivo from Sicily. The zinfandel is going to enhance the smokiness and create a wonderful experience,” Cisneros says. “If the steak has a chimichurri sauce or something similar, a Malbec would be a great choice.”
As a general rule of thumb, white meat usually pairs nicely with white wines. “For something like a roast chicken or grilled chicken, I would go with a Sauvignon Blanc,” Cisneros says.
“I am a pescatarian,” Cisneros reveals. “That’s what I eat every day so this is my favorite one and I love to pair seafood with Greek wines.” Specifically, Cisneros prefers Assyrtiko. “It’s a grape that comes from Greece and has the perfect medium body and crispness and the perfect acidity to bring out the flavors of the seafood.” If you can’t find a Greek Assyrtiko, Cisneros has another suggestion, “Vinho Verde from Portugal is another great option because it offers a liveliness and crispness that pairs perfectly with seafood.”
Wine and cheese are a classic pairing but the type of cheese you’re eating makes all the difference. “For something buttery and creamy like brie, champagne is the obvious choice,” Cisneros explains. “For harder, salty cheeses like parmesan, prosecco is the perfect pairing.”
Last but certainly not least, when you want to finish your meal with a little something sweet, Cisneros recommends a Zinfandel for chocolatey treats but adds that “as a general rule of thumb, you just want to match the level of sweetness.”
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