Pairing White Wine with Food

White wine is famously food-friendly, but it can still feel overwhelming to select the ideal food pairing. It’s harder than you think to go wrong, though—food and wine pairing is highly subjective. While holy-grail pairings do exist, in which each component of the equation brings out the very best in the other, for any possible meal, there are countless wine pairing possibilities.

It’s not necessary to memorize lists of suggested pairings, but there are a few simple rules to keep in mind to prevent any of the elements in the food and the wine from clashing with one another. In your wine selection, pay attention to:

  • Body: Pair lighter white wines with lighter dishes, and fuller-bodied wines with richer dishes, so the wine does not overpower the food, or vice versa.

  • Acidity: The richer the food, the more acidity your wine should have. A low-acid white will taste very flabby and unstructured alongside fatty or creamy foods like foie gras or macaroni and cheese.

  • Alcohol: If your wine is high in alcohol, avoid pairing it with spicy food—the spice will amplify the alcohol and make the wine taste hot, and the alcohol will make the food taste spicier.

  • Sweetness: Dry wines are better for pairing with most savory meals, but a small amount of residual sugar in white wine (or just the perception of sweetness in a dry, fruity wine like Riesling) works well with piquant dishes like pad thai or curry.

Once you understand the basics, you can start to fine-tune your pairings by considering the flavors in the wine in relation to the ingredients in the food. Lighty, citrusy whites with herbaceous flavors, like Sauvignon Blanc or Grüner Veltliner, work well with tangy fresh vegetable dishes, like an arugula salad with lots of fresh green herbs. Mineral-driven, savory whites like Chenin Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay complement umami flavors in foods like mushrooms or sesame noodles. If your dish contains a sauce, match the wine to those flavors rather than to the main ingredient.

Speaking of Grüner Veltliner, this Austrian variety is always a good choice for challenging vegetables like asparagus, brussels sprouts, endives, and artichokes. The flavors in these bitter veggies clash with most wines, giving them an unpleasantly harsh grassy, metallic taste. But they bring out something special in Grüner; this zesty, vegetal wine is actually improved by these difficult ingredients.

When in doubt, choose wines from cooler climates—since alcohol in wine is directly correlated to sunlight and warmth, wines made in chillier regions tend to be easier to pair, especially with lighter fare. And in the old-world regions of Europe, where wine has always had an important place at the dinner table, most winemakers are aiming for a food-friendly style. Most of the white wines of Italy, France’s Loire Valley, and Austria, for example, are designed to be enjoyed with a meal.

And remember—what grows together goes together! Especially in Europe, wines are often intended to complement the local cuisine. A tangy, saline Fiano from the southern Italian coast will pair perfectly with spaghetti and clams, for example.

Don’t forget to have fun with your pairings; if you remember these guidelines, you can discover a whole world of surprising flavor combinations. You might even find that you prefer your own experimental matches to the classics. To get you started, here are a few of our go-to combinations:

Enjoy tasting, and finding your own unique pairings!