Food and wine are meant to be consumed together. In great restaurants, the food is prepared with the assumption that you’ll be drinking an appropriately paired wine with each dish- the flavor, salt, fat and acid adjusted accordingly. Wine changes the profile of food, and vice versa.
Next time you’re having a glass of wine, do a quick experiment. Take a sip and note how it tastes. Now eat a little butter (on a cracker, or just go for it) and take another sip. The flavor of the wine will totally change. You can try this with salt, sugar, and a lemon too; it’ll be different every time. Your taste buds adjust to their surroundings.
So it stands to reason that certain wines compliment certain foods better than others, based on their weight, acidity, sweetness etc. This chart from Wine Folly is a really helpful visual aid, but here are three basic rules to remember, for when you can’t pull out your flow chart.
1. Like pairs with like. Italian food? Italian wine. Big, greasy American burger? Big, bold California Cabernet. You can make it even simpler- look at your plate. If what you’re eating is heavy (meat, tomato, mushroom, roasted and broiled) you’re most likely going to want a red wine. If your food is light (vegetables, fish, sautéed in oil and lemon) you’re probably better off with white.
2. Champagne goes with everything. Seriously, when in doubt- order bubbles. People will ask you what you’re celebrating; just tell them you are/aren’t the father. No one ever needed a reason to drink Champagne, and you really can't go wrong when pairing it. If you ever want to try a truly perfect Champagne pairing: potato chips. Trust me.
3. Just ask. Decide what you want to eat first, then don’t be afraid to ask the simple questions. “I’m going to have the salmon. Can you recommend a wine to go with that?” The great/frustrating thing about wine is that even if you know your stuff, you never really know what a wine is like until you try it. Any decent restaurant will be able to steer you in the right direction for their wine list and their menu, and if they can’t, you’re probably better off ordering a beer.