If you are one of the many who is just stepping into the world of luxury dining, you should know that you don’t have to be a chef or sommelier to know which drink can enhance the flavors of certain dishes.
Knowing what drink to pair with your food can be crucial when enriching a delicious meal at a fine dining restaurant. Food lovers know: a drink that complements a dish can spell the difference between a one-time visit and a repeat customer.
With this guide, you’ll get to know the basics of pairing drinks with food. By the end of it, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to make the most of any fine dining dish.
The Basics
Besides waltzing into the restaurant dressed appropriately and knowing which utensils to use for a specific type of food served, it’s important to know what drinks to pair with certain dishes. This helps you enjoy a fuller experience, maximizing the taste of the food by letting the drink enhance its flavors. Expect a large variety of wines at most fine dining establishments, with each type having a specific effect on your food once it hits the palate.
One of the basic factors that should be considered when pairing drinks with food is acidity. The drink’s acidity plays a crucial role in bringing out the flavors of fatty and sweet foods.
When it comes to fatty dishes, drinks with high alcohol content or acidity is ideal to avoid losing the flavor’s thickness. Bitter or ‘tannic’ drinks work well to complement sweet flavors, while pairing with salty food keeps the flavors of your meal sharp. Most importantly, the alcohol can provide balance to the sweetness of a dish or cut through all the fat.
If you have already had a taste of wine, you probably know that the main categories are distinguished by their colors: white and red. These two are further separated into four varieties each, with white having light dry, sweet, rich and sparkling; and red having light, medium, bold and dessert.
This may be a bit disconcerting at first glance, particularly with all the potential pairings combinations that exist, but fret not. Sophistication doesn’t have to be complicated. ‘Oxfords not brogues,’ so to speak.
The Whites
White wine is made from the non-colored pulp of grapes, giving it a yellowish appearance and is known for making a more sumptuous meal out of pasta, vegetables, and seafood.
The light dry white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio act to accentuate the flavors of both vegetables and fish, while the sweet whites like Moscato and Riesling go perfectly with cheese, cured meat, and desserts.
For the richer, more full-bodied varieties like Chardonnay, they go well with cheese, fish, and white meat.
Finally, the sparkling whites like Champagne and Prosecco are the most versatile and pair well with basically anything, but particularly vegetables, cheese, starches, and fish.
The Reds
Red wine, on the other hand, is made from dark-colored grapes and generally paired with meat and heavy starches like root vegetables.
Light reds like Pinot Noir enhance the flavors of roasted vegetables, shellfish, and white meat. They also work well to balance the saltiness of most cured meats.
With medium reds like Bordeaux and Merlot, virtually any type of meat, white, red or cured, can be elevated to new levels.
When it comes to bold red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, hard cheese, red meat, and cured meat are best paired with it. These bold wines are known to be quite full-bodied, so you should balance that with bold food flavors.
Lastly, for dessert wine like Port and Sherry, soft cheese, cured meat, and sweets are made more appealing to the palate.
Other Pairings
Wine may be the ideal pairing with gourmet dishes at a fine dining restaurant, but not everyone has a taste for it, or some may be allergic. If wine just isn’t your drink of choice, there are still a few essential things to keep in mind to be in charge of your palate in a fine dining setting.
Acidity can both enhance and balance flavors, making citrusy beverages excellent with seafood, salads, and heavier dishes. Richer dishes like creamy pasta are best paired with more acidic drinks, so you can opt for citrus-infused cocktails like a mojito or a Daiquiri to go with your grilled salmon or crab cakes. But if an alcoholic drink isn’t your poison of choice, fruit juice like lemonade or punch provide that acidity that can hit the spot.
Keep in mind, if washing down food with a stiff drink is your thing, an important fact to note is the higher a drink’s alcohol content, the spicier a dish becomes. So, you might want to stay away from full-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and opt for an ice-cold beer if you don’t want to turn up the heat.
When it comes to sweet drinks, they are best paired with both spicy and salty foods. A spicy tuna salad will be much more enjoyable while sipping a cold glass of sweet iced tea cocktail. For a salty main course like a prime cut of steak, sangria is a great option to enhance the flavors.
Bending the Rules
Your fine dining experience is guaranteed to improve once you get the gist of drink pairings by heart. A good tip is to ask the servers which wine from their selection goes well with what dish you ordered or vice-versa if you go for a bottle of your favorite drink first.
For the adventurous foodie, bending the rules a bit can be fine as long as it fits your palette. You can order a glass of Shiraz with a high alcohol content to pair with your spicy gambas if you’re crazy about spice. Or you could match a tannic wine with your bitter dish if you’re into that sort of thing. The trick is never be afraid to explore and try new things.
If you’re the kind of diner who sticks to the rules, it’s best to stick to what’s been tried and tested when hitting up that restaurant you’ve been wanting to visit. Knowing what already works will likely leave you satisfied and eager for the next one, while armed with the confidence that your drink pairings are going to hit the spot. You know what they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Overall, one visit to a fine dining restaurant won’t be enough to turn you into an expert, so you should take every chance you get. It not only broadens your restaurant experience, but also adds sophistication to your palate. Soon, you’ll be spotting obvious food and drink pairings right off the menu!
If you’re looking for a place to test your newfound food and drink pairing skills, then look no further. You’ll find four fantastic fine dining establishments right here at Solaire:
  • Enjoy a prime cut of USDA Wagyu at Finestra Italian Steakhouse
  • Take traditional Chinese cuisine to a new level at Red Lantern
  • Experience the magic of contemporary Japanese fine dining at Yakumi
  • Taste the elegance of Korean BBQ brought to new heights at Kiwa