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Problem Foods Meet Their Wine Matches

Fine Cooking Issue 77
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Most of the time, food and wine pairing isn’t very complicated. It can be as easy as drinking what we like (or happen to have on hand) with whatever we’re having to eat—an approach that often works out fine, but not always.

Some foods just aren’t kind to wine, and a few can be downright nasty. But don’t despair—there really is a wine match for every food. So don’t think for a minute that you have to exclude wine from the meal when there’s a problem food on the menu.

Here are seven notoriously ornery foods and guidelines to help you choose a good match for each of these troublemakers.


If you can describe the type of wine you want (e.g., a high-acid white with no oak), a salesperson at a wine shop can guide you toward a good bottle.

Spicy-Hot Foods

The challenge: Dishes with lots of chile peppers, cayenne, or chile powder—such as fiery salsas, curries, and some stir-fries—pose a problem because hot spices accentuate alcohol and oak in both white and red wines, creating a bitter, harsh finish in the wine. And alcohol, in turn, can intensify chiles’ burn.

The solution: Look for fruity, lower alcohol (less than 13%) white, blush, or red wines with little or no oak such as fruity Riesling, White Zinfandel, or some Pinot Noirs.

Good bottles: Beringer White Zinfandel, California; Sokol Blosser Evolution, Oregon (a delicious fruity blend of nine white grapes); Rosemount Estate Pinot Noir, South Eastern Australia

Hearty Greens

The challenge: The assertive earthy, minerally, bitter, spicy, and even cabbagy flavors of hearty greens such as broccoli rabe, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens will make practically any wine taste metallic and awful.

The solution: The “spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” theory definitely works here. Reach for a fruity, slightly sweet white wine to offset the bitterness of the greens. Chenin Blanc and Riesling are two excellent choices.

Good bottles: Dry Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California; Dr. Loosen Estate Riesling, Mosel, Germany

Oily Fish

The challenge: Oily fish such as mackerel and salmon—both smoked and unsmoked—can dull a wine’s fruit and make it lose its crispness.

The solution: Light-bodied, highacid sparkling wines and white wines like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are the perfect match for oily fish. The wine’s acidity will cut right through the richness of the fish, and the fruity character of the wine will remain intact.

Good bottles: Mumm Napa Brut Prestige; Blason Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy; Honig Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

Artichokes and Asparagus

The challenge: The green, grassy flavors of artichokes and asparagus can clash horribly with wine. Adding insult to injury, artichokes contain trace amounts of a chemical called cynarin, which makes wine (and any other liquid, including water) taste sweet to people who are sensitive to it, as many people are.

The solution: Bracingly acidic, bone-dry whites without any oak (think Sauvignon Blanc) are the ticket. They’ll still taste dry, crisp, and bright when paired with asparagus, and their high acidity seems to keep them from tasting sweet when paired with artichokes.

Good bottles: Chateau La Commanderie de Queyret, Entre-deux- Mers, Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc); André Vatan Sancerre “Les Charmes” (Sauvignon Blanc); Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis “Domaine Sainte Claire” (Chardonnay)

Acidic Dishes

The challenge: Savory dishes that are made with lemons or vinegar—the Pork Scaloppine with Prosciutto, Sage & Caramelized Lemon on p. 53, for example, salads with acidic dressings, or meals with vinegary side dishes—make wine taste completely out of balance, dull, and flabby.

The solution: A wine’s acidity is the key to a successful match in this case, so shop for a high-acid white (such as a racy, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc or a crisp Riesling) or a highacid red wine (such as Barbera D’Asti) that can stand up to the acidity in the dish.

Good bottles: Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand; Mönchhof Estate Riesling, Mosel, Germany; Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy

Dishes with Eggs

The challenge: Dishes with softyolked eggs, such as the classic bistro salad of frisée and poached egg, are some of the toughest foods to pair with wine. The palatecoating texture of a runny yolk combined with the sulfurous elements in the egg make most wines taste metallic, flat, and unbalanced.

The solution: Shop for mediumbodied, crisp white wines without oak. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are great places to start.

Good bottles: Giesen Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand; Benton Lane Pinot Gris, Oregon; Trimbach Pinot Blanc, Alsace


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