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Wine and food pairing is often reduced to a simple formula: always pair X grape + Y protein. For example, Cabernet goes with beef, Chardonnay goes with chicken, Pinot Noir goes with salmon. But as we all know, the flavor of a dish is as determined by sauce as it is by its base protein. Chicken alfredo and barbecued chicken are very different dishes, so should they both be paired with Chardonnay? Of course not. In this post, we’ll examine some of the most common sauces with complimentary wines for nearly any meat, fish, or vegetable.

Vinaigrette – Prosecco

This simple emulsification of oil and vinegar serves mainly as a dressing for salads but also accompanies poultry, seafood, and vegetable dishes. The delicate tartness of the vinaigrette calls for a refreshing wine that won’t overpower the food. Prosecco, an off-dry sparkling wine from Italy, will add a festive touch to the dish while enhancing the crisp character of the sauce.

Prosecco is made from a grape called “Glera” and normally exhibits an off-dry character with fresh apple, pear, and lemon notes. If you happen to sample your wine while cooking, you can substitute Prosecco for part or all of the vinegar. Prosecco vinaigrette sounds fancy and tastes delicious.

Cream Sauce – Chardonnay

Heavy white sauces like alfredo, fondue, and béchamel accompany some of the most irresistible dishes. The flavor of most red wines would clash with cream sauce, and many whites are too delicate. Chardonnay brings additional harmony and gives you a chance to show off your best bottles from California. Oaky Chardonnay, in my opinion, typically doesn’t pair with many dishes, so take advantage of this opportunity and go for a rich oaky bottle.

Pesto – Sauvignon Blanc

This green Italian sauce is officially made with basil, pine nuts, and olive oil. Historically, various greens and nuts could be used, like arugula and almonds. However you decide to make and serve pesto, Sauvignon Blanc makes for a great accompaniment. This white grape is most famously found in France and New Zealand and features a crisp, dry palate with citrus flavors and notes of green pepper and freshly cut grass. These last two characteristics will meld with the pesto to create a memorable culinary experience.

Tomato Sauce – Sangiovese

Whether you’re serving pasta, pizza, or chicken, tomato sauce remains extremely popular and versatile. Most people associate tomato sauce with Italy, so why not offer it with an Italian wine? Sangiovese is perhaps the most famous red grape from Italy, and it happens to be perfect with red sauce. Sangiovese’s medium body, rugged tannins, earthy flavors, and bright acidity couldn’t be more beautiful with tomato sauce and will make your next red sauce dish even more delicious.

Gravy – Cabernet Sauvignon

Gravy comes in many variations, and it is often made with various ingredients, from sausage to turkey. Most of them, however, feature a creamy texture with plenty of fat and strong flavors. The strong tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon will be softened by the fat and enhance the food. Whether you’re eating gravy with chicken, turkey, beef, or biscuits, a rich glass of Cabernet will be a welcome addition to the meal.

Barbecue Sauce – Zinfandel

While there are many kinds of barbecue sauce out there, the most common is sweet, dark, and smoky. Very few wines are able to match the intensity of barbecue sauce as well as Zinfandel. Conversely, few foods are rich enough for the high alcohol and intense extraction of a good California Zin. This is your chance to enjoy both of them together. Zinfandel has a long, proud history in California since the days of the gold rush, and excellent examples can still be found at great prices. Look for wines advertised from small plots and old vineyards to bring bold flavors and a rich sense of history to the iconic barbecue tradition.

 

Hopefully, this post will inspire you to look for wine pairing experiences that take you beyond the basics of a dish and into the vast possibilities for the pleasure that the right combination of sauce and wine can bring.