How to get a Second Date with Kathleen: You must be able to pair wine with food

Pairing the appetizer is just the beginning. Pairing the rest of the meal is where the real fun is.

If you’ve been following this series, you now know how to pronounce wine names and order wines. Part of ordering wines properly, though, is knowing how to pair them with your food.

Kathleen on pronouncing wine and properly ordering what you just learned to pronounce...

I get it. Sometimes we crave our favorite wines or maybe you don’t care for particular types of wine. But when you’re on a date, you’re trying to impress. I’d rather you tell me you don’t like red wine than order a white wine with a steak. At least then you’re being honest.

To get a second date with Kathleen, you must be able to pair wine with food.

Now, I don’t expect my dates to be able to tell me why certain wines pair with certain foods, but I do expect reasonable pairings. For that reason, we’re going to focus on basic pairings. I’m also not going to focus on pairing wines with cheese here, that’s a lesson in and of itself.

White Wines

Light dry whites such as a white table wine, Sauvignon Blanc, or Albariño pair well with vegetables, white rice, and fish. Typically you’ll pair these with rice, potatoes, beans, and green vegetables. When pairing with fish, you’ll want to stick with lighter fish or shellfish like sole or scallops. Foods that are sauteed, poached, or steamed do well with these wines.

Rich whites do well with white starches (i.e. rice, pasta, bread, and tortillas depending on the sauce), meatier fish, and white meat. Chardonnay and Viognier are good choices here. Potatoes and rice still work but so do quinoa or farro. These wines are great with mushrooms, lobster, crab, chicken, duck, or turkey. Just as with light dry wines, look for foods that are sauteed, poached, or steamed. An ideal meal here might be a mushroom risotto.

Sweet white wines, while not usually my favorite with dinner, pair with a few things. Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc pair best with fruit, sweet and starchy vegetables (i.e. sweet potato), and whole wheat grains (i.e. brown rice). Look for foods that are poached, steamed, roasted, grilled, or barbequed here. These wines are ideal if you’re getting something spicy such as an Asian curry dish.


Rosé is actually relatively versatile. Now I’m not talking about White Zinfandel here, I’m talking about a nice Rosé like what you will find from Provence, France, or the neat little Rosé of Pinot Noir or Garnacha that we’ve seen appearing more and more the last several years. They pair best with root vegetables and squash, but they can also go with lobster, poultry, pork, tomato, eggplant, and pretty much any starch. Typically summer foods pair nicely with Rosé, which is good since Rosé is great to drink in the summer. Try grilling some eggplant to pair with your Rosé.

Red Wines

Light reds such as Pinot Noir or Gamay also pair well with some starches, roasted vegetables, and rich fish. These reds go nicely with potatoes as well as mushrooms. I might pair a light red with salmon, swordfish, or tuna but not with lighter fish such as sea bass, trout, or halibut that would be overpowered by the wine. You can also pair these light reds with poultry; they go particularly well with duck or roasted chicken and turkey.

Medium bodied reds also pair nicely with roasted vegetables and potatoes. They’re perfect with tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers. If you’re getting a meat dish, look for something with pork. Smoked, roasted, or grilled duck or red meat could also work here. Wines such as a red table wine, Tempranillo, Grenache, Merlot, or Cabernet Franc work with meats prepared with exotic and aromatic spices (i.e. saffron, fennel, or ginger) and red peppers (i.e. chili, chipotle, or ancho). Ancho rubbed pork tacos would be a great pairing for these wines.

Bold reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Syrah pair best with red meat. These are your meat and potato wines. Think a nice, juicy steak, lamb chops, or venison burgers. Luckily these wines also do well with white starches, such as hamburger buns, so burgers are great. Meats that are grilled, barbecued, roasted, or smoked work the best.


Sparkling wines might not be the first thing you think of when pairing wine with dinner, but they actually quite versatile. They do well with fruits and berries but also with pork, poultry, fish, green vegetables, and beans and peas. Mollusks (i.e. oysters, clams, and mussels) are particularly perfect with sparkling wine. Any preparation except roasted works here. An ideal pairing would be oysters, poached eggs, or grilled chicken with a citrus glaze.


Obviously, you will pair dessert wines with dessert. Don’t try ordering a port with your lasagna. Port, Sherry, Madeira, or Muscat go best with your chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and coffee. Moscato, one of your sweet white wines, pairs nicely with fruits and berries and vanilla. Try a creme brulee with your Moscato or a chocolate cake with your Port.

I know there’s a lot of information here. Keep in mind the main flavor of the dish and use that to pair your wine. In general, think the darker or heavier the food, the darker and heavier your wine should be. Delicate (poached or steamed) foods go best with delicate wines. Dessert wines go with desserts. No matter how much you know or don’t know about wine, I hope you’ll now be able to impress your date with your ability to pair your wine with your main dish.