Wine lovers know that there’s a symbiotic relationship between food and wine. I’m far from an expert, but I love to explore how the taste of one affects the other. It’s fascinating and delicious, and it lets me drink wine in the name of science, winning all around!

In my scientific explorations, I’ve begun to question the old “red vs. white” rule for wine. You know, the one that dictates you should drink red wine with red meat, white wine with poultry and fish. I’ve tried to resist, but I still find when I make chicken cacciatore—with its tomato-based sauce—I prefer a glass of red. And with heavily-spiced food, like lamb korma, I crave a glass of chilled white.

Let’s Settle This…Expertly

In the disagreement between conventional wisdom and myself, I naturally wanted to know: Who’s right? So, I decided to ask an expert.

Jessica Outer is a Wine Educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She runs her own business called Uncork’d Events, which specializes in private and corporate wine tasting events. She first explained the theory behind the red vs. white rule.

Red meats (lamb, beef) have strong, bold flavors. Red wines likewise have strong, bold flavors that can hold their own when paired with red meat.

Fish and poultry, on the other hand, have more mellow, delicate flavors. A bold red wine can easily overpower, say, a piece of grilled snapper.

A Matter of Taste

Okay, so there’s a solid basis for the red vs. white rule, and I can’t argue the logic. Why, then, do I find myself so often wanting to break this cardinal rule of wine drinking?

Jessica’s answer was simple: “Personal taste.” Essentially, she sees the rule as more of a jumping off point for exploration than a prison meant to confine your dining experience. She herself will often pair a flaky white fish with a light pinot noir—the wine is smooth enough to complement the fish without overpowering it. She avoids pairing most fish with heavier reds, but finds that salmon—with its richer flavor—can usually hold its own, even against a cabernet.

“That’s the thing I love about wine!” Jessica exclaimed, her enthusiasm for her work exuding through the phone. “You’re in control of your journey, and you can make it whatever you want it to be!”

(My ah-ha moment: This explains why I prefer red wine with fish. I’m particularly sensitive to the fishiness in fish, so I welcome a strong wine to drown out that piscine palate!)

Putting a Cork in It

My take-away is that, when it comes to wine appreciation, rules are made to be questioned and broken at your personal discretion. Pairing the right wine with the right dish can heighten your food consumption from “meal” to “experience”. But one person’s “right” might be different from another’s. So why not play a bit? Sip your favorite wines with your favorite flavors — chocolate, spices, cheese, whatever— and see what fights and what complements each other.

Going through this exercise (because I like to consider wine drinking “exercise”) can help you discover which flavor combinations work for you. You’ll know you’ve found a good match when you hear yourself spontaneously murmuring “Mmmm!”

Or set up a virtual wine tasting with an expert. These days it’s almost easier with expert advice just a Zoom meeting away!

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About Liz Ruppert

Liz Ruppert spent the first two decades of her professional life in marketing, copywriting, and managing content strategy for non-profit and government websites in Washington, DC. Now, she works as a freelance writer. She and her husband, Ken, moved to the country a few years ago to enjoy the fresh air and peace and quiet. They have two cats--Cleo and Matilda--and a labradoodle named Busby Berkeley.

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