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Good food and good wine augment each other, bringing out textures and flavors in each other. This goes way beyond the white wine with fish and red wine with meats standard. But it can be a trial-and-error process. Which is really tough because it means you have to try a lot of different wines and a lot of different foods.

Here are a few helpful standards for pairing food and wines that I have wrested from my terrible struggles:

  • oily foods go well with crisp wines with high acid
  • meats with quite a bit of fat go well with wines that have pronounced tannins
  • salty foods (like caviar) go well with wines high in alcohol or that are effervescent (like champagne).
  • fruit works with wines that have oaky flavors

It used to be a rule of thumb that fish and chicken go with white wine, and red meat goes with red wine. But there's more crossover now because winemakers have come out with lighter red wines like Pinot Noir that go well with fish and chicken.

Obviously, if it's baked or broiled, you'll want a different wine than a dish with a heavy sauce. A Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Fumé Blanc will likely go well with lighter dishes.

Stronger-flavored food needs stronger wine. Dry wines generally go well with food, but if you don't like dry wine, go with a semi-sweet wine.

Given the fact that most Americans have grown up drinking sweet sodas, it can take some of us a little while to acquire a taste for dry wines. A good tactic to develop your wine palate might be to start out with sweeter wines and gradually start drinking drier wines. Some of the very sweetest wines include those made from fruits other than grapes, such as apples (hard cider), pears (perry), blackberries, peaches, and cherries.

Wines don't have to be expensive French or Californian to be good. Oregon, Texas, and other states have started to produce some nice wines that are reasonably priced.

Ultimately, when picking out wines, you need to find out what you like, not what somebody says you should like.

The single best way to figure out what you like is to go to a winery where you can taste a number of wines side-by-side. But if going to a winery isn't an option, you can host a wine tasting get-together with friends. Individuals or couples can bring a different bottle of wine to the gathering, thus allowing everyone to try out many different wines at once without any one person having to spend a lot of money.

There is sufficient disagreement about the subject of food and wine matching to instigate small private wars whenever strong opinions clash over the wine to be enjoyed with a meal. The classical approach, while strongly adhered to by some, is being abandoned in favour of more recent, and possibly more trendy, standpoints. Each opinion is strongly argued for by those proposing it, backed by seemingly flawless reasoning, and while they differ greatly, all have an element of truth.

Those who abandon any rigid structures will boldly venture towards uncharted waters and insist that rigid guidelines are a load of tosh. The latter proponents explain how liberating oneself from the shackles of Hugh Johnson's bible of food and wine matching will lead to unlikely though pleasant matches. Taken to an extreme these might propose that since one never has food and wine in the mouth at the same time, matching is useless. Naturally, the consequence of such a radical approach will range from serendipitous synergies that delight and surprise, to horrors that will ruin both the wine and the food selected.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who study the rules with the meticulous attention of waltzing porcupines and obey them rigidly, only ordering an item on the menu if the recommended wine match is available. Following respected matches is the safest approach and an oaked Cabernet with the smoky flavours of chargrilled fillet are almost guaranteed to please the most classical of hedonists.

Being a believer in compromise I'll take the liberty of expressing an opinion once so much advice, often gratuitous, is dispensed all round. The truth probably lies half way between the extremes. Wine is indisputably a fine art and like any art the classical approach is a good start. It is only when the rules are known inside out that one may risk bending and eventually breaking them. The old adage solicits white wines with fish and reds with meat. All is well and good there, but once one has exhausted most possibilities within those parameters it might be the time to try a more audacious pairing.

So what I would choose, and this is totally subjective, would be a slight variation on the prescribed guidelines that remains within rational limits. Recent pairings that I have been pleasantly surprised with include:

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