Wine Pairing Basics (part two - Weight)

In the last post, we discussed the easy way to pair foods and wine...regionality. In this post we'll look at how the weight, helps to determine what wine might work best. The old thought was "white with white meat" and "red with red meat". As we'll see, that may not always be true.

First, what do we mean by weight? Weight is just what it sounds like: Is the meal light, medium or heavy? Examples of a light meal might be something like poached sole, versus a heavy meal would be beef stew. Take into consideration the cooking method used. From lightest to heaviest, cooking methods to consider would be steam, poach, boil, saute, broil, grill, roast, braise, stew. The food itself, can also be categorized as light to heavy. Consider these items: Sole (a light, delicate low fat fish); Chicken (light to medium, low in fat); Salmon (medium, high fat fish); Beef (heavy, low to high fat). Now combine those with cooking method, and you should have an idea of what I am referring to as the weight of the food. Grilled Salmon is going to be a heavier dish than a poached salmon, so you might consider two different wines for each of these salmon dishes. But let's step back for a moment. What is a light or heavy wine? Usually we think of whites as being lighter than reds, and rose somewhere in between. But, a Pinot Noir (red) can be lighter than buttery/oaky Chardonnay (white) or full bodied Marsanne (white). As mentioned in part one of this post, knowing the profile of different wines certainly helps. The best way to know the weight of different wines is to taste, taste, taste (while tasting, think "non fat milk", "lowfat milk", "whole milk", and "cream" - what is the mouth feel remind you of?). Another way is to read reviews. If a review refers to a "full bodied", or "big" wine...well there is a clue. What they are usually referring to is alcohol. The higher the alcohol level of the wine, the "bigger" it will taste. Personally, I find that higher alcohol wines are harder to pair with food. Keeping the alcohol level between 11% to 14% works best with most foods. I find that higher alcohol and higher tannin wines increase the heat/spice levels in food, and clash with salty dishes (particularly with fish, which turns metallic in flavor, when paired).

As mentioned above, the weight of the food is affected by the cooking method. What we are really talking about here is intensity of flavor. Think of this way, steaming food, doesn't add much flavor to food, but grilling on the barbecue can add smoky flavors that might have some bitterness. Obviously, the grilled food will be more intense than the steamed, no matter what the food is. In addition, any added sauce will have an affect on the total weight/intensity of the meal.

When determining what wine to pair with your meal, not only is it important to know your grape varieties, but also the style. Consider this, 100% stainless steel fermentation is going to be much lighter, and fruitier, than a wine that has gone through 100% barrel fermentation with a long aging period. It would be safe to say that 100% stainless steel fermented Chardonnay would be lighter than an oak aged Chardonnay (not to mention a Chardonnay that has gone through Malolactic Fermentation MLF - a discussion for a later post).

Keep these ideas in mind next time you are looking for a wine with your meal, and you'll be well on your way to an enjoyable experience. Remember to experiment. Try pairing food and wines that don't work too (scallops with Cabernet Sauvignon), so you can taste the results and understand how they affect each other. I look forward to hearing about your pairing successes

In our next post, we'll look at balance, or rather comparing and contrasting flavors.


  1. Every now and then I find a bottle of wine with a really high alcohol content, like between 15 and 16 percent, usually from a very hot climate. What is the best way to enjoy that wine? I know they don't pair well with food, but when I try to enjoy them on their own, the high alcohol content seems to overwhelm any flavor the wine might have.

  2. Anne, high alcohol wines may not be the best choice for food, and can be very pleasant for just drinking. The bigger question would be, are they balanced? A high alcohol wine that has balanced acidity can taste fine. Unbalanced, high alcohol wine will taste "hot". Some varietals, like Zinfandel, are naturally high in alcohol

  3. Thanks Jim for this nicely written, informative piece ! Hugh