Food and Wine Pairing On a Budget

This column is authored by Girl & the Bay Food & Wine Editor, Megan Sokhn of SF Wine Society. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

When it comes to food and wine pairing, it’s all about creating balance. When you understand the characteristics of the wine you‘re drinking, you can more easily identify which foods would pair best. Wine flavors consist of sugar, acid, fruit, tannin and alcohol. Food flavors consist of fat, acid, salt, sugar, and bitter. To create a perfect pairing, you can either match complementary components or contrasting flavors. For example, for a rich creamy pasta dish, you’ll want to cut through the creaminess with a crisp, dry, acidic white wine. If you are enjoying a grilled rib eye steak, you’ll want to pair it with a bold, full bodied, structured wine that can stand up to and complement the bold flavors of the meat. For a light grilled fish, you will want to pair it with a light wine so that the flavor components complement each other and one isn’t overpowering the other.

You may already know this, but it's worth pointing out that within each wine varietal there are very specific recommendations about which foods pair exactly well with exact wines. For example, a porcini mushroom is meatier then a cremini mushroom and a cremini mushroom is earthier than a button mushroom so it’s best to pair the porcini mushroom with a full bodied, bold wine and a button mushroom with light bodied, delicate wine. Some of the world’s most renowned sommeliers dedicate their careers to this science. I won’t be bogging you down with the details here, but know that the pairings have been created with this philosophy in mind.

Pro Tip: Each bottle of wine below can be purchased under $20

Cabernet Sauvignon

The Wine: Substance Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from Columbia Valley, Washington

Wine Notes: Black plum, pencil lead, cassis, tar.

The Pairing: Simple Baked Meatballs

Why this works: The heartiness and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon can stand up against the full flavor of meatballs. Notes of cassis and black plum elevate the savory ingredients in the meatballs creating a perfect fusion of flavors in your mouth.

Pinot Noir

The Wine: Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 from Sonoma Coast, California

Wine Notes: Silky texture and crisp acidity. Cherry and dried fruit flavors with earthy notes. Clean with a nice solid backbone completed by a racy acidity.

The Pairing: Roasted Mushrooms

Why this works: Earthy and meaty mushrooms pair perfectly well with the earthiness of Pinot Noir. This match-up is a textbook example of a complementary pairing which we covered in the Section about Understanding Food & Wine Pairing.


The Wine: Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 from Tuscany, Italy

Wine Notes: Crisp, ripe, red berry and cherry aromas are shaped by vibrant, fresh acidity. Earth, mushrooms, and leather, with a backbone of firm yet elegant tannins.

Hot Tip: When cooking with wine, it is important to use a wine that you deem good enough to also drink. For even better results, I would recommend cooking with the same wine that you plan to drink with the meal.

The Pairing: Bucatini alla Bolognese

Why this works: This Chianti is highly tannic and acidic which comes across as refreshing to the pallet. Because of these qualities, this wine cuts through the saltiness of the Bolognese while complimenting the acid in the sauce from the tomatoes.


The Wine: Falernia Syrah Reserva 2010 from Chile, South America

Wine Notes: Black pepper and floral notes. Full bodied, well balanced with very soft tannins, spicy and nice fruit character.

The Pairing: Roasted Lamb Chops

 Why this works: Syrah is known to be the most intense of the grape varietals. It’s full bodied and spicy so it can stand up to the most flavorful of dishes like this one.

GSM Rhone Blend

The Wine: Hewitson Miss Harry G.S.M. 2012 from Barossa Valley, Australia

Wine Notes: Ripe black berries, strawberries and plums, and has a concentrated core of fruit essence with a racy acidity that gives the wine incredible vivacity.

Blend: 61% Grenache, 20% Shiraz, 15% Mourvédre 

 Hot Tip: This wine is a Rhone Red Blend from Barossa Valley, Australia. GSM is Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvédre blend. When you are pairing blends, you’ll want to look at each grape and their proportion in the blend in order to assess which food pairing would fit best. For example, this GSM blend is mostly Grenache-61% so you’ll want to pair with foods compatible with the qualities of a Grenache wine.

The Pairing: Morroccan Lamb and Prune Tajine

Why this works: The juiciness and fruitiness of this wine make it the perfect pairing for highly spiced dishes and hearty stews like this Moroccan Tajine.

Excerpt from Amazon’s best selling e-book, The Broke Girl’s Guide to Wine & Food Pairing, written by Megan Sokhn

food and wine pairings on a budget