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Susan Cuellar
December 4, 2021 | Susan Cuellar

The Basics of Food & Wine Pairing

As we enter the holiday season, many of our holiday traditions include food, and enjoying special dishes that we often associate with our holiday memories.  

May I suggest enhancing your holiday experience by adding wine to your menu and pairing wine with your holiday favorites? As I write this, I am reflecting back on this year’s Thanksgiving and the meal we prepared considering both the wine and food. We started our Thanksgiving with baked brie and champagne, followed by the traditional meal of turkey served with an elegant pinot noir, and finally, we ended the evening with homemade pumpkin pie and a full-bodied red blend wine. The whole experience was enhanced by considering both food and wine flavors and this made for a memorable Thanksgiving meal. 

Food and wine can have a positive effect on each other and enhance the way either the food or wine tastes. By understanding food and wine pairing basics, you can avoid any unpleasant flavors as well. 

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and asked to see the wine list and the server brings a long list with hundreds of wines to choose from? This experience can be overwhelming with too many choices and not enough information to make a decision. Some restaurants offer the services of a sommelier to help you choose a wine from the list by asking what you plan to have for your meal, then they can suggest wines in your budget that would complement the meal you have chosen.  Sommelier is a French word that means “wine steward” and refers to a certified wine professional with extensive training and knowledge of wine and service. 

Although having a sommelier serve you in a restaurant is an elevated experience, having a basic knowledge of wine and food can help you make choices both at home or when you go out to eat and feel more confident in your selections.

Since each of us has a unique sense of taste or smell, there are no definitive right or wrong answers, just suggestions. After all, if you are enjoying the food and wine together, that is what really matters. 

Here are a few simple suggestions for pairing wine and food:

Pair bolder flavor foods with bolder flavored wines and pair delicate flavored foods with lighter, more delicate wines. 

As an example, beef or red meat pairs with a heavier red wine like Williams Gap Fieldstone or Round Hill Red. Lighter fare such as scallops would pair with a zesty white wine such as Williams Gap Vidal Blanc. 

Wines should highlight the food instead of overpowering it. 

Understand there are four components in food including sweetness, acidity, salt and umami.  These components can have either a positive or negative effect on the wine.

Sweetness - Pair sweet foods with a wine that has a higher level of sweetness than the dish.

Acidity - High acid foods should be matched with high-acid wines. Acidity in food enhances flavors.

Salt - Salt enhances wine flavors and can make the wine seem fruitier and can soften tannins in red wines.

Umami - Examples of umami in foods are cooked mushrooms or dried meats and cheeses. Choose wines with more fruit than tannins. Umami in food can highlight the bitterness of tannins in the wine.


A general rule to remember is that salty and acidic foods enhance wine flavors, and umami or sweet foods can have a negative effect on the taste of wine.

I hope this has helped you understand the basics of food and wine pairing and that you are a little more knowledgeable in this area.

If you want some hands-on practice with pairings, come visit our tasting room this holiday season and try our chocolate pairing boards. These boards are prepared with artisan chocolates made by the Conche restaurant in Leesburg. The Conche makes world-class chocolates and is owned by chef Santosh Tiptur, one of the world’s top chocolatiers.

Each of these artisan chocolates has been perfectly paired by our tasting room manager, Bridgette Smith with our current lineup of Williams Gap wines. Here are the pairings of chocolates and wines:

   Spiced Caramel Apple - WGV 2019 Vidal Blanc

   Dulcey Caramel Blond - WGV 2019 White Blend

   Alphonso Mango - WGV 2019 Petit Manseng

    Aztec Chipotle - WGV 2020 Mountain Valley

    Strawberry Basil - WGV 2019 Cabernet Franc

     Pumpkin Chai Latte - WGV 2020 Round Hill

The next time you come into the tasting room, ask for our artisan chocolate pairing boards.  You can choose from either three white wine pairings, three red wine pairings, or for a really sweet experience, try all six of the chocolate pairings with your wine tasting.

Our tasting room at Williams Gap is beautifully decorated for the holidays and we hope you can come visit. Imagine yourself sitting in front of our main level stone fireplace or enjoying our outdoor firepits sampling hand-made chocolates while sipping a Williams Gap wine. I hope to see you this holiday season!


Susan Cuellar


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