7 Things to Avoid When Pairing Wine & Food

Wine on its own is delicious. Pair it with the right food, and you can elevate your experience of both. Yet, understanding which wine pairs well with which food is not always obvious. What wine pairs best with chicken teriyaki? Or chocolate? While some flavors and wine styles are a match made in heaven, other combinations can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. But don’t worry, Sequoia Grove Winery Chef Britny Maureze shares seven things to avoid when pairing your favorite wines with food:

Media image

#1: Chocolate

We love wine, and we love chocolate – but we don’t love them together. This seems to be quite a contentious subject in the wine world. But with our decades of experience here at Sequoia, we’ve come to the firm conclusion that chocolate and most wines don’t mix. Chef Britny unpacks exactly why that is: 

“Chocolate introduces a few sensations to your palate: sweetness, fattiness, earthiness, and textured chocolate tannin. When you mix that with a dry red wine, the result is more bitter than sweet. In fact, the sweeter the chocolate, the more bitter and pungent it will make the taste of the wine.” 

The wine scrapes that delicious fattiness and sweetness from your palate, leaving just the harsh tannins and a strong aftertaste. Chocolate also overpowers that subtle and nuanced blackberry or cherry flavor of red wine that we love. Our tip: If you are set on pairing chocolate with wine, make sure to pair it with a sweet wine. Otherwise, leave the chocolate for your coffee.


#2: Artichokes

According to Chef Britny: “The organic acid in artichoke can make wine taste strange, sweet or even metallic.”

This acid (called cynarin) binds to sweet receptors in your mouth, altering the flavor of wine completely. But don’t count your beloved artichokes out just yet. Artichokes and some wines can be lovely together depending on how you prepare them and what you serve them with. We recommend fresh, char-grilled artichokes served with lemon butter or even creamy garlic mayonnaise. These flavors pair well with a wine with high acidity such as our Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc or even sparkling wine. Don’t forget: The wine should be very dry, high in acidity, and unwooded.


#3: Competing Food and Wine Flavors

Food and wine pairings are like relationships. A successful pairing is when one brings out the best in the other. You want them to complement, not compete with one another. The key is to not pair two overpowering flavors together. Chef Britny says  that “when you have a pungent food and a pungent wine paired together, they tend to compete for the dominant taste.” The result is an incredibly overwhelming, or sometimes underwhelming, flavor. That counts for strong cheeses too. Gorgonzola and Roquefort could be a challenge to pair with wine. The key is to pair it with a wine that is as sweet as the cheese is pungent. This should balance the flavors out. So, when looking to pair food and wine, think about balance. For example, crisp and acidic bubbly with truffle oil fries.  


#4. Sulfurous Vegetables

Sulfur is known for its rotten egg taste. And when it comes to food or wine pairings, we avoid it at all costs. Some vegetables are high in Sulfur, and when you’re not sure how to pair them, it could turn foul real fast. Brussel sprouts and asparagus are great examples of this. The organosulfur compound found in these vegetables imitates the taste of a common wine fault (reductive winemaking). When it’s paired with a glass of delicious wine, the wine becomes anything but delicious. In fact, it can become quite offensive. We certainly don’t want you to ever experience that! Other vegetables that could have Sulfur compounds in them are broccoli, garlic, cauliflower, and kale. Chef Britny recommends pairing sulfurous vegetables with “strong, herbaceous wines to balance out the sulfur taste.” We pair asparagus a little differently too. In addition to its Sulfur content, it also has an excessive amount of chlorophyll (the component that makes it extra green). So, try a dry Sherry to balance that herbaceous and nutty flavor out.


#5: Soy Sauce

Although we adore Asian flavors, we can’t avoid the fact that soy sauce is a tricky one to pair with wine. Chef Britny says that “it’s the bold, salty-sour flavors that accentuate acidity and tannins in full-bodied wines. So you need to be careful.” That said, when we serve it as a condiment to sushi, sashimi, or dumplings, we recommend pairing it with more acidic wines like our Russian River Valley Rosé Of Grenache. Other wines to try include unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling, or dry sparkling wines. Lighter reds with fewer tannins like our Napa Valley Merlot could also pair well with meaty soy sauce dishes. But if you’re unsure whether your soy sauce-based dish will work with wine, err on the side of caution and pair it with a different drink. 


#6: Sushi

Speaking of Asian delights, sushi is another minefield. We’re sure you’ve heard that red wines don’t pair well with fish, and as a rule, we agree. It’s the small amounts of iron in red wine that stick to the fish oils and in turn stick to your palate. That can leave your fresh sashimi with a fishy, metallic aftertaste. According to Chef Britny: “if you want to play it safe, the general rule of thumb is to choose a crisp white wine like our Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc when eating sushi.”


#7: Acid

Acid adds freshness to wine and food alike. A squirt of lemon on fresh hake can attest to that. When the acidity of wine and food is balanced, it’s incredible. But when it’s not, it can overpower or nullify complex flavors. Chef Britny recommends being cautious when pairing wine with high-acid foods like citrus, tomatoes, pickled vegetables, or vinegar dressings. To counteract that acidity, you need richer wines with more structure, fruit, and even woody flavors such as our Montaña Dorada Vineyards Chardonnay. Sweeter foods can also bring out the acidity in wines but can be balanced with fruitier wines –it explains why Malbec works so well with a slightly spicier dish. 

While there are certainly some tricks to watch out for when it comes to matching food, remember that at the end of the day: if you like it, that’s all that matters! These few simple tricks can be useful to keep in your back pocket and level up your wine and food experience.  At Sequoia Grove, our maxim is to break the typical pairing ‘rules’. Our food and wine philosophy is to bring out the best in every wine with extraordinary flavor pairings. Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t just pair well with steak. With Chef Britny’s vision and skill, we love unlocking new flavor combinations that excite and surprise our visitors here at our award-winning tasting room in Napa Valley. Come visit us for more pairing ideas and tips. Enjoy getting creative in the kitchen!