1. Do your homework!
No, this doesn't mean spending hours reading wine magazines and blogs. This is the step that most often people forget to do, and truthfully is the most simple step. Doing your homework is as simple as asking what you will be eating. When you get that phone call inviting you to a dinner party, ask the host what they are serving. Once you know what kind of food you're going to be eating pairing a wine is that much easier.
2. Decide white or red.
There are some foods that will determine this for you. For example, if you are eating steak you're going to want to buy a red, or if you are having a delicate white fish you're going to want white wine. There are a lot of dishes, however, that could go either way--pasta, seafood, pork, or chicken, just to name a few.
The quickest way to decide whether to go with white or red is to be selfish. What do you like? If you prefer white wines, go with a white; if you prefer reds, buy a red. You can overthink how to pair wine with food all day long, but in the end going with your own preference will guarantee that at least one person will enjoy the wine you bring. Picking a wine you like will also allow you to show your excitement. If you bring a wine that you don't enjoy, chances are your friends and family will not enjoy it either. Excitement is contagious, so pick something that you know you'll love.
For you indecisive wine lovers here is a quick guide on wine pairing:
- Red meat - requires a meaty red (Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Petite Syrah)
- Rich red food (BBQ, Tomato based sauces) - require rich reds (Red blends, Malbec, Italian reds)
- Rich white foods (cream sauces, seafood) - require rich, full-bodied whites (Chardonnay)
- Sweet or Spicy foods - require sweet or spicy wines (Riesling, Viogner, Syrah)
- Herbal, Citrusy and Salty foods - require complex, and delicate wines (Pinot Noir, Rosé, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)
Now, this is not a comprehensive list, and there is a lot of crossover within this guide, but it is a good place to start. I didn't even begin to explore when to buy bubbly or what kinds of bubbly to buy because sparkling wines are in a world all their own (I will offer some advice on these later). **When in doubt, think about the color of the food, and pair it with a wine of that color.
3. Ask questions and listen/look for buzz words.
Now that you know what kind of wine you're looking for, ask someone in the wine department of your local grocery store or liquor store for a recommendation of a chardonnay or cabernet or whatever wine you've decided to buy. Listen for words that you think would taste good with the food you're about to eat. If you are having a cream based food, while you are looking for a chardonnay listen for words like vanilla and cream. If you are buying a chardonnay to go with teriyaki or Caribbean style foods, listen for words like tropical or pineapple.
As I said, picking a wine is easier than you think. It's about asking questions and using common sense. Most people already have enough knowledge to select a great wine, the problem is that wine connoisseurs have intimidated the common wine buy with complicated language and geeky technical facts that most people don't need to select a decent wine. If you use the knowledge you do have about food as well as wine, along with asking the right questions you're soon going to be picking out wines like a pro. Good luck, and as always I'm here for any questions!