How to Choose Wine for Dinner

How to Choose Wine for Dinner

By Laura Fagan Published October 2021

A delicious dinner paired with a complementary wine can elevate a meal into an exceptional experience to be shared with friends and family. Seasoned sommeliers to beginning wine-drinkers know that synergy is the goal – but pairing wine is a learned skill that can be daunting to those of us not well practiced. Selecting the right wine for dinner can often feel overwhelming with the diversity of varietals, vintages and values available. To help simplify and streamline the process – two of our ABC wine experts, Nathan Dale and Paul Quaglini, share their suggestions and strategies to help you select a winning bottle for your next dinner or event.

Nathan Dale, wine expert at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits

Picks by Nathan Dale
WSET level 3

Specializes in spirits, passionate about wine

Lean more about Nathan here.

Paul Quaglini, wine expert at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits

Picks by Paul Quaglini
Court of Master Sommelier Level 2, WSET Level 3, and Vinitaly International Italian Wine Ambassador

Specializes in wines from Italy

Lean more about Paul here.

Paul’s first recommendation is an important one and has nothing to do with knowing appellations or aromas. In fact, you don’t need to be fluent with wine to find a great bottle. Paul advocates for shoppers to choose wine with the right mindset. He feels that many consumers worry they are going to “get it wrong” and create an unpleasant wine and food pairing. Paul believes you should worry less about making a mistake and have fun with the experience which makes it less intimidating. Paul reveals that there is not a set of rigid rules to follow when selecting wine for dinner – instead, you should consider some tried-and-true guidelines to help you navigate the selection and have a good time!

Speaking to those guidelines, Nathan encourages customers to look past what takes up the most room on the plate. Instead, he feels you should strive to pair the wine with a pronounced flavor in the dish. For example, people are eager to pair a fresh tuna poke with a vibrant white wine – but a surprising and spectacular pairing is an earthy pinot noir. Pinot’s velvety texture and earthy notes marry unexpectedly well with the predominate Asian flavors of sesame, wasabi and toasted macadamia nut in the dish.

The key is to pair your wine with the dominate flavor, texture, or intensity of the dish.

An example of pairing intensity is a dish featuring the acidity of fresh tomatoes stewed into an Italian red sauce served with a sangiovese – an acidic Italian red. This is also a great illustration of a regional pairing. Sangiovese pairs well with red sauces like a ragu, pork and beef or composed dishes like lasagna. The balance and silkiness of sangiovese make them ideal partners at the dinner table.

Red wine poured at dinner table

Paul indicates that acidic wines like acidic foods – one tip you can pocket for pairing. When selecting wines, it is important to know both what to do and what to avoid. For example, a salt forward dish shouldn’t compete with an acidic wine – instead, Nathan suggests pairing with Champagne. The vivacity and salt create a delightful counterbalance. He even suggests a bag of salty potato chips and sparkling wine as a wonderful match. Champagne and sparkling wine are incredibly versatile at the dinner table and offer acidity and effervescence unmatched by any other wines.

Simply put – strive for balance. Consider the body of the wine along with the richness of the food – think about the flavor and acidity as well. Ideally, you do not want either the wine or the food to nullify or overwhelm one another. For instance, Nathan boasts that a spicy, fruit forward Chianti classico paired with smoky sausage is well balanced and tasty. On top of that, it is a value wine with a huge return on flavor. Dollar for dollar, Chianti classicos are enticing wines, full of intense pleasure.

The aim, as Paul shares admiringly, is to create a positive experience. By borrowing Nathan and Paul’s tips – you are sure to create your own. Food, wine and friends make a triumphant trio.

At-a-Glance Tips

Balanced is best: The goal is to find a wine that either complements or contrasts the flavor, texture and intensity of the food. Sweet wine and a salty dish, acidic and acidic, tannic wine and a rich, fatty dish, or acidic wine and a spicy dish are all balanced pairing options.

Pair the body of the wine to the weight of the food: This means pair light wine with light dishes and fuller wines to heavier dishes.

Pick a wine that you enjoy without food: Pairing it with dinner will only enhance the experience.

Chat with our in-store wine specialists: Unlike grocery chains, ABC stores have knowledgeable and friendly specialists that can assist you in selecting the right wine for dinner.

If you are unsure – bring the bubbles: If you find yourself a dinner guest instead of host or find yourself stumped on a selection, you can never go wrong with Champagne or sparkling wine. It’s fun, celebratory and is a food and crowd friendly wine.

Top Pairing Picks from Nathan and Paul

Octopoda Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Octopoda Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

An approachable Napa red with soft tannins and strong black fruit flavors followed by spice and vanilla. This wine will pair brilliantly with flame-grilled dishes.

Haton Brut Classic Champagne

Haton Brut Classic Champagne

This Champagne carries a dry finish and layered flavors of white fruit with dreamy effervescence that would pair effortlessly with a citrus forward chicken piccata.

Poggerino Chianti Classico

Poggerino Chianti Classico

Poggerino is a celebrated and balanced Chianti that features dark berry flavors with a silky finish. The wine’s acidity will match well with a Bolognese and fresh pasta.

Domaine Alain Chavy Bourgogne Chardonnay

Domaine Alain Chavy Bourgogne Chardonnay

Alain Chavy is a dry, full white wine that expresses with fresh green apple and citrus flavors. Baked clams prepared in an escargot style would be a wonderful dinner pairing as the wine’s body will stand up well to the rich butter.

Vajra Langhe Rosso

Vajra Langhe Rosso

A value red wine that is table friendly and features bright fruit laced flavors. Try this label with your next pizza night to complement the acidity of the wine and sauce.

Vignobles Bulliat Morgon Colombier

Vignobles Bulliat Morgon Colombier

A jammy, structured red wine with ripe fruit flavors that will complement a dense dish like pepper crusted steak and buttered fingerling potatoes.

Ready to grab the perfect bottle for your next dinner? Shop our selection here or peek at a handful of top pairing picks above!

Interested in learning more? Visit our ABC Blog page.