Of the many culinary sins of our nation, perhaps the most egregious was the partitioning of food and drink into two different cultures. Ask any wine professional—hell, ask any European—and they’ll tell you that food and wine are two arms of a single experience, designed to complement each other. Just as a bespoke suit elevates its wearer, a well-crafted beverage pairing enhances the cuisine and helps it become its best self. So just in time for entertaining season, we present seven dishes with three spectacular options each for a match made in heaven.
Smoked Salmon & Caviar
Classic Pairing: Champagne
If all that were served at a party were Champagne and caviar, it could still be the greatest party in town. The two match each other ounce for ounce in sheer exuberance, while the flavors and textures meld beautifully, the Champagne’s brioche-like depth and playful effervescence framing the subtle complexities of the roe.
Creative Pairing: Chablis
The searing minerality and bright acidity of Chablis embrace the briny character of the caviar without overpowering its delicate subtleties. Note: This is one case where we advise against Grand Cru Chablis bottlings, which often have a level of oak that works against, rather than with, the food.
Cocktail Pairing: Vesper Martini
Conventional wisdom pairs caviar hors d’oeuvres with ice-cold vodka, but we respectfully disagree— vodka is too cold when taken straight from the freezer, too volatile once it warms, and too assaultive in both cases. Much better is a Vesper, composed of vodka, gin, and Lillet. The vodka quiets the gin’s herbaceousness, and the whispering sweetness of Lillet calms the saltiness of the caviar.
Salad Greens/Roasted Vegetables
Classic Pairing: Grüner Veltliner
Though salads and vegetables are famously difficult to mate, it’s no problem for this Austrian white grape. The zesty, snap-pea-green character radiated by Grüner Veltliner allows the wine to play wonderfully alongside vegetable dishes of all kinds.
Creative Pairing: Provence Rosé
A boon in more challenging food-pairing scenarios, rosé here is easy and engaging. Salads are by definition an amalgamation of different flavors, but rosé’s gentle fruit and light acidity can complement a wide array of tastes without demanding too much attention itself.
Cocktail Pairing: Gin Basil Smash
The botanical fullness of gin makes the spirit an ideal match for vegetables. So while a simple gin and tonic could do the trick, much more fun is the new classic Gin Basil Smash. The lemon juice dresses the greens with brightness and acidity, while the basil gives the cocktail a shove into savory territory, meeting the vegetables on their own turf.
Foie Gras/Chicken-Liver Mousse/Duck Pate
Classic Pairing: Sauternes
Symbiosis in its highest form. Decadent and memorable on its own, this heralded dessert wine from Bordeaux expresses its complex saffron and honey sweetness best when paired with silky, explosively flavorful foie gras.
Creative Pairing: Demi-Sec Vouvray
Vouvray, very much under the radar for many American-wine fans, is nonetheless the most celebrated expression of the Chenin Blanc grape in the Loire Valley. Made demi-sec, it’s less sweet than Sauternes and flush with sweet-apple, pear, persimmon, and candied-ginger notes that team perfectly with the foie gras.
Creative Pairing: Cognac Sazerac
Cognac is, of course, made from grapes, and its vibrant fruit character—combined with the anise of absinthe and the cherry of Peychaud’s Bitters—beautifully enhances the creamy intensity of foie gras. Each bite is a study in richness, and each sip washes your palate clean, readying you for the next.
Sushi & Sashimi
Classic Pairing: Sake
Sushi—delicate, complex, easily overpowered—demands an equally subtle match. Quiet and expressive, Ginjo and Daiginjo sakes possess an ethereal array of melon, floral, and umami flavors that complement the fish without dominating it.
Creative Pairing: Riesling
The electricity of a dry, or trocken, Riesling is a way to dial up the volume on the beverage side but still allow ample room for the sushi to shine. Bright, lively, and clear as a bell, the wine serves to cleanse the palate between each bite.
Cocktail Pairing: Bamboo Cocktail
Equal parts fino sherry and dry vermouth, with a scant teaspoon of sugar syrup and a touch of orange bitters, this forgotten little sipper from the late 19th century is dry, low proof, and whisper quiet, adding a gentle herbaceous spice and subtle nutty depth to the meal.
Classic Pairing: Barolo
There’s a saying in the sommelier community: “What grows together, goes together.” This aphorism is epitomized in Piedmont and in how well the Italian region’s famous truffles pair with the earthy aromatics of Barolo, whose sour-cherry-fruit tones and elevated tannins balance the pasta’s creamy richness.
Creative Pairing: Xinomavro
Xinomavro is one of those wines that will prompt a “What is that?” at first and a “What was that?” after. With its striking aromatics of tomatoes and olives, this powerful, expressive Greek red-grape variety boasts the boldness, tannins, and body required to stand up to any truffle or porcini dish.
Cocktail Pairing: New York Sour
You want body to match the dish’s intensity and acidity to cut through the richness, so a standard whiskey sour would almost do it. But the New York Sour (a whiskey sour topped with an ounce or so of red wine) lifts the coupling from good to perfect.
Classic Pairing: Mexican Lager
Take a long sip of an ice-cold lager after some carne asada or Korean BBQ, and it’ll feel like everything else is trying too hard. Mexican lager counters the beef’s bold heat not by being equally big, but by being unshakable, easy, and mild—the perfect palate cleanser.
Creative Pairing: Crianza Rioja
Tempranillo is a chameleon, capable of dark and potent expressions when aged, but also just as enjoyable in its nascency. Crianza may be the youngest designation of Rioja, but its youth is its strength for this pairing, the juicy and up-front flavors coming at the meal’s spice head-on.
Cocktail Pairing: Single Village Fix
You don’t need us to tell you about margaritas, so let’s go a different way. The Single Village Fix is an underappreciated refresher made of mezcal, lime juice, and pineapple-gum syrup. The tropical-fruit sweetness meets the dish’s spicy heat, while the smoke and acidity enhance the food, then ready your mouth for another bite.
Classic Pairing: Tawny Port
Perhaps the most satisfying (if obvious) pairing on this list, port and chocolate are longtime lovers who can’t help but finish each other’s sentences. The nutty and decadent aromas of the fortified wine bring warmth and complexity to the uncomplicated delight of a pillowy cloud of rich chocolate.
Creative Pairing: Late-Harvest Zinfandel
Late-harvest wines are similar to port but with lower alcohol and a concentrated sweetness. In the case of late-harvest Zinfandel, its inherent jamminess is intensified, perfuming the chocolate with an explosive hit of red and black berries.
Cocktail Pairing: White Russian
A smooth and irrepressible mixture of vodka, cream, and coffee liqueur, the White Russian is a slightly ironic, seriously delicious accompaniment to the chocolate in a mousse without being too redundant (like a chocolate martini) or too soft (like a grasshopper).