Why is white meat served with white wine and red meat with red?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why is white meat served with white wine and red meat with red?

—Prajapati M., Gujarat, India

Dear Prajapati,

I think the old adage of “red with meat and white with fish” (or any variation of that theme) was most useful because it was easy to remember. These days, most folks agree that pairing wine with food is both more simple (eat and drink what you like) and more specific (do your best to match or contrast the specific flavors, weights and textures).

The reason red wine typically pairs well with red meat is that red wine tends to be higher in tannins. While on their own, tannins can feel drying, they’re a good complement to the rich fattiness that can be found in red meat. White wine can be better with fish or chicken because it tends to have higher acidity, and it complements food similarly to how a squirt of lemon juice can brighten a seafood dish.

But those are just general rules. If you look at how a dish is prepared—say, grilled vs. poached, or sautéed in a bunch of butter, or take into account the side dishes or the setting, you might come up with different pairings based on the situation. So while a chewy grilled steak might call for a robust red, a sautéed filet mignon served with béchamel sauce and rosemary potatoes might work better with a rich, full-bodied white.

While I’ve had some magical food and wine pairings, like Barolo and white truffles or a lovely Sauternes with foie gras, most of the time, it’s simply a matter of enjoying what’s in front of me and picking a wine I know I’ll like.

—Dr. Vinny

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