When you are taking that special person out for a romantic meal. Or maybe when you’re entertaining a new date for the first time in your home. You will probably feel pretty nervous. And if it’s somewhere very fancy, one of the things you’re likely to be most nervous about is choosing the right wine to go with the food.

Relax! It’s not so very hard. There are some very flexible guidelines that you can follow, which, if not making you an instant expert, won’t necessarily make you look like an absolute beginner.

The main rule in food and wine pairings is, if you like it, then that’s good enough! But if you’re choosing for someone else, or for a group of friends and family, then following the generally agreed guidelines is the safest bet. So if you decide to drink a glass of super sweet plonk with your oysters – go right ahead. But don’t make that the choice for the entire table.

If you are at a good restaurant the answer is simple – be guided by the wine waiter. You can never look stupid by asking for advice from an expert – it makes you look intelligent, in fact. So, once the food is chosen, call for the wine waiter (called the sommelier in very fancy places) and ask for their suggestion. He may guide you to a rather expensive offering. Be alert and scan the list for the same type of wine he suggests, but a less pricey bottle. “Perhaps instead of the Chateau Fleur, we could try the Perigord Estate”. The wine waiter won’t argue with you, and he will understand your price bracket when it comes to suggestions for more wine, for example, a desert wine.

If you can’t turn to expert advice, then here are some simple rules which will at least mean you don’t look like a total fool.

For white and red meat


With white meats, such as chicken and turkey as well as fish and seafood, choose white wine. Not too dry, and definitely not too sweet.

For red meats such as beef, lamb, and probably pork – although pork isn’t always considered a red meat, it is robust enough to join in the red meat clan when it comes to wine. Choose a hearty, fruity red wine such as Merlot or Shiraz. Thinner red wines like Lambrusco don’t work quite as well with red meat, which can tend to overpower them.

Italian food pairs well with Chianti. This is a very safe choice with pizza and pasta. However,  you honestly can’t go wrong with any red Italian wine.

For salads and vegetarian food


For salads and vegetarian food, a good choice is often a pink Zinfandel or similar rose wine. If the salad happens to have a very acidic dressing, it might be best to avoid wine altogether. Stick to sparkling water for that course.

For deserts


With desert, a sticky sweet wine such as Sauternes is really the only choice. Although with chocolate, red wine is often considered the best choice. Personally, I prefer not to take wine with desert at all, and this is a modern trend which is widely observed. If you are going to have cheese however, red wine or preferably a nice red port is definitely a good choice. Desert wines and port are invariably offered by the glass, as well as by the bottle, so you can afford to splurge if you are dining out.

Finally, people often ask what wine they should drink with spicy foods such as Indian and Mexican. The answer to this question is, don’t drink wine, do what the natives do and drink beer!