The Toughest Food and Wine Pairings | Wine Enthusiast
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Cracking the Code on the Toughest Food and Wine Pairings

There’s some truth to the idea that some foods are less amenable to wine than others. But we believe challenges are meant to be embraced; there is no such thing as a food that doesn’t go with a wine you love. Wine eventually washes the food out of your mouth anyway.

That being said, when you find the just-right flavor combination, it takes a meal to an entirely new level. So, while we all have taste preferences when it comes to food—and let’s not forget that wine is essentially food—we decided to look at some of the hardest ingredients to pair and find the wine styles (and specific bottles) that make them sing.

From artichokes and asparagus to chili pepper and, yes, chocolate (which is far harder to pair with wine than most think), we’ve solved the most “impossible” food and wine pairings known to gourmands.

The Best Wine for Artichokes: Grüner Veltliner

Artichokes contain a substance called cynarin, which manages to make wine taste alternately—and sometimes, bizarrely, simultaneously—sweet and metallic. A proposed solution is to give up on wine altogether, but what’s so bad about a little sweetness and a metal edge? Pick a wine that can swing with both, like Grüner Veltliner. It’s often made with a hint of residual sugar to round out its tart citrus and gooseberry notes, and its peppery and gravelly minerality don’t suffer from veering into overly metallic territory.

Schloss Gobelsburg 2021 Ried Renner Grüner Veltliner (Kamptal)

This is ripe, with verbena, citrus-oil, white-peach and Jonagold apple flavors seamlessly layered, but there’s firm acidity to keep this balanced. Spice details are carrying through a long, floral finish. Still a bit tight, but this unfurls nicely with air. 93 points. — Aleks Zecevic

$54.99 MacArthur Beverages

Fischer 2020 Smaragd Privat Grüner Veltliner (Wachau)

An elegant, silky version of Veltliner, this bottling offers a lot of earth and mineral framing the core of crunchy apple, yellow plum and grapefruit notes. The citrusy finish is persistent and well balanced. This is precisely made for the fresher style. 91 points. — A.Z.

$43.99 The Cellar d’Or

The Best Wine for Asparagus: California Chardonnay

The intense chlorophyll flavor of asparagus works on the plate but can clash in the glass. Like artichokes, it, too, can make wines taste metallic. Sauvignon Blanc is often mentioned as an option since it comes with its own powerfully “green” notes, but in practice it lays vegetal on vegetal for an unpleasant overall experience. Instead, think about what goes well with asparagus—namely, butter and lemon—and opt for a high-acid wine with a hint of oak, like a balanced California Chardonnay. Skip the oak bombs, but you shouldn’t be drinking unbalanced wines anyway. 

Alpha Omega 2021 Toyon Vineyard Chardonnay (Carneros-Napa Valley)

Toasted and buttered baguette aromas waft from the glass as this creamy-textured yet lively wine brings poached pears, candied pineapple, vanilla and white pepper nuances to the palate. Complex and layered, the wine beautifully matches richness with finesse. Best 2025–2032. 97 points. — Jim Gordon

$160 Alpha Omega

Sangiacomo 2022 Four Siblings Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)

The captivating nose of this wine expresses aromas of Anjou pear, honeycomb, marzipan and white flower. On the palate, a kaleidoscope of fresh Golden Delicious apple, pear and Rainier cherry flavors come with a subtle kiss of fresh sage and thyme. A very long finish dances between plush acidity and aromatic intensity. 96 points. Editor’s Choice. — Tom Capo

$70 Sangiacomo Wines

The Best Wine for Blue Cheese: Amarone della Valpolicella or Zinfandel

It’s not that it’s hard to pair wine and blue cheese; two of the wine world’s classic pairings, after all, are Port with Stilton and Sauternes with Roquefort. The salty-sweet combination works perfectly in both cases, and you could extend this to include any off-dry wine or even cider. Dry wines can work too. Look for plump fruit-forward reds that hint at sweetness despite being vinified dry, and preferably with a little spice to complement the cheese’s piquant flavors. For blues that tend toward sweet and fudgy, like Gorgonzola Dolce and Cambozola, an Amarone della Valpolicella, made from partially dried grapes, shows complementary dried fruit, chocolate, cinnamon and pepper. With sharper, spicier blues like Roquefort and Stilton, a jammy Zinfandel is terrific, boasting ripe berries, baking spices and a hint of cigar.

Brigaldara 2017 Case Vecie Red (Amarone della Valpolicella)

This single-vineyard Amarone is high in the hills of the Valpantena Valley and opens with aromas of macerated black cherries steeped in anise and clove that then evolve into notes of forest floor and dried herbs. Finesse is driven with a balance between wild plums, savory and oolong tea notes that are guided by the elegant tannins and mouth-watering acidity on the end. A classic wine. Drink Now–2045. 94 points. Cellar Selection. — Jeff Porter

$79.99 Sokolin

Robert Biale 2022 Dickerson Vineyard Zinfandel (St. Helena)

Aromas of Bing cherry are greeted by flavors of mixed citrus, mint and wafts of cedar. It’s a sophisticated, detailed and intriguing wine with fine-grained tannins and a mouthwatering, long finish. Beautifully crafted and nuanced. Drink now or hold for continued aging. 96 points. Cellar Selection. — Elaine Chukan Brown

$75 Robert Biale Vineyards

The Best Wine for Cabbages: Viognier

Cabbages and their cruciferous buddies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and kale exude sulfurous compounds that can make even the freshest wines seem skunky. Oak can exacerbate the issue, and even high-acid wines—usually the solution to difficult pairings—can lack the softness they crave. Think about it: these vegetables want to be sautéed or roasted with butter or oil, and go beautifully with cheese. A fuller-bodied and lower-acid unoaked wine like Viognier can be magic here, with unexpected tropical and floral notes. 

Materra Cunat Family Vineyards 2022 Estate Viognier (Oak Knoll District)

This smooth, broad and well-balanced wine is lush and full-bodied, packed with Bartlett and Anjou pears but underlain with a crisp apple acidity. While delicious now, the barrel-fermented wine has the structure to age and improve through at least 2028. 93 points. — J.G.

$34 Materra Cunat Family Vineyards

E. Guigal 2020 Viognier (Condrieu)

An exuberance of perfectly ripe yellow and white peaches, apricots, melon, pineapple and delicate white floral aromas overflow from the glass. The palate is luxurious and balanced, with an abundance of melon, dehydrated pineapple, apricot, quince, candied ginger and oak spice. Impressive acidity accentuates its stone finish and helps reset the palate for another sip. 96 points. Cellar Selection. — A.C.


The Best Wine for Chili Pepper: Warm-Climate Rosé

Riesling is, of course, one of the world’s great wines, but let’s free ourselves of the idea that the only solution to pairing wine with spicy food is an off-dry Riesling. Sugar and spice works best if there’s some sweetness in the dish as well, and hey, some people want a dry wine with their Thai food. The tannins in red wine can turn bitter in the presence of spicy chili. Instead, reach for warm-climate rosé, which has body and ripe fruit that feels mischievous rather than combative, like dipping fresh mango in Tajín.

Pinea 2021 Korde Rosé Rosé (Ribera del Duero)

This deep-hued rosé has a bouquet of cantaloupe, cherry and pomegranate. It is full in the mouth and offers raspberry, red plum, fennel frond and dried sage flavors with a note of orange zest that lingers on the taste buds. 93 points. — Mike DeSimone

$59.95 Finding Wine

Walla Walla Vintners 2023 Sangiovese Rosé (Walla Walla Valley (WA))

I clearly need to be drinking more rosé made with Sangiovese. This version packs all the nectarine, strawberry and earthy daisy aromas you can handle. Then, flavors like red cherry, pink grapefruit and lemon zest join with zippy acidity to boost your palate like a can of nitrous oxide added to a stock car. 92 points. — Michael Alberty

$25 Walla Walla Vintners

The Best Wine for Chocolate: Ruby or Tawny Port

We’ve all seen the gushing wine-and-chocolate pairings that pop up on social media (and in grocery and wine shops) around Valentine’s Day (and Mother’s Day, and Easter and Christmas…). And yes, it would be great if your favorite wine was the perfect match for chocolate. Unfortunately, it’s likely not. Just as extra-añejo tequila isn’t the perfect chocolate match they’d like you to believe, things like alcohol, tannins, bitterness, acid and all the things we love in wine don’t always dovetail with sweet, rich chocolate confections. This is what Port was made for. No matter the style, it has its own chocolatey notes along with other chocolate-friendly flavors. The tannins of vintage port can be a little harsh with chocolate, but opt for ruby port if you love fruit and chocolate together, or tawny port if you’re partial to nuts, toffee and caramel. Pure pleasure. 

Messias 2011 Colheita Tawny Port (Port)

Aged in wood, this tawny style of Port is moving effortlessly from fruit to the flavors of wood and spice, backed by spirit. It is a fine wine that is ready to drink. 92 points. — Roger Voss

$37.98 Vintage Wine & Port

Cockburn’s NV Ruby Soho Port (Port)

Taking its name from the bar and restaurant district in London, this Port is a classic soft ruby. Sweet but with an underlying structure, the wine’s black fruits are ready to drink. 88 points. — Roger Voss

$37.99 Yiannis Wine

The Best Wine for Eggs: Pinot Noir 

Here the sulfur issue raises its stinky head again, complicated by the tension between the unctuous yolk and the lean white. Despite eggs loving buttery, lemony Hollandaise sauce, don’t reach for a buttery wine. The dish you want to reference is oeufs en meurette, which is kind of like boeuf Bourguignon with eggs instead of meat. The tannins in red wine cleanse the eggs’ richness so no sulfur comes through. While reds work best when the egg dish involves meat, a lighter-bodied red, like a young Pinot Noir, can bond with everything from a simple scramble to a bacony quiche. Oh, and Champagne—eggs always go with toast (and therefore Champagne’s signature toasty notes).

Holocene 2022 Memorialis Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton)

100% whole-cluster fermented, this aromatic set of briary and brambly red fruit makes me want to dab it on my pulse points. Leathery tannins and crisp acidity join forces with tangy flavors of raspberries and rooibos tea with a lemon wedge. Enjoy 2024–2037.  97 points. Cellar Selection. — M.A.

$69.95 Avalon Wine

Jean-Baptiste Jessiaume 2021 La Fosse Premier Cru (Rully)

A rose bouquet is delicately framed by sour cherry, wild strawberry, rhubarb and baking spice on the nose. Youthful tannins support fresh thyme, clove and vanilla on the palate that dominate its cherry core, hinting for additional cellaring or a proper decant. 92 points. — A.C.

$50.40 Saratoga Wine

The Best Wine for Barbecue and Smoked Dishes: Txakoli or Vinho Verde

Just as vegetal-on-vegetal doesn’t work with asparagus, resist the recommendations to pair smoked foods with smoky wine, like the white wines Pouilly-Fumé or Alsatian Pinot Blanc, or reds like South African Pinotage or Syrah from the Northern Rhône. You wouldn’t put a smoky dressing on smoked salmon, after all. Think of how sharper condiments like mustard, pepper and vinegary coleslaw go so well with smoked dishes and you’ll get a sense of why gently effervescent, lower-alcohol wines like Txakoli and Vinho Verde work so well. Bright and refreshing, but without being harshly carbonated or boozy, they lift up any smoked dish, from fish and cheese to long-cooked barbecue. Txakoli tends toward the herbal, while Vinho Verde hits like a savory limeade.

Bodega Berroja 2021 Berroia Txakoli Txakoli (Bizkaiko Txakolina)

This light-straw-colored wine has a subtle nose of pineapple and grapefruit. Tropical and citrus fruit flavors appear on the palate along with savory dried mountainside herb notes and a hint of rose petal that lingers into a refreshing finish. 90 points. — M.D.

$22.99 Wine Transit

Aveleda 2022 Solos de Granito Alvarinho (Vinho Verde)

While there is a strongly mineral texture, the wine also has a ripe, rounded edge that gives it weight. Creamy Alvarinho shines strongly, illuminating the wine’s power. Drink from 2025. 94 points. — R.V.

$15.99 Station Plaza Wine & Spirits

The Best Wine for Vinaigrettes: Sauvignon Blanc

The first thing to do before opening the bottle is to make your vinaigrette more wine-friendly to begin with. Don’t make it too vinegar-heavy, and add a dollop of mayo, some minced herbs, a pinch of sugar or honey. You can’t get around needing a high-acid wine but you also need more personality than the sort of innocuously light and crisp porch-crusher whites that are easy fall-backs with vegetables. This is where Sauvignon Blanc shines. No matter where in the world it’s grown and vinified, it shows brisk acidity with a light to medium body and various herbs, but with fresh ripe fruit notes that can range from citrus and apple in cooler climates to deep tropical and melon notes in warmer regions. It always stands proudly with vinaigrettes.

Château de Tracy 2019 101 Rangs Sauvignon Blanc (Pouilly-Fumé)

Pouilly Fumé can be multifaceted and complex, and this wine is a perfect example. Gold in color with a decidedly herbal nose, this wine immediately dives into overripe green pear, dried summer field grass, white nectarine, orange marmalade and forest floor, while flirting with brioche. Inklings of chalkiness revel on the midpalate along with notes of thyme and dill. Drink now, but this elegant wine can continue to develop through 2029. 96 points. Editor’s Choice. — Reggie Solomon

$149.99 Hamptons Palm Beach

Astrolabe 2022 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough)

Zingy lime, pineapple rind and guava aromas—flanked by ground white pepper, bell peppers and dried herbs—burst from the glass of this aromatic, layered Sauvignon from a consistently solid producer. There’s a slightly chalky texture and a pop of flavor on the palate. Food-friendly but easy solo sipping, this is a steal for the price. 92 points. Editor’s Choice.  — Christina Pickard