Drink Pairing 101: Tips for Choosing the Ideal Drink for Every Cuisine


Healthline.com     foodandwine.com      thekitchn.com     cooksmarts.com

two cheerful women drinking red wine in a restaurant

Key Takeaways

  • Drink pairing enhances the meal’s flavor and creates harmony between the drink and the food.
  • Consider acidity, tannins, sweetness, and alcohol content when choosing a drink to complement your cuisine.
  • Flavor profiling helps create a perfect balance of flavors between the dish and the drink.
  • Different cuisines have different pairing options.
  • Choosing the right drink for your event enhances the atmosphere and guest experience.

While you may think choosing a drink to go with your meal is simply an afterthought, it’s an essential aspect of dining that can significantly elevate your dining experience.

Imagine how the delicate flavors of your food blend in your mouth as you take a bite of your main course to a sip of your perfectly paired beverage. There’s an art to it, and understanding this art can transform the way you enjoy food.

But how do you decide which drink goes best with your meal? In this article, you’ll learn the fundamentals of drink pairing, plus tips on choosing the right beverages to complement all types of dishes. 


How the Right Drink Enhances the Dining Experience

Each drink’s unique flavor profile can elevate your dining experience when matched with the right food.

For example, the acidity of wine counterbalances rich, fatty dishes, and its sweetness also complements spicier cuisines. The tannins in red wine can soften the sensation of protein-heavy meals, creating a smoother, more balanced taste. That’s why you’ll often hear about red wine being paired with steak.

On the other hand, beers offer a splendid range of pairing options. A dark, robust stout can stand up to hearty, grilled meats, while a light, crisp lager can cleanse your palate after a spicy dish, refreshing your taste buds for the next bite.

Drinks aren’t only there to quench your thirst. It interacts with your food and balances and contrasts flavors, elevating your current meal or crafting an entirely novel dining experience.


Understanding the Basics of Drink Pairing

When pairing your drinks with food, there are fundamental principles to guide your choices. Your aim should be to complement or contrast the flavors in your meal, not overpower them. 

Consider Acidity

A drink’s acidity can cut through fatty, rich dishes and cleanse the palate. For instance, a zesty Sauvignon Blanc can pair well with a creamy pasta dish.

Evaluate Tannins

Tannins can counterbalance the fat in red meat. A hearty Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic pairing for a juicy steak.

Assess Sweetness

Sweet drinks are often a perfect companion for spicy food. A sweet Riesling can help temper the heat of spicy Asian cuisine.

Check the Alcohol Content

High-alcohol drinks can amplify the perception of spiciness in food, while low-alcohol ones can cool it down.

Remember: There’s no rigid rule when it comes to drink pairing—sometimes, experimentation allows you to discover what works best for your palate. 

Flavor Profiling

With the basics of drink pairing under your belt, it’s time to delve into the art of flavor profiling. This involves understanding the dominant flavors in both your drink and your dish and how they interact.

For example, a delicate dish, like a lightly seasoned piece of fish, could be overwhelmed by a bold, full-bodied wine. Conversely, a hearty steak might make a light, crisp beer seem watery and flavorless.

Here are four primary taste profiles to consider when choosing a drink. The table below shows the four taste profiles, what dishes they go best with, and examples of drinks for each profile:

Taste Profile

Goes Best with What Dish



  • Balances spicy dishes
  • Complements desserts
  • Dessert wines
  • Ciders
  • Sweet cocktails


  • Brightens rich dishes and cuts through fats
  • Sour beers
  • Acidic wines


  • Offsets sweet or rich meals
  • Black coffee
  • Bitter ales


  • Enhances umami flavors in foods
  • Tomato-based drinks, like Bloody Mary
  • Robust red wines

The goal is to strike a balance where your drink doesn’t overshadow the food, but enhances it.

Pairing Drinks with Different Cuisines

Having explored the flavor profiles of drinks and the principles of drink pairing, learn how these principles apply to various global cuisines.

Pairing with Asian Cuisine

Asian cuisine is incredibly diverse, encompassing many culinary traditions, flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques from countries across the continent. We know and love the bold and complex flavors, which often balance sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami tastes. 

Here’s a quick guide to pairing drinks with Asian cuisine:

  • Sake with Japanese cuisine: Sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine, pairs beautifully with sushi, tempura, and other Japanese dishes. Its clean, crisp flavors complement the subtle tastes of Japanese cuisine.
  • Beer with Chinese cuisine. Chinese dishes, especially spicy ones like mapo tofu, can be wonderfully offset with a light beer. Beer helps cleanse your palate, allowing you to appreciate each bite fully.
  • Wine with Indian cuisine. A well-chosen aromatic wine can bring out the complex flavors in Indian curries. Opt for a fruity white wine, like Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, but you can explore other fitting options
  • Soju with Korean cuisine. Soju is a traditional Korean distilled spirit that pairs well with many Korean dishes, like samgyeopsal (pork belly) and tteokbokki (rice cakes). Its neutral flavor profile and relatively low alcohol content make it versatile and suitable for pairing with various flavors. 

When pairing drinks with spicy and aromatic Asian dishes, it’s best to consider the flavors and intensity of the spices used. A successful drink pairing will balance both the spices and aromatics of Asian food.

What to Drink with European Cuisine

wine and cheese platter with bread basket on wooden table

Selecting beverages to match European cuisine is as diverse as the cuisine itself. Give the cocktails or spirits below a try when you’re trying any of the cuisines mentioned below: 

  • Negroni with Italian cuisine. The Negroni is a classic cocktail that pairs wonderfully with strongly flavored food—salty dishes, strong cheeses, and dishes with bold flavors.
  • Wines with French cuisine. A creamy Chardonnay or a light Pinot Noir can be your go-to for most French dishes. These wines balance the creamy sauces and delicate flavors prevalent in French cooking. For dishes like coq au vin, a Burgundy Pinot Noir enhances the savory flavors perfectly, while a Sancerre beautifully complements the briny seafood flavors in a dish like bouillabaisse​.
  • Pálinka with Hungarian cuisine. Pálinka, a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy, pairs wonderfully with the rich and spicy flavors of dishes like goulash. Its sweet fruit-based varieties, such as apricot or plum, offer a delightful contrast to hearty Hungarian meals.
  • Sangria with Spanish cuisine. Sangria is a well-known and beloved traditional Spanish cocktail made with red or white wine mixed with fruits and brandy. It’s versatile and pairs well with a wide range of Spanish dishes, from tapas to seafood. 
  • German Schnapps with German cuisine. German Schnapps, particularly the fruit-flavored varieties, can be a delightful pairing with dishes like schnitzel or sauerbraten, providing a fruity contrast to the savory flavors.
  • Metaxa Sidecar with Greek cuisine. This cocktail offers a Greek twist on the classic sidecar cocktail, using Metaxa instead of brandy. This drink pairs well with a variety of dishes, especially Mediterranean flavors.
  • Porto Tonico with Portuguese cuisine. Porto Tonico is a simple, refreshing mix of white Port and tonic water, served with a lemon twist. It’s a versatile cocktail that complements Portuguese seafood dishes and cheeses.
  • Austrian Schnapps with Austrian cuisine. Austrian Schnapps, made from a variety of fruits, pairs crisply and refreshingly with Austrian pastries and desserts. Its clean flavors complement the subtle tastes of Austrian cuisine, providing a light and enjoyable end to a meal.
  • Black Russian or Belgian Beer Cocktail with Belgian cuisine. The Black Russian is made with vodka and coffee liqueur. It complements the rich chocolatey desserts Belgium is known for. While traditionally not a cocktail, the Beer Cocktail mixes Belgian beers with syrups or liqueurs and pairs well with a range of Belgian dishes, from mussels to waffles.

Through careful selection, you’ll find that the right wine or cocktail can take your European dish from good to unforgettable.

Drinking with Latin American Flavors

Latin America’s rich culinary culture offers a plethora of dishes, from the spicy, hearty stews of Mexico to the fresh, tangy ceviches of Peru. Here are four tips to guide you in choosing the ideal drink:

  • Tequila or Mezcal with Mexican cuisine. These spirits, made from the agave plant, complement the spices and heat in Mexican dishes. Choose a smoky Mezcal for barbecued meats or a smooth Tequila for tacos or enchiladas.
  • Chilean or Argentine wine with steak. The rich, full-bodied red wines from these countries pair excellently with grilled meats.
  • Pisco Sour with Peruvian cuisine. This tangy, frothy cocktail balances the flavors in many Peruvian dishes, especially seafood.
  • Caipirinha with Brazilian barbecue. This refreshing cocktail, made from cachaça, sugar, and lime, cuts through the richness of the meats, enhancing their smoky flavors.

Occasion-Based Drink Selection

group of friends having a toast on a rooftop

Pairing your meal with a fitting drink may elevate your dining experience, but it’s important to consider the occasion when picking your beverage.

For example, for family-friendly gatherings or children’s parties, it’s best to steer clear of alcohol. Opt for an assortment of colorful, non-alcoholic drinks instead, such as fruit punches, lemonades, and mocktails. 

On the other hand, if you’re hosting an adults-only event, especially one that speaks to a more sophisticated palette, elevate the experience with fine wines, craft beers, and premium spirits. The quality and presentation of your drinks should mirror the elegance of the venue.

Consideration of your guest list size is also key. A larger crowd means more variety and quantity. Also, remember that opting for high-end spirits for a large gathering can quickly become costly.

You’ll need to be aware of the timing of the occasion as well. Daytime events tend to lean toward lighter drinks (e.g., mimosas, light beers, soft drinks), while evening affairs can accommodate a broader range of alcoholic beverages.


Outdoor and Seasonal Events

When planning drinks for outdoor and seasonal events, you’ll need to consider factors like weather conditions, the time of year, and the nature of the event itself.

You can’t go wrong with refreshing beverages like iced tea, lemonade, or even a chilled rosé for warmer months. These drinks are light, crisp, and hydrating, perfect for keeping your guests cool under the scorching sun.

On the other hand, if you’re throwing a winter event, consider serving mulled wine or hot chocolate. These warm, comforting drinks can help your guests stay cozy despite the chilly weather.

Seasonal ingredients can also play a significant role. For instance, a summer event could feature cocktails infused with fresh berries, while a fall gathering might call for apple cider or pumpkin-spiced beverages.

Lastly, consider the event’s atmosphere. An elegant garden party might call for a sophisticated drink like champagne or a well-crafted cocktail, while a casual barbecue might better suit craft beers or homemade Sangria.

Tip: In events, if you realize that the food and drink won’t match, the food should always be a priority. Change or update your drinks as necessary.


Finding the perfect drink to complement your meal isn’t rocket science—it’s all about understanding flavors, considering the meal’s main features, and a dash of personal preference.

But don’t be afraid to experiment. At the end of the day, what your taste buds say is what matters most.



Burgess, L. (2016, August). A Guide to Drinking with Spicy Foods: Beer. The Kitchn. https://www.thekitchn.com/a-guide-to-drinking-with-spicy-foods-beer-234241

Casciello, M. (2021, April 27). How to find the perfect drink for your event. Food Fire + Knives. https://foodfireknives.com/how-to-find-the-perfect-drink-for-your-event/

Catering, A. O. (2020, January 28). A guide to drinks to complement your meal - all occasion catering. All Occasion Catering. https://www.alloccasioncatering.com/a-guide-to-drinks-to-complement-your-meal/

Dang, J. (2023, June 8). A study of flavor profiles. Cook Smarts. https://www.cooksmarts.com/articles/study-flavor-profiles/

Food & Wine Editors. (2023, August 22). 21 Best Brunch Cocktails. Food & Wine. https://www.foodandwine.com/brunch-cocktails-6407518

Freedman, B. (2022, September 6). What are tannins in wine? Food & Wine. https://www.foodandwine.com/wine/what-are-tannins-in-wine

Rdn, M. M. M. (2020, February 11). Is beer Gluten-Free? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-beer-have-gluten

Sussman, Z. (2022, July 13). What’s the Difference Between Red and White Wine? Food & Wine. https://www.foodandwine.com/wine/whats-difference-between-red-and-white-wine

Top pairings | Six drinks you might not have thought of pairing with Indian food. (n.d.). Matching Food & Wine. https://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/news/pairings/six-drinks-you-might-not-have-thought-of-pairing-with-indian-food/