Food and wine have gone together since before 'food and wine'. Its like they were created just to be with one another - one complimenting the other where one is nothing without its counterpart. For all of that, however, there are socially held paradigms that govern what wines go with what food. But! Remember, this is YOUR dinner, YOUR event, do what YOU want. Just because society says 'thats the way it goes' doesn't mean you HAVE to do it. With that said, here are some very general practices to help you navigate good, but creative, pairings. Please, enjoy, but under no circumstances are these rules....just guidelines:
In nearly every instance, White Zinfandel goes with everything. If you are stumped or are concerned about a certain pairing, if there is any doubt in your mind - simply serve slightly chilled White Zinfandel with any course, meal, or cheese - or just by itself, and you cannot go wrong at all. While, of course, in any given situation there is a 'better choice' (there always is, isn't there?) this is a great equalizer and you can STILL look fabulous as a host.
Current convention holds that red wines pair with red sauces, and white wines with white sauces. This is due to keeping 'stripes with stripes and spots with spots'. Red sauces are often spicy or hearty, and need the fortified body of a red wine to go with it. While it tilts the scale of your meal, you can get away with sweet red wines here as well. Use caution, however, and be careful pairing sweet table reds with zesty (not spicy) sauces. White wines are often heavy as well, but in a different way. They are often starchy and offer robust and earthy tastes. As such they need light and sweet whites. Now there are semi-sweet and even dry whites that go well here as well. As such, just as with red, consider your sauce before serving a dry or off-dry white. A good rule of thumb here, a cheat, if you will, is that if the sauce is made with it - serve it with that sauce. Also, normal convention holds that reds are served at room temperature and whites are served sligtly chilled.
Lets talk main event protiens. Now you really wanna knock 'their' socks off - crank a complex dish with the 'perfect' wine and they'll beg you to host THEIR parties! Once again, red wines with red meats. For the sake of this lesson pork is considered a red meat (though it can be treated as both). It is particularly important to consider how you are cooking/spicing your meal in this instance. More so if you are including a sauce or gravy. Light body reds go best with grilled beef or pork seasoned with herbs. Fortified reds go best with stewed or baked beef and pork that might be seasoned with spices AND herbs. You want the fortified bodies to carry the flavor of the beef as well as the overnotes of seasonings. As to whites: tangy dry whites go best with grilled chicken or seafood seasoned with herbs and spiked with citrus. This keeps the parlell of 'sour' without neglecting the 'sweet'. semi-sweet or lighter whites pair well with sauteed or sauced seafood and chicken no matter what the seasoning. Semi-sweet whites have a way (like White Zin) of going with every type of seasoning. Again, remember your spices and pair accordingly.
What happens when you have multi-faceted meals, such as multiple courses? Oh boy! Now what? Actually, its simple. You can do it one of two ways. The 'easy' way is White Zin at every course (just different CHILLED temperatures). Or, consider your course as a single meal and pair accordingly. Remember the general rule, the pairing is directly proportionate to the meal. Red meat, red sauce, heavy cheese....red wine. White sauce, white meat, light cheese....white wine. It really is that simple. Observe:
Course 1 - Reception:
Light cheese and green vegetable tray with hearty homemade mustard and homemade buttermilk ranch. Serve chilled 2011 Pinot Grigio (it brings flowery fruit to the mix with a 'punchy' finish).
Course 2 - Appetizers:
Herbed beef tar-tar lettuce wraps with grated aged and dried parmesean cheese and a mild horseradish drizzle. Serve 2010 Shiraz (its a sweeter red that offers to 'cool' the horseradish yet keeps with the raw red meat).
Course 3 - Salad:
A true ceasar salad with homemade ceaser dressing and herbed croutons. Serve with 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (its got that sour nose with a smooth finish, just like the creamy dressing).
Course 4 - Main Fare:
Pepper crusted bacon-wrapped fillet mignon with garlic and herb mashed potatoes and seasoned grilled corn with italian crostini. Serve with 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Merlot is a normal ideal choice here, however the notes coming together on the plate need neutral ground...Cab, all the way!)
Course 5 - Salute Soup:
Light Consumee with sauteed onions and mushrooms, parsley dusting. Serve with 2009 Merlot (to harmonize with the mushroom and spices in the consumee - it also sets you up for desert).
Course 6 - Desert:
Homemade strawberry shortcake with a homemade white zinfandel sauce and dark chocolate drizzle accent. Serve with chilled 2013 White Zinfandel (this will bring all the notes together in a beautiful symphony of flavor that finishes like Beethoven's 9th's 4th Movement!).
Course 7 - Benediction:
Just serve coffee and enjoy the company, and bask in the silent glory of a successful meal!