Wine is great on its own but it’s even better with food. A properly paired food and wine combo can result in a superb sensory experience. Figuring out which wine goes with your dish from the myriad of choices available can seem quite challenging but below is a simplified way to approach food and wine pairing in general.
A good rule of thumb is to try to match textures and flavors. The texture of a dish is key to determining which style of wine will work best – like a lighter or bolder wine. Meanwhile, the flavors of the dish are important for determining which specific kind of wine to pair – like a syrah, chardonnay, etc.
In terms of texture, think of the overall feel of your dish and figure out where it would be on a scale - with really light foods like soups and salads on one end and bold, intense foods like red meats or rich desserts on the other. All you have to do is try to match the overall texture of your dish to a similarly textured wine. Basically lighter wines with lighter foods, bolder wines with bolder foods.
After you’ve decided what style of wine to look for, you'll be able to eliminate those kinds of wines that aren't made in the style you need. For example, if you need a lighter wine, you already know not to look for a cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel.
To further narrow your choices, look at the flavors of your dish. Which ones are dominant? Are there more herbs? Is there a glaze? A sauce of some kind? Wines tend to exhibit certain flavors based on the kind of grapes used to make them. For example, syrah based wines can have a meaty or smoky character making them good pairings for grilled meats or roasts.
So basically the trick is to identify a kind of wine that will reinforce the dominant flavors of your dish. If a creamy white sauce is dominant in your dish, look for a wine with milky flavors or if it's a marinara sauce, look for a wine with tomato and red fruit flavors. If a glaze is dominant, look for something with riper, sweeter flavors. And so on.
Let's try an example. Let's say you're serving a ham. That's a lighter meat but not as light as a salad so it might fall somewhere in the middle on the texture spectrum. Wine options with similar textures would be a full bodied rosé or a lighter red wine. If it's an herb crusted ham, we would look to find a full bodied rosé or lighter red to reinforce the herb flavors. A good choice might be a syrah from the northern part of the Rhone because these are lighter reds that tend to reflect herbs unique to the soil of the region. If it's a glazed ham, then you might choose a california pinot noir or a spanish rosé with ripe fruit flavors to reinforce the sweetness of the glaze.
Of course, we could get much more detailed and consider specific components like acidity and tannins to make exact pairings but the general approach outlined above can be very effective. Once you get used to it, food and wine pairing becomes very easy!