The basic concept of pairing wine and food is to compliment and enhance the aroma and flavors of both the food and wine. Many people fear that they will ruin a meal if they select the 'wrong' wine, but this simply is not true. In fact, the most important thing to remember when pairing food and wine is to do what tastes good to you. That said, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when selecting a wine to enhance one's meal.
Balance. Wine should not overpower food, nor should food overpower wine. Simply consider the body and flavors of both the food and the wine when creating a match between the two. Pair light-bodied wines with lighter foods/lightly flavored dishes, and full-bodied wines with heartier, more flavorful dishes.
Dominant Food Flavor. When selecting a food and wine pairing, consider the most dominant food flavor. This is often the sauce or the seasonings used in the dish rather than the meat. For example, chicken with a lemon butter sauce will call for a different more delicate wine to play off the sauce than chicken cacciatore with all of the tomato and Italian spices.
Mirroring. One way of creating delicious food and wine matches is to mirror the characteristics of the food in the wine you choose. For example, a jammy, berry-flavored zinfandel works extraordinarily well with a rich meat and berry sauce because the flavor of the wine is mirrored in the sauce flavor.
Contrasting. Alternatively, selecting a wine that contrasts the flavor of the food (versus mirroring it) can create an amazing taste sensation. For example, pairing a low-alcohol, fruity wine like riesling with a spicy Jamaican Jerk Chicken dish will both frame and tame the spicy flavors of the dish.
Think Regional. Regional wine styles are developed to compliment the cuisine of that area. Accordingly, you won't go wrong pairing Italian cuisine with Italian wine.
Consider Acid, Sugar, and Tannin. Wine by itself tastes differently than when it is paired with food. This is because elements in wine interact with food to provide taste sensations (similar to spices). Acidity in food can make a wine without much acidity taste bland, sweet foods make wines seem drier than they actually are, and tannic wines should be paired with dishes high in protein (because the protein coats the mouth and makes the tannins in the wine seem soft and smooth).
Remember the Alcohol. Alcohol content in wine can have a huge impact on how it tastes with food. This is especially true when you are eating spicy foods, as alcohol intensifies spice. Accordingly, avoid pairing high-alcohol wines with spicy dishes. Instead, try sweeter wines as the sweetness cools down the heat of the spice.
Below is a chart of suggested food and wine pairings: