Congruent V.S. Complementary Pairings


The art and joy of food and wine pairing is something that provokes the senses and the mind. I find it fascinating when a sommelier or a steward of a tasting menu nails the flavours of the food and marries them perfectly with wines. In this post we'll talk about the two pairing styles that you need to know (Congruent and Complementary pairings) to get you started with winning pairings of your own.


There are many factors that go into determining how to pair a meal with a bottle of wine. The first thing you need to do is understand the flavour profile of your meal. (I will do a future post breaking down the basic tastes found in food, which will further help.)


Things you need to ask about the food you're pairing:

  • Is it sweet?

  • Is it noticeably salty? Think salted cod, for example.

  • Is it spicy-hot?

  • Is it rich? Think pasta in a creamed sauce.

  • Is it fried?

The list of questions above is your starting ground, and then you move into thinking if you want a wine that acts as a Congruent Pairing with your food or one that works as a Complementary Pairing.


What are Congruent and Complementary Pairings?

A congruent pairing means you will select a wine for your meal because it shares the same dominant element as is found in your food. A common congruent pairing is dessert with sweet wines. Sweet foods do well with drinks as sweet or even sweeter as that combination slightly lessens the perception of sweetness on the palate, and provides a more rounded experience.


A complementary pairing means that you will select a wine for your meal with an opposite dominant profile than what is found in your food. A common complementary pairing is steak with red wine (tannin). Tannin does a fantastic job of breaking down fat and heightening the flavour of the meat. In return, the fat in your steak will temper the tannins (that drying feeling in your mouth) in your wine, often times giving rise to the fruit and other elements, and leading to a more balanced experience on the palate.


In closing, there is no better pairing style. Both a congruent and complementary pairing can be excellent. It really depends on the flavours you want to heighten and the senses you want to provoke! The most important thing to remember is that you never want the food flavours to overtake your wine and vice versa.


Cheers and happy pairing!