There is one general consensus on pairing food and wine and that is the flavour intensity of both should be similar. For example, fresh pan-fried scallops are better suited to a light bodied white wine then a heavy tannin red. At the opposing end a steak, or highly flavoured dish such as a Moroccan tagine, suits a fully flavoured wine that stands up to the food. There is a general appreciation that certain combinations are pleasurable to the majority of people; fatty foods and high acid wines, and salty foods and sweet wines e.g. stilton and port.
Another often overlooked factor is location. Although this might be a strange word to use in conjunction with food and wine, it often has very pleasurable outcomes. The principle is what grows together goes together, and dishes that are local to a specific area are likely to have been impacted by the wine or vice versa. A great example of this is Pinotage and Boerewors, a South African style of sausage or Oysters and Muscadet Sur Lie.
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The interactions between wine and food can be thought of as a balancing act. The simplest way of explaining this is to imagine a seesaw, increasing some aspects will benefit the wine and increase the positive compounds, adding different food components will increase the negatives seen in the bottle. Good features of wine that increase are fruitiness, body, sweetness and richness. Bad features are astringency, bitterness, acidity and warming alcohol affects.
High risk food components all have negative impact on the seesaw.
Increases perception of acidity, astringency, bitterness and warming alcohol affects. Decreases sweetness, body and fruitiness. The acidity in wine can be increased so much that it seems harsh and unbalanced. Wine with equal sweetness e.g Tokaji or Icewine are good dessert wines for this reason.
Increases sweetness, fruitiness and body. Decreases perception on acidity. Acidity in foods can be both a good or a bad thing, it is dependent on the wine in question. High acid wines such as Riesling can seem more balanced when paired with high acid foods. Low acid wines such as Viognier can seem flabby and unpleasant to drink.
Increases perception of acidity, astringency, bitterness and warming alcohol affects. Decreases sweetness, body and fruitiness. Umami foods such as mushrooms or asparagus are surprisingly difficult to pair with wine.
Increases the wines' body, decreases acidity, astringency, bitterness. Salty foods pair very well with wine. This can easily be remembered by how well cheese and wine work together.
This does exactly as it suggests, bitter foods increase the perception of bitterness in the wine. This compound in food is incredibly subjective, levels that some people might find appealing will be unpalatable to others.
Increases perception of acidity, astringency, bitterness and warming alcohol affects. Decreases sweetness, body and fruitiness. It triggers different receptors in the mouth that compound, like sweetness and salt, and people vary in sensitivity. Chilli heat has a special impact on wine as it can increase the sensation of alcohol which in turn will increase the perception of heat. Many people recommend pairing spicy foods with lower alcohol drinks such as beer for this reason, however if you are partial to spice then higher alcohol drinks might be more appealing.
Astringency- the drying mouth sensation often due to tannins in the wine.