In my 20-plus years as a wine journalist, educator, and wine taster, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the perfect approach to wine and food pairings. I even co-authored an entire book on it.

I feel passionate about putting wine into a real-life context rather than expecting non-industry people to taste wine in a sealed void, and since most people drink wine with food and find it’s the most fun and least complicated way of getting to know different styles and varieties of wine, it makes sense that I and they consider wine pairings advice valuable.

But sometimes we (meaning the wine and food industry) overcomplicate the simple joy that is eating and drinking great things that taste good together. We get super technical and academic, with laundry lists of Do’s and Dont’s. We lean into esoteric, rare or precious foods (and sometimes wines) that the average person doesn’t have access to or frankly the inclination to eat or drink. We forget about busy schedules, what’s already in the pantry, and what just makes people happy. The old, studied way of tackling wine pairing just has a bit too much dust on it.

With this in mind, I recently put some basic pairings concepts to the test when presenting select foods and wines of the Traverse area to Chicago media with TC Tourism. I chose some of my favorite TC wine varieties, paired them with tasty but recognizable foods, and talked about why they worked without requiring a degree from MIT to understand it.

Here’s what we discovered:

Chicago Wine Event

The concept: Opposites attract

The Pairing: Cherry Republic Harvest Cherry White Cheddar Cheese & Verterra Winery 2022 Pinot Blanc

Why it worked: This pairing concept can be both surprising and incredibly delicious when you think about texture and acidity in addition to flavor. While this isn’t an extreme version of this concept (such as a crisp, focused bubbly cutting the fatness of fried chicken…a pairing with an obsessive fan following), the cherry cheddar has a mildly salty, tart-fruit element to it which brightens and showcases the Pinot Blanc’s elegant but juicy apple and tropical fruit flavors. Another example of this: pairing fruity wines like a Gewürztraminer or Riesling with spicy Thai or Indian. Try it. You’ll taste things in both that you never expected.

Chicago Wine Event

The concept: Pair like with like

The Pairing: Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. Michigan Cherry BBQ Chips & Brys Estate 2021 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Why it worked: It makes sense, right? This concept is where the ideas that red wine and burgers, white wine, and seafood come from. They complement each other on numerous levels because of their similar weight, texture, flavors and intensity. In this case, the spice, red berry fruit and slighter higher alcohol content (13.5%) of the wine holds its own against the savory but sweet and robust flavor of the chips. Both the wine and the chips have a pronounced cherry flavor which unifies them. In both small and big ways, the vibe of these two products is in step.

Chicago Wine Event

The concept: Consider the acidity when pairing wines with dessert

The Pairing: Grand Traverse Pie Company & 2023 Chateau Chantal Late Harvest Riesling

Why it works here: You can actually go overboard when pairing desserts and sweet wine, but if your wine has enough zip and zest in it, and the dessert has a little lift, the combination can be delicious. The Chantal Late Harvest Riesling is unoaked with a light body and refreshing finish, and while it has layers of ripe pear, apricots, and honey that match the cherry pie’s sweetness, it also has an acidity that cuts the sugar and highlights the tartness of the cherry. Another plus: the wine brings out the butter flavors of the pie crust.

A little basic guidance can be helpful in navigating the myriad choices available when pairing up your favorite pour and casual foods at home or farther afield, but nothing is set in stone. If you want to pair your Cabernet with Doritos, go for it. Like Twizzlers and Rosé? Great. At the end of the day, the best pairing in the world is the one that you like and that makes you happy. And that’s something we can all raise a glass to.