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Pairing food and beverages together ensures that flavors mesh well. It requires intentional choices and strategic planning.

Often it is easy to focus on one side of the dining experience and forget to take in the entire picture. For example, it’s easy to spend time buying ingredients to make a labor intensive meal only to dash out to the store before guests arrive for a bottle of wine or case of beer.  When this happens—not if—it has the potential to rob a dining experience of its heightened experience.

When selecting an appropriate drink to go with a course, consider the dominate flavor. Is it acidic, creamy, smoky, fatty or sweet? The flavor you land on will determine what type of beverage would add to rather than detract from this vibe. What this does is narrow the pool of choices so you can make a decision with clarity without feeling overwhelmed by endless options.

Other factors to take into account include how the dish was prepared and what additional flavors or textures are added, such as a squeeze of lemon or a helping of gravy. Keep in mind any fresh herbs used in the meal, as well. It’s a good idea to find a common thread here for thoughtful combinations.

Let’s say you are serving guests a summer salad rich with fruits and drizzled with a light vinaigrette. Offering them a heavy porter may not be a solid choice, considering its heaviness. In this situation, a crisp lager or a tangy gose would fair better overall. For those who prefer a summer wine, serve them a lively Albarino or a crisp Chenin Blanc; both options match the acidity of the fruit in the salad.

Another summer meal I enjoy serving guests is paella, a saffron-inspired dish that combines seafood, chicken and rice. I find that sangria will hold up nicely to the spice in this classic Spanish meal. The combination is always a fan favorite.

For evenings in your backyard, you can’t go wrong with picnic fried chicken paired with a dry sparkling wine. This match is fun because it involves a low-brow food with a high-brow drink. You’ll find the bubbles will cut through the richness of the fried chicken.

If you swap out barbeque for fried chicken, then substitute the dry sparkling wine for a juicy Zinfandel. The smoky, sweet and tangy taste of barbeque sauce holds its own to a rich and flavorful glass of Zinfandel.

Of course, there are times when you invite everyone over for a potluck-style meal. In this case, you’ll want to offer a dry Rose, a savory drink that pairs well with tomatoes, fish, grilled vegetables and whatever else lands on your table.

For your big summer bash, you’ll want to provide beverage options so your guests aren’t locked in to one choice. While this doesn’t require having a full bar, I do suggest serving two styles of beer, two cocktail choices along with a red and a white wine. When making these selections, stick to what you like and remember: Not everyone will love a hoppy Imperial IPA or an incredibly sweet Moscato.

Often, it’s easy to spot a combination that doesn’t work, such as a high alcohol cocktail and a creamy pasta. It’s the unexpected pairings that are more difficult to dream up but can drum up the most excitement from your guests. I suggest attending tastings that we host and asking us for advice. We enjoy taking in all the details pertinent to your event to find you the perfect pairing. It’s fun for us and will be fun for your guests, too.

Emily Pinner is a Chattanooga native with restaurant and retail management background. After managing Riverside Wine & Spirits for seven years, she created an event planning department that has connected her with lots of other local vendors. Her mission is to take the stress and guessing out of beverage planning for events.