Properly paired food and wine can make or break a meal. There are several criteria you can use to plan your food and wine pairings. Generally, food factors such as fat, salt, acid, sweetness, and bitterness should be considered for the ultimate pairing.
Fatty foods, like a nice beef steak, pair well with rich wines like Cabernet. The fatty element of the steak softens the palate and dries the tannins of the wine. Blends containing Cabernet Sauvignon, such as a Bordeaux, also pair well with a prime cut of steak.
When you think salt, think bubbles! Champagne, or "sparkling wine" if it is produced outside of the Champagne region of France, is always a good choice with salty foods. Try to choose a brut Champagne to match the drying effect of the salty food. Remember, when it comes to champagne, "dry" actually means the wine will be sweet, and "brut" is actually dry.
Foods with a lot of acid, or tanginess, do well with a Sauvignon Blanc or a Sémillon. While salads with acidic dressing can be challenging to match with wine, try using a more bitter green in the salad to counteract the acidic nature of the dressing.
There are many degrees of sweetness, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pairing wine with sweet foods. If you're enjoying food with a fruity type of sweetness, a Chardonnay or dry French Rose will do the trick. Dark chocolate with a hint of bitterness, on the other hand, pairs much differently than fruity sweet dishes. Late harvest red varietals, such as a late harvest Barbera or Zinfandel, pair beautifully with chocolate. These wines are naturally sweet without any fortification. Paired with chocolate, the late harvest wines tend to balance out so well that even those who don't generally enjoy sweet wines might change their tune.
Another general rule is that old world wines pair well with old world recipes. For instance, old world style Italian wines can be challenging to pair with new world recipes due to their bold and tannic makeup. However, a Chianti paired with a old world style veal ragù or lasagna balances beautifully.
If you're ever in doubt about what food to pair with a particular wine, look up the winery itself. Oftentimes wineries have pairing information available for their wines on their website. If not, there's surely a helpful wine blogger out there with the answer to your unique pairing challenge.