If you’re still pairing your fish with white wine and your meat with red, you’re missing out on all the fun. Experimenting is part of the fun, so forget about those hard and fast “wine pairing rules” and focus on all these others potential pairings that are oh so much more exciting! Check out these tips and pairing ideas below and start tasting:

1)      Focus on the body of the wine

Forget about the time when we only had access to two styles of wine: light-bodied whites and full-bodied reds. Remember: wine pairing is all about balance – when matching the wine with the dish, weight also have its importance. A lighter fish dish, like a European sea bass, will indeed pair well with crisp and light-bodied whites; but heavier and oilier fish, such as salmon, make for a great match with full-bodied, buttery Chardonnays or even lighter-bodied red wines, including Pinot Noir.

2)       Wine doesn’t have to be sweet to go with dessert

Admittedly, a dessert wine is sweet and while it can be a great accompaniment for various desserts, you should also consider other food/wine combinations. Think about it: a dry white might mellow the overwhelming sweetness of a caramel-based dessert, while a super tannic red can cut the richness of a buttery, dark chocolate dessert. And the contrary is also true… Sweet dessert wines can also be astounding matches for savory – you just got to find your favorite match! Try it with a spicy dish; the sweetness can help to tame the heat. Same goes for an off-dry wine, like a Riesling for example.

3)      The main ingredient is not always the main thing to consider

When it comes to food and wine pairings, what’s most important is the dish’s most expressive component. For example, a roasted red potatoes dish might call for a Chardonnay if it’s covered in sage butter. All in all, the idea is to be creative!

4)      Make it about the food or the wine – not both

Pairing “a big steak with a big red” is not always the favorite option. Make sure to think out of the box and remember that one shouldn’t outshine the other – make it about the food or the wine, never both! Why overpower your steak with a big tannic and complex red, and vice-versa?

For even more original and specific ideas, check out this post written by Food & Wine’s Executive Wine Editor, Ray Isle, on his food and wine pairings experience in Chicago.