People may or may not have soul mates. But food? Definitely. Just set up food with vino for a fairy-tale ending. Of course, for the ultimate match, you need to pair the dish with that just-right wine. Here, wine-savvy matchmakers share their happily-ever-after results.

WINE BEFORE LIQUOR

Don't let the economy kill your party spirit. After all, sensible spending can still fuel a festive atmosphere. Adelee V. Cabrera, director of client services of A Joy Wallace Catering Production and Design Team in Miami, suggests nixing the cocktails at the cocktail party. Instead, pair wine with hors d'oeuvre and eliminate the full bar to save big at the bank.

Despite its buttoned-up, sit-down reputation, wines are good for loose-goosey strolling events as well. A Joy Wallace catered a dinner station party where each station — ranging from a kushikatsu Japanese deep-fried kebob station to a mashed potato-cake station — was paired with a white and a red. The ceviche station, for example, served a snapper ceviche infused with jalapeno and citrus alongside a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Australian Shiraz. Client coordinator Priscilla Bittson says this white was chosen for its “cool, ripe register with crisp citrus notes,” as well as its “dry and subtle mineral notes that make this a natural match for lighter summer fare.” On the other hand, the Shiraz was “juicy, balanced, sweet and dry,” she notes, providing a different complementary experience for the ceviche. Yet, both offered good value and under-the-radar cachet.

But a word of advice when matching food and wine: Hire a professional. “The most common mistake made,” Cabrera says, “is thinking that because you drink wine, you can also pair it with food.” Som-meliers, which A Joy Wallace hires when needed, have the palate, nose and knowledge for the job.

TASTING TESTS

Executive chef Evan Treadwell has no interest in guesswork. If you want to know how a food tastes with a wine, then taste them — before the night of the dinner, he maintains. “Even the vegetables served with the dish may dramatically change my wine-pairing needs,” notes Treadwell, who heads the Lido Restaurant at the Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa in Shell Beach, Calif.

Treadwell went for balance with a recent tasting menu. He enhanced lobster poached in water, cream and butter with a full-bodied, fruity, buttery Chardonnay. Yet, the filet with caramelized onions and blue cheese potato souffle met their match in the earthy and lightly tannic Bin 36 Cabernet Sauvignon. Treadwell calls it “perfect for steak and blue cheese.”

But don't be a slave to the red-with-red-meat, white-with-white-meat rule. For example, Treadwell says, a red meat served with a cranberry essence may be better enhanced by a Riesling or a Grenache instead of a Cabernet or Pinot Noir.

WELL WITHIN REGION

Many chefs are all for pairing local foods with local wines. Tim Lundy, CSEP, executive chef and owner of Rosewood Market in Highlands, N.C., is among them. So when serving spicy South American cuisine, for example, pair the food with an award-winning Argentine wine made to enhance those flavors, he says. He's also a fan of new boutique wines cropping up everywhere from New Zealand to Chile, touting their excellent bang-for-the-buck. But he doesn't care for pairing California wines with food since they “have so much more alcohol compared to European wine, and alcohol is not as food-friendly.”

Lundy went regional for a recent fundraiser where he paired an Italian white anchovy Parmesan crisp hors d'oeuvre with an Italian Prosecco. “The beauty of this wine-food pairing,” Lundy says, “is the soft round tones of the Prosecco with just a hint of acidity married beautifully with the fresh taste of the white anchovy that had sodium on the finish from the Parmesan.” Another striking pairing was the gnocchi in shiitake cream sauce matched with a Chianti Classico of 100 percent Sangiovese grapes. Lundy describes it as a big, well-rounded Chianti in a super-Tuscan style with a slightly peppery finish that complemented the creamy shiitake sauce.

A WINEGLASS OF SASS

Sure, wines are sophisticated, but they can also be hip and even a bit cheeky. A favorite event request at the Liberty Hotel in Boston is a duo from Shinas Estate: a Shiraz called “The Guilty” and a Viognier dubbed “The Innocent.” Fun to order, fun to drink. According to executive chef Joseph Margate, the faint sweetness of the Innocent pairs well with his roasted beet salad with spicy cress, blue cheese and sherry vinegar.

Not to say the Liberty Hotel is a one-trick pony. A roasted venison loin with root vegetable gratin and truffle jus called out for a neither guilty nor innocent Montinore Pinot Noir. With the gamey venison and earthy gratin and truffles, “the light-bodied Montinore holds up to the flavor with its own earthy, spicy notes,” Margate says.

But of late, Margate is a fan of whites, especially wines from Austria and Germany, because he finds them more interesting than red — not to mention more affordable. He touts a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape as a particular food favorite because its flavor changes as its temperature changes. “It will be delicious with raw oysters in the beginning of the meal and will pair well with heavier dishes as the wine warms up,” he says.

A Joy Wallace's Ceviche Shooter Station
Mahi Mahi Ceviche

Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche

Snapper Ceviche

Vegetarian Bean Ceviche
Paired with Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc 2006 and D'Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz 2005

Lido's Winter-tasting Menu

Pan-Seared Baby Red Abalone Micro-herb Salad
Paired with sparkling Gruet Brut

Arugula, Fuji Apple and Duck Prosciutto Salad
Paired with Valle Isarco Pinot Grigio 2006

Butter-poached Maine Lobster on Polenta
Paired with Baileyanna Chardonnay 2005

Herb-crusted Filet Mignon with Blue Cheese Potato Souffle
Paired with Bin 36 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Chocolate Truffle Torte with Pepitas and Cinnamon Creme Fraîche
Paired with Saucelito Canyon Late Harvest Zinfandel 2005

Rosewood Market's Taste of Venice
Passed Hors d'oeuvre

Black Olive and Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Squares
Italian White Anchovy on Parmesan Crisps
Paired with Villa Donna Pinot Grigio and Riva di Rocco Prosecco

Seated Dinner

Fresh Gnocchi with Radicchio and Gorgonzola Sauce
Paired with Tramonti Chianti Classico

Veal Steak with Armagnac Sauce, Roasted Asparagus and Potatoes Gratin
Paired with Barbera d'Asti Sansi

Lemon Tiramisu
Paired with Scagliola Moscato d'Asti

RESOURCES

A Joy Wallace
305/252-0020
www.ajoywallace.com

Lido Restaurant
805/773-4300
www.thedolphinbay.com

Rosewood Market
828/524-0106
www.weddingdesign3.com

The Liberty Hotel
617/224-4000
www.libertyhotel.com

Liberty Hotel's Farmers Market Menu
First Course

Roasted Beet Salad with Spicy Cress, Blue Cheese and Sherry Vinegar
Field Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Thyme Croutons
Roasted Cauliflower with Currants and Pine Nuts
Seafood Chowder with Turnips, Truffles and Thyme

Second Course

Lemon Sole with Bloomsdale Spinach and Meyer Lemon Butter
Organic Chicken with Farro, Swiss Chard and Garlic Cream
Trofie Pasta with Mushroom Ragout and Taleggio

Third Course

Mascarpone and Lemon Tarts with Fresh Fruit
Chocolate Bundt Cake with Fleur du Sel Caramel Sauce
Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce
Paired with Shinas Estate “The Guilty” Shiraz and “The Innocent” Viognier