The title is misleading. There really is no such thing as 'proper' when choosing a wine and food to enjoy together.
In matters of taste, individual judgment will always reign supreme.
But the old rule of reds with beef, whites with fish and poultry still has merit. For either situation, choose the best wine you can afford as a starting point; more expensive wines often are higher quality, with more subtle flavors and aromas.
When serving beef, consider the relative strengths of flavor and aroma of your dish. To complement, serve powerful wines with powerful dishes; for contrast pick a lighter wine which doesn't overpower the meal.
Steak au poivre, from a New York strip, will be complemented by a wine rich in black pepper aromas, such as a Grenache. Those from the Gigondas region of the Rhone Valley in France is an example. For a more delicate beef dish, such as steak tartar a subtle Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon is a good accompaniment. For a spicy beef stew, try a Syrah from down under.
There's truth in the tradition that whites go well with fish and poultry. Color and aroma influence taste and these lighter wines complement the lighter meal. But sauces used in creating such dishes influence the decision too. A spicy Pinot Blanc from the Alsace accompanies well a turkey enlivened by paprika. But here a Burgundy can have a place as well.
For something heavier, like duck, consider a more acidic wine, such as those from the Sangiovese spectrum of Tuscany. Grilled chicken dishes, by contrast benefit from a German Riesling or an oakey Chardonnay.
Of course, meats are not the only dishes enhanced by a good wine. Cheeses and fruits offer opportunities for creating flavor symphonies.
Portugal has a very old tradition of serving fruity sweets with a fine Port. And many robust cheeses are made even more delectable when paired with a swirl of a good Gewürztraminer.
When preparing that creamy soup experiment with a Chardonnay with its overtones of pear or apple. Or, for those so inclined, the more vegetal hints of a Sauvignon Blanc will reinforce the dish.
For the adventurous, a cheese platter such as a young Camembert, or a Pecorino, those made from sheep's milk — combine in an interesting way with a fine Pinot Noir.
But while considering your choices for pairing the right wine with your dish, or vice-versa for the true wine lover, consider other factors.
Think of pairing wine with the person. Some individuals simply don't care for the heaviness of a port, or the robustness of a red, preferring the dry, more delicate whites.
When serving more than one wine at a multiple course meal, highly recommended, think about the order. Traditionally lighter wines are served before the more full-bodied types. Some examples, from lighter to more full-bodied are (among whites and rosé): White Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay. And among reds, from lighter to fuller: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Beef is traditionally paired with highly tannic red wines because the tannins in the wine attack the protein in the meat and enhance its flavor. A steak tastes much better in the company of a full bodied red.
Salt makes wine taste better. That's why wine and salty cheese is such a great match.