Matching your meal to wine or to beer? Wine x beer? Part the first.
If pushed everyone should remember the best ever wine/beer they ever had as one inextricably linked to the company/food/situation that accompanied it. Push their boat out. But get it right you must.
Start with the food.
There are different schools of sommelier thought, mine follows the Italian tradition, so we look for either opposition or concordance. Always start with the food and match the drink to it.
What makes a perfect pairing? When the aroma combines with the food flavour and creates a new sensation, that sensation should be equal to, or greater than, the individual taste of either the wine or the food.
Pairing by opposition states simply, very simply, that food sensations are either hard [savoury, bitter, acidic]; soft [greasy or sweet] or liquid [succulent or oily].
Hard foods pair best with soft sensation drinks, which tend to be smooth.
Soft sensation food with hard sensation drink [freshness, minerality sparkling] and liquid sensation food [stews or dried salami which create succulence in the mouth due to their dry nature] goes with dried sensation drink [high in alcohol and tannin].
This is very simply put and is the concept of pairing by opposition.
This is supported by the theory of concordance, whereby the sensations of the food are matched by the sensations of the drink, so if the food has lingering and aromatic flavours then the drink needs to be lingering and aromatic too.
If the food is sweet, then so needs to be the drink, and finally the body or structure of the food and drink need to match. Simply structured food pairs best with simple highly structured food needs a well-structured full bodied.
This means you need to have a good understanding of the composition and taste of the food and the wine.