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Wine Pairing Pointers

[Bolded entries indicate classic food pairings that are NOT TO MISS!]

  • The weight of the food should be matched with the weight of the wine.  Heavier foods like red meat need a heavy fuller bodied wine. For example, a white, flaky fish would work better with a light white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc rather than an Australian Shiraz or California Cabernet Sauvignon. 
  • The strength of flavor of a dish should be matched by the strength or flavor in the wine that accompanies it. Spicy dishes or dishes with intensely flavored sauces, for example, need a wine with more body and intense flavors and aromas.
  • Having fish but want to serve a red wine? Classically, red wine and white fish don’t mix. Wines high in tannin, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, often make fish taste dry or metallic. This is because the tannins found in red wine react with the iodine in seafood resulting in a dry, tinny, metallic taste.  Your fish will taste like it came out of a tin can.  But…    there are red wines that can be used with fish.   Try a Pinot Noir or a Barbera from Italy.  Barbera has a deep ruby color, full body, and noticeably low levels of tannins.  Its chief characteristic is its high level of natural acidity even when the grapes are fully ripe. It can work with fish such as well as meat.   Pinot Noir is one of the most food friendly red wines we have.  It is a great crossover wine for guests at your table ordering both fish and meat.  The combination of Oregon Pinot Noir and grilled salmon was the first well known food marriage to dispel the myth of ‘white wine with fish; red wine with meat.’  The rich fattiness and grilled flavors of the salmon work wonders with the high acidity and low tannins found in Pinot Noir.
  • Having meat but want to drink a white wine?  Try one of Alsace’s full-bodied, concentrated Rieslings, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or Gewurztraminer.  This region’s cuisine revolves around pork and game often cooked with hearty vegetables such as potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and squash.  Even a simple pork roast is raised to new heights when served with a powerfully fruit packed Alsatian Riesling or Pinot Gris.
  • Serve Prosecco or a glass of  sparkling wine or Champagne if the occasion calls for it with your hors d’oeuvres.  These are lower in alcohol and it is important to start the night off with lower alcohol wines, moving onto the fuller bodied, higher alcohol wines as dinner progresses
  • Serve and unoaked white (Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, or any unoaked Chardonnay) with anything you can squeeze a lemon or lime on.  Chicken or veal Francese, and fish dishes that you might squeeze lemon on pair well with Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Vermentino, or Chablis.
  • Chinese and Asian dishes use a wide variety of spices to create complex and intense flavors. They need to be matched with wines that have intense flavors and aromas such as Gewurztraminer, Viogner or Riesling.  The slight sweetness in a wine such as Riesling or Vouvray (chenin blanc) also works to lower the fiery heat on some of the spicier dishes.
  • Salty dishes such as anchovy pizza or cappellini with anchovies, dishes or salads with feta or blue cheese, or spicy, salty sausages work beautifully with a well chilled white that is high in acidity and not too oaky.  Choose  Orvieto, Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Pinot Grigio,  Albarino, Pinot Blanc from Alsace.  Also try a German Riesling- the little bit of sweetness can help to balance the salt and the high acidity helps the wine stand up to the intense flavors of these foods.
  • Speaking of salty, here is another classic pairing: Stilton and Port. I find that autumn is the perfect time to serve stilton cheese as a dessert and port is the best acompaniment. The sweetness of the port helps to balance the saltiness of this cheese and the high alcohol content helps to cut through the fat of the cheese. This works best if you use vintage port and a handmade stilton-they both share a fine, if subtle, minerality. Walnuts make a beautiful accompaniment although apples are the traditional accompaniment and these are the best in the fall!
  • Match rich, red meats with tannic reds.  Protein rich foods soften the tannins in red wine so the fruit flavors are able to come to the forefront more easily.  Steaks, Prime ribs, lamb, venison, or other rich red meats need a Cabernet or Syrah with rich tannins. Try a Barolo, Brunello, Malbec, or Bordeaux. These are full bodied wines that can stand up to rich heavy foods that are higher in fat and protein.
  • Buttery dishes, like lobster or crab meat or steamers dipped in melted butter, go with a big oaky California Chardonnay or a white Burgundy like St. Veran, or Puligny Montrachet.
  • We’ve all enjoyed the intense flavors associated with Tex Mex cuisine: BBQ ribs, Buffalo Chicken Wings, tacos, burritos and other dishes with Mexican Salsas.  Thanks to chilies, jalopeno peppers, garlic, lime and cilantro these foods are full of ‘kicked up’ flavors screaming with heat and spices.  What sort of wine works best with such high powered seasonings? 
  • First, wines that are high in acid, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albarino, dry Riesling.  High acid wines stay alive and vibrant in the mouth; the acidity can cut through even the most intense spicy flavors like a knife.
  • Secondly, extremely fruity wines that have a touch of sweetness. An off dry Chenin Blanc, Vouvray or Riesling has just enough sweetness to counterbalance the heat of the Chilies.
  • Thirdly, wines that have a plush, thick, jammy texture such as Zinfandels from California or Shiraz from Australia.  Here the concentrated, supple berried flavors of the wine act like a buffer for the so those wild, intense seasonings and flavors don’t hit you too hard.


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