By Banks Jesser
There used to be an old adage: red wine with meat, white wine with fish. With so many different grape varieties to choose from today, this doesn’t always need to be the case. Pairing food and wine doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating. My favorite rule of thumb when pairing wines with food is never overpower the food with the wine, and never overpower the wine with food.
The basic rule is to pair lighter dishes with a lighter wine, heavier or rich dishes with a heavier wine.
Lighter styles of white wine such as Riesling, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc typically pair best with lighter style food like shellfish (Shrimp, Scallops, Crab) or meats such as chicken and veal. Heavier styles of white wine, like Chardonnay, pair well with rich fish such as salmon or trout, and poultry dishes.
A similar approach works for our red wines as well. Lighter styles of red wine such as Pinot Noir tend to pair well with rich fish dishes, including tuna and salmon, or meats like lamb, veal, or pork. Heavier red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel tend to pair best with heavy meats like steak, beef and sausage dishes, while spicy foods tend to pair best with wines that have a zesty note to them like Shiraz, Malbec, or Zinfandel.
Honestly, there are no secret formulas involved with pairing food and wine. Repetitive experimentation of different grape varietals paired with different foods is the key to success. Step out of your comfort zone and try some new and exciting wines with different flavor profiles.
Recently, I was asked to pick wines for a five-course tasting menu for The GES Annual Harvest Dinner. After discussion of the ingredients for each course, here were my best choices.
First course: Squash Pate with Goat Cheese and Local Blueberry Preserve on a Pumpkin Seed Crostini
Sparkling is always a great palate cleanser at the beginning of a meal. I picked Mas Fi Cava Brut sparkling rose from Spain to go with the first course. I believe the fresh strawberry crispness of the rose will really shine paired with the creaminess of the goat cheese and the fresh fruit preserve.
Second Course: 3 Sister’s Quiche with a Cornmeal Crust on Local Micro-Greens
Here’s where I stepped out of my comfort zone and picked J Portugal Ramos Vinho Verde from Portugal for this course. I really like the fresh, elegant aroma, floral notes, and minerality of Vinho Verde paired with richness of quiche. This will also pair well with the bitterness of fresh micro greens.
Third Course: Sorrel Soup with Jeff’s Crusty Bread
I think the earthiness of the sorrel lends itself to be paired with a pinot noir from Chile, specifically, Leyda Classic Pinot Noir. This wine has all the characteristics of classic pinot noir...red cherry, raspberry, but also has an herbal note which is unique to the Leyda Valley of Chile.
Fourth Course: Braised Venison Stew with Native American Fry Bread
I picked Tilia Bonarda from Argentina for this dish. Bonarda is one of the most widely planted red grapes in Argentina. Bonarda has dark fruit aromas like black raspberry and black plum flavors. Bonarda finishes soft with velvety tannins. This is a great pairing with venison or any other type of wild game.
Fifth Course: Pot de Crème
I picked Centorri Moscato, a slightly effervescent wine from Italy for this course. The semi-sweet Moscato will pair really well with the sweetness of the crème while not overpowering the flavors. The aromas of peach and bright acidic finish pairs well with most desserts, and a great finish to the evening.