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San Clemente Journal

Community News - How to Pair Wine With Food

Nov 01, 2009 11:08AM ● By Don Kindred

by Barney & Rachael Doyle

Some of the most common questions we get from customers at San Clemente Wine Company concern what wines go with what foods. A lot of people mistakenly believe that they will ruin the whole meal if they make the “wrong” wine choice. They need to know that it’s impossible to ruin a good meal if you select a wine that you enjoy regardless of what the “wine experts” say. Remember, the wine experts are not eating your dinner…

Some basic “rules” of wine and food pairings have been established, the oldest one in the book is “red with meat, white with fish or fowl”. But rules are meant to be broken and by following some general guidelines, any meal will become a great one when choosing a wine to enhance your meal. 

1. Select light-bodied wines to pair with lighter food, and fuller-bodied wines to go with heartier, more flavorful dishes. A nice white wine or Pinot Noir can work beautifully with a salmon dish because you are matching light to light. Otherwise a full-bodied, heavier wine will overpower a light, delicate dish, and similarly, a lighter style wine will hardly be noticed with a hearty roast. For instance, a full-bodied wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or our favorite Petite Sirah goes very well with a hearty roast or a nice rib-eye or filet mignon. When eating spicy foods, such as Thai, a nice Riesling or Gewürztraminer is perfect but also a Zinfandel will pair nicely because of the “spice with spice”.

2. For every food action, there is a wine reaction. When you drink wine by itself it tastes one way, but when you take a bite of food, the wine tastes different. This is because wine is like a spice. Elements in the wine interact to provide a different taste sensation and can either enhance or conflict with the food.

These days, many meals served while entertaining include a main entrée, preceded by appetizers and ending with a dessert. And the appetizers served (while the main courses are still cooking) can be the most interesting and the choice of which wines to serve becomes a fun challenge. 

Select light-bodied wines with lighter food A favorite choice of ours is Champagne or Sparkling Wine , because it blends with so many types of foods, especially appetizers. Most Champagnes are a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, from across several vintages and like any wine, will range from sweet to dry. Brut is the driest form, and the most popular Blanc de Blancs are made only with chardonnay grapes and go well with lighter foods, such as seafood and vegetables. Blanc de Noirs contain only red pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, with a deeper golden color than the blanc de blancs. And Rose has become more popular as its color comes from the addition of pinot noir wine at the second fermentation, the point at which still wine becomes champagne. 

Champagne is much more versatile than any single wine to drink with a wide array of foods and the following appetizer pairings are recommended for traditional brut champagnes, unless otherwise noted. 
• Nuts, especially almonds 
• Cheeses. The best are aged, hard cheeses such as parmesan, gouda or cheddar. Goat cheese goes very well with blanc de blancs. 
• Fish and seafood, especially lobster. 
• Asian food. The acidity of champagne stands up very well to the spiciness of these foods. 
• Sushi is best for the driest bruts or blanc de blancs. 
• Mexican food is good with fruity extra-dry champagne. 
• Avoid heavy tomato-based sauces; tomatoes clash with the high acidity of the champagne. 

For appetizers using specific spices, such as oregano, marjoram, sage, or thyme, a suggested wine pairing would include Pinot Noir due to being light-bodied and aromatic, or Merlot because the smoothness and supple texture plus its luscious fruit qualities will balance with fragrant herbs quite well. 

If you’re serving some type of fish, such as salmon, an oaky Chardonnay will mirror the salmon’s oily quality and has enough texture and character to be a fine complement. Lighter, more delicate fish such as sole or flounder go well with Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Albarino or Argentinean Torrontés, all of which add a nice citrus flavoring to the fish.

Usually appetizers are lighter fare and provide a nice contrast to the hearty main meal. By using a variety of wines with each, the foods and wines will compliment each other and add a whole new level of enjoyment. b