There is an art to pairing food with wine. Nuanced undertones, blushes of flavor, hints of spices, and lingering tastes commingle with personal preferences and memories to create deep interactions that lead to strong opinions. Trying new combinations of wine and food is an endeavor that can be intimidating, but is rewarding upon success.
There are certain accepted pairings; you have red wine with red meat and white wine with most fish, chocolate goes well with red while other desserts trend with whites, etc. Finding the perfect balance of flavors between a dish and a wine is an accomplishment and feels like a victory of sorts. It improves a meal you likely already love, provides a point of conversation, sets up a full dinner lineup for future special events, and is an entertaining experience unto itself.
We wanted to share some of our favorite wine pairings as places to start an adventure (or at the very least a very good evening) this summer. We had several people take on the task of completing this image with some wine and food combinations:
Imagine the slow summer sunset settling over your home, the light catching the edge of your cushions and umbrella as the shadows from your house begin to eclipse the patio. Sitting in a comfortable seat, perhaps a frameless chair by a hammock, you swirl a glass of wine that perfectly finishes your meal, waiting for the stars to appear and the cool air to settle.
Some lovely pairings came to mind and we’ve got those below. We’ve also included a recommended brand or vintage to try if you’re unsure where to start with each varietal/blend. These are not perfect combinations or even liked universally amongst our pairing team, but each has found its way into each of our particular palates this summer. Read through, find some that intrigue you, experiment, and share!
Sparkling Brut with Mac & Cheese
2007 Extended Tirage Brut
Cheese and wine go together ALL the time … every time. The next time you have a bottle of Brut, make a homemade béchamel sauce for your noodles and if you’re feeling fancy, lump some lobster or crab in there. The balance of salt with the fish and cream of the cheese compliment a more mineral-based Brut. If you’re looking for a nice bottle that won’t break the bank, try Schramsberg’s 2014 Blanc De Noirs ($23) which is a complex brut made of red Pinot Noir grapes. Its name White from Black is just as it suggests. If you have a bit more cash to spend, one of my personal favorites is a brut from Oregon’s Argyle winery – 2007 Extended Tirage Brut ($75). Their 11 yr old Fall barrel brut packs a punch that is nothing but soft and will leave wine lovers with goose bumps.
Chardonnay and Bacon
Marimar Estate 2009 Acero Unoaked Chardonnay
Most people want to always go red with meats, but go big with a full bodied Chardonnay so it can hold up against bacon that packs a big punch of flavor. The best region to buy a buttery, oaky chardonnay is California. Benovia Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($32) is well balanced with citrus and oak with a long finish. Unoaked is growing MORE popular every day after the oak bomb of the 90’s and another option from the Russian River Valley is Marimar Estate 2009 Acero Unoaked Chardonnay ($29). There’s no oak on this beautiful Chardonnay, but it’s so rich, you won’t even notice and will enjoy the pure personality of chardonnay.
Fruity Riesling and Spicy Tacos
2016 Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling
Switch out the beer for an easy drinking Riesling with tacos this summer, it’s less filling! The fruit balances out against the heat and a hint of citrus found in most Rieslings will pair well with any guacamole. The best most surprising Riesling I’ve had lately came from 2016 Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling ($12) from the Columbia Valley. It’s a dry Riesling that isn’t the sugary/entry wine people start out with. This one is hints towards sweet but brings you back quickly with a crisp finish and goes amazing with any kind of protein.
Red Blends with Burgers
Molly Dooker’s 2016 Two Left Feet
At your next BBQ, break out the blend! You never really know what people will load their burgers with, so a red blend is the best bet so that you aren’t tipping too far into one varietal. Mark Ryan’s 2016 The Dissident ($38) over delivers on tasting notes that is mouth-filling in the various grapes used that balances each blend with each other.If you’re in the mood for a lighter side – give Molly Dooker’s 2016 Two Left Feet ($27) a try and make sure you do the proper Molly Dooker Shake before you pour out.
Tawny Port and S’mores
Fonseca 20 Year Tawny Port
If Summer had a dessert – it would be S’mores and wine’s would be Ports. If you’re looking to pair just the description alone can probably sell you “Ripe berry fruits with a delicate nuttiness and subtle mellow notes of chocolate, butterscotch and fine oak wood. Smooth and silky on the palate and full of ripe figgy, jammy flavors which persist on the long finish.” Enjoy the long and warm structure of the Fonseca 20 Year Tawny Port ($33). Hints of nut with orange peel and cocoa on the nose are a perfect after dinner sipper that packs a punch.
Barbera and Spinach Chicken A La Fresca
2015 Tempo Vero Barbera, Monferrato DOC
Served at room temperature – From the Monferrato region of Piedmont, Italy. “Tempo Vero” translates from Italian to English as “Real Time,” a name that celebrates winemakers who seek to preserve Italy’s history in liquid form. This 2015 Barbera is from the Monferrato DOC in Piedmont – one of the classic wine locales in Italy. Vibrant with notes of strawberry, cherry, wood, and bright acidity on the palate, it pairs wonderfully with foods like cheese, salami and pasta with cream sauce. Other pairings include – pizza, pork, lamb and veggies.
Touriga Nacional with Beef Tacos
2016 Field Theory Touriga Nacional
Served at room temperature or slightly chilled – From Paso Robles, California. Field Theory highlights curious varietals from unfamiliar places, like this Touriga Nacional from Pomar Junction Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA. The result is a light, early-drinking red with a fresh, fruit-forward flavor. Pro tip: On a warm day, drink slightly chilled. Pairs well with beef, cheeses and veggies.
Pinot Noir with Chicken Cordon Bleu
2014 Porter & Plot Pinot Noir
Served at room temperature – From Sta. Rita Hills, California. Porter & Plot showcases the unique, nuanced individuality of California’s most exceptional vineyards and appellations. In this case, we’re talking about Sta. Rita Hills – an AVA in California’s Central Coast that is highly regarded for luscious, round and premium wines made from Pinot Noir. Enjoy blue fruits, along with a silky texture, and nuances of earthy spice. Pairs well with poultry, pork, cheeses and veggies.
Tempranillo and Palomino Chicken
2016 Copycat Tempranillo
Served at room temperature – From Clarksburg, California. Tempranillo is a grape native to Spain, but this funky-fresh example is a modern one from Clarksburg, California. Thanks to whole berry fermentation (as opposed to the grapes being destemmed), this Tempranillo is more easy drinking than most. You’ll enjoy juicy blue and black fruits, and a little spice that is almost always present in Tempranillo. This red doesn’t require food, and is prime for drinking young. With that said, it pairs well with pasta in red sauces, pork, cured meats and veggies.
Gamay and Grilled Salmon
2016 Les Bobos Gamay
Served at room temperature or slightly chilled – From Beaujolais (province) in France. Many people associate Burgundy with Pinot Noir, and rightfully so. But in the Southern part of Burgundy in the region of Beaujolais, Gamay is the star and it is not to be ignored. Gamay and Pinot Noir have many things in common, like being light-bodied, easy-drinking, food-friendly and often a great mix of both fruit flavors and complex herbs and spice. This particular example of French Gamay is just that. Gamay wines are often un-oaked and meant to be enjoyed while young and fresh. Pairs very well with poultry, fish, cheeses and cured meats.
Ice Wine with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
2016 Goose Ridge Riesling Ice Wine
Ice wines are some of the sweetest wines you come across and are often viewed as desserts onto themselves, which is why they are largely considered dessert wines. They pair well with fruits (that match the natural undertones of the wine) and can take the edge off of an extremely spicy meal. I think that an ice wine with a small serving of ice cream can add a level of depth and maturity to an all time favorite. With ice cream or on ice cream…is there truly a difference?
Gewurztraminer and Szechuan Chicken
B Lovely Gewurztraminer
Gewurztraminer has a surprisingly nuanced flavor (given the difficulty of reading or pronouncing the name). The main undercurrents in Gewurztraminer tend to be tropical fruits and spices. In the variety listed above, lychee, pear, and honeysuckle are strong. It is a sweet wine with a bright spirit. It pairs well with dishes that include fragrant spices–ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, coriander, curry, etc. As far as a full meal is concerned, I think it works well with a Szechuan Chicken or Chicken Asado; however, I do like this as a dessert all on its own.
Riesling with Chips & Guacamole
2016 Eroica Riesling
Riesling wines are well received as one of the most popular white wines, and are favored as being palatable by both wine lovers and beginners. Riesling is one of my go-to’s for an evening drink because of how well it pairs with other foods. I’m especially fond of pairing Riesling with latin and asian dishes, and it goes surprisingly well with salty or fried foods, like onion rings. Chips and guacamole, while not a meal, have the salt, spice, and variety that can be lost if you use an aggressive wine.
Syrah with Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon
2015 Chateau Ste Michelle Syrah
Syrah varietals are powerful red wines that can range from medium to full bodied, with low to high tannin levels depending on the region in which the grapes were grown. Syrah will often have notes of blackberry, blueberry, and violet, with rich, earthy undertones of leather and punchy spices like pepper, mint, and anise. Due to the acidity of a Syrah, they don’t always pair well with cheeses and tend to do well with beef, pork, and probably chocolate. Bacon-wrapped filet mignon checks two of those boxes so it’s my choice for a summer grilled dish to pair with Syrah.
Merlot with Pizza
2014 Reserve Merlot Pheasant Run Vineyard
Merlot wines are smooth Bordeaux reds that favor fruity undertones (plum, cherry, and currants especially) with notes of chocolate, herbs and occasionally hints of cedar or other woods. Merlots can be difficult to pair with foods because they’re not as acidic or have the tannins of bolder reds, and can be overwhelmed or overwhelm other foods. Merlot pairs well with red meats, red sauce dishes, fish, shellfish and as well as mushroom dishes. As Amanda, mentioned, cheese does pair well with most wines; in this case, it lends to a fulfilling experience of a red wine and pizza.
Have a favorite pairing of your own? Let us know.