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Wine & Food Pairings

Pairing food with wine is a tricky topic for me because I am of two minds here:

1)If you really love to drink Aussie Shiraz with your oysters, go ahead and keep loving that insane combination.

2)I can’t ignore the fact that what you eat will greatly affect how a wine tastes, and the reverse.

Ultimately, I believe education’s purpose is to help you enjoy wine more. So, if these guidelines give you serious WDA (wine drinking anxiety), feel free to throw them out the window.

When planning, I think about three things: the intensity, flavors and texture of my beverage and its mate. It doesn’t mean one must always match all three or even one, as sometimes I enjoy the thought of contrasting much more. A gooey Soumaintrain cheese is lovely with the biting bubbles of Champagne, as is tangy Gorgonzola with a sweet-ish Riesling.

On to your questions:

Tim Tobish: What’s a good pairing for a late harvest Zinfandel?

Oooh, that is a tough one. Assuming the late harvest wine is made in a dessert style where a good amount of the sugar is not fermented into alcohol, then you are talking cheese course with aged, flavorful cheeses and maybe a berry compote. I might try a chocolate dessert with berries if the wine is sweet enough, but never let the dish be sweeter than the wine or you will get a sour taste. Or if it isn’t a super sweet style, you might even go for one of my favorite Zin pairings that I confirmed last night: ribs!

Shailaja Srinagesh: Wine pairing with Indian food is very tricky. Other than Mosel Riesling/Vouvray/Rosé/lighter white varietal wines are there any reds that can compliment the spice, intense flavor and richness?

I actually think that Rieslings and other sweet wines take away from the spiciness of Indian food and serve to mute my favorite flavors. I once hosted an Indian dinner where I invited my sommelier friends. We tested the sweet wine theory and found it flat. If the spice of Indian food is too much for you, don’t eat it. (Though of course, like I say in rule #1 above, if you just love it, that’s your deal).

I much prefer Sangiovese, a rustic red from the Rhône Valley, or red Zinfandel. Of course the trick here is that Indian food is regionally diverse. A South Indian vindaloo will taste better with a wine that is lighter and less tannic, whereas the richness of North Indian dishes lends itself better to a slightly heavier style of wines. Maybe it is time to recreate that Indian dinner and do some testing…volunteers?

Tohm Sansani: I’m familiar with wines and pairing them with a dish. But what do you do when you’re having dinner for two with various dishes over the course of dinner and dessert and you don’t want to open a new wine for every course. Is there a universally food-friendly wine?

Yes, Tohm, last week I talked about my love for Pinot Noir and Riesling for their mouthwatering acidity. I would add to this list the broad category of Italian wines. I think wines like Chianti, Valpolicella and all the lovely Italian whites from Soave to Pinot Grigio are particularly generous in how they cleanse your palate. I admire their ability to go well with light tomato sauces or hearty stews.

For a quick cheat when guessing how heavy a wine is, look at the alcohol level on the bottle. If the octane is higher (towards 15% and more), the wine will usually be a heavier beast. Match those with caution so a delicate dish isn’t overwhelmed.

Tina Hinds Denman: Wine and pizza is always a challenge! I like gourmet-type pizzas, with pesto or white sauce rather than tomato…recommendations?

Okay, I’m going to go back to Italy, but this won’t get redundant — the home of the thousands of diverse types can’t possibly be boring.

Aside from your typical suspects of Chianti or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which are great for tomato sauce pizzas, pesto is particularly great with rosé for that combination of tart and firm fruit to work against the herbal and garlicky notes. I also like matching the nutty flavor of the pine nuts to a Falanghina or Orvieto. I would keep a good Barbera or Dolcetto as my standby for any pizza. The fresh fruitiness of these wines are great particularly because their intensity isn’t too great to overwhelm most toppings.

Overall, a great pairing acts as a multiplier: 1+1 can equal 20. The greatest ones can lead to a truly sublime experience. And don’t fret if you get it wrong: just drink more and enjoy.

Next week I’ll answer your questions on restaurant wine lists. What do you find really tricky? Post your questions here or on the Lot18 Facebook page!

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