P E R F E C T P A I R I N G S O F F O O D A N D W I N E
and…yes! you can do this at home
Sheree Wanner, of Camelot Gardens, with Nancy and Dave Perry, sample wine and entrees at Garlic Mike’s, Montrose.
Story and photography by Kathryn R. Burke
Cazwellas Chef Marcotte paired a French Grenache with rabbit and arugula, an interesting and tasty combination!
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE—the pairing of food and wine. It’s more a matter of what tastes, smells, and looks good and what goes down well with it. If you like to eat it or drink it, go for it, and don’t worry about getting the combination right. If the wine or the food doesn’t appeal, then pass the plate or the glass in favor of a flavor you like better. See, you thought drinking wine was a snob thing. Sure, it can be—oenophiles (wine connoisseurs) and sommeliers (professional wine stewards) take wine seriously. They often make a life study of it, performing wine choosing and wine drinking rituals most of us have never tried beyond sniffing the cork. (And many of us wouldn’t recognize a “bad” cork if we sniffled one—smells a little like past-their-date mushrooms, by the way, or maybe your grandmother wet socks that were buried in a barn!).
Dave and Mary Beth Wheeler sample braised short ribs with a glass of Damilano Barolo “Lecinquevigne,” a hearty Italian red at Garlic Mike’s.
Whatever your degree of wine sophistication, the important thing to remember is that drinking wine is something everyone can enjoy. When it comes to food and wine pairing, there’s really only one true rule: the rule that you break the rules and enjoy what you eat and drink. However, if you’re one of those folks folks who prefer to color within the lines, here are a few loose guidelines you could follow.
When food of a particular country or region is being served, try to select a wine from the same locale. This is particularly true when the food is sauced or seasoned with native spices. Italian wines go well with spicier, heartier Italian food, for example, and French wines pair well with the region’s indigenous and often more delicate cuisine.
Marge Phelps and her daughter Rosa Moudine, both with Marge Phelps Realty, toast the first course.
FLAVOR & BODY
Generally red goes well with heartier, heavier food like meats (both domestic and wild game), some fowl (goose and duck—the greasier birds), Italian-sauced pastas, cheese, winter stews and soups, and most any kind of slow-cooked beans. For white, think light, as in salads, summer soups, chicken, shellfish and fish, vegetable dishes, and delicately sauced foods.
Both red and white come in degrees, from heavy to light—the “body” of the wine. The more intense the flavor of the food, the more “powerful” the wine choice might be. Your goal is to balance the flavor intensity. Grilled steak, beef roast, or garlic-spiced lamb is great with a rich red Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon the heaviest of the reds. Serving a Riesling with steak, for example, the wine would be overpowered by the meat. A lighter-bodied red, such as Pinot Noir, or even a rosé, might pair well with a seasoned chicken dish, or maybe a cold meat and cheese platter. Light reds are also good with salmon, which tends to be fatty. Thinking white is often popular during the warm weather seasons and climates, since the food served tends to be lighter, cooler, and less seasoned. The choices may range from a light-bodied Riesling and Pinot Grigio to a heavier Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. In the latter case, blackened salmon over fried spinach, for example, pairs well with an oaky Chardonnay or a nice white Bordeaux. A summer or side salad of butter lettuce, pears, and walnuts is delightful with Semillon or a crisp Spanish white.
Nancy and Steve Blair try a Damilano Barolo “Lecinquevigne” paired with braised beef short ribs served over polenta with a Port wine glaze and truffle oil. Yum!
When in doubt, match the wine to the sauce, especially if it has a strong character, rather than the protein, for it’s the nuances and flavors of the sauce that drive your wine choice.
One caveat to consider, whites generally have a higher sugar content than reds—something to think about if you’re on a low carb or low sugar diet. The good news is that reds in moderation are really good for you (at least according to some medical “experts”).
SPICY OR SWEET
Spicy wines are a good option when matching dishes stemming from historically non-wine growing cultures. Thai, Mexican, Indian, and Chinese cuisines, for example, pair better with spicier wines, non-traditional. High-spice reds include varietals (mixed grape) such as Tempranillo, Malbec, Shiraz/Syrah, and Zinfandel. Spicy whites include the German word for “spice”) and the lighter, fresher, Pinot Grigio, which goes great with Italian food, especially if it contains sausage.
Sweet tends to be a matter of taste. Literally. While desert wines such as sauternes and ports and fruity desert wines can be very sweet, some of the lighter wines and even a few small-batch reds can be sweet, too. Interestingly, Zinfandel, a favorite with many women, and considered “spicy” by some, is often thought of as “sweet” by others.
Tuaca and blackberry crème brûlée served with Castello Dei Rampolla Trebianco Vendemmia Tardiva at Garlic Mike’s.
COCKTAIL & APPETIZERS
Just about any wine works for cocktail hour, with or without appetizers. Summer favorites are often sparkling wines, light whites, even concoctions of wine and various mixers, especially of the “spritzer” variety. A nice heavy red on a cold blustery day can really take the edge off. But after the first glass, if a meal isn’t in your immediate future, you might want to consider pairing an appetizer or two with your cocktail. Wine contains from twelve to eighteen percent alcohol, and a couple of glasses can play havoc with your system, especially on an empty stomach.
In the end, though, it’s what you enjoy that defines your own pairing preferences. Local wine distributor, Shelly Sale, suggests: “Get creative. Sparkling wines or champagne, for example, are not just for the special occasion. Try them with fried chicken or buttered popcorn. Palatable pairings are truly a matter of personal taste when you pop a cork and pour!”
Update. This story originally appeared in the San Juan Silver Stage, fall issue, 2008. Since it was published, both restaurant’s pictured here, Garlic Mike’s and Cazwellas, are no longer in business in Montrose, Colo. Garlic Mikes has a restaurant in Gunnison, Colo., and the Wagners (Cazwellas) are now in Texas..