Wine Pairing Guide
1. Choose Your Main Dish
2. Choose Your Spice
3. Recommended Wines
White Zinfandel is a light pink ''blush'' wine made in California from early-picked Zinfandel grapes. The red grapes are quickly separated from their skins during crushing and fermentation so that the resulting wine is very light pink; thus White Zinfandels have far less color, alcohol and flavors than normally fermented Zinfandels. Because early-picked grapes tend to be high in acidity, most White Zinfandels are made in a sweet style (with various amounts of residual--unfermented--sugar) to balance the acidity. Sutter Home Winery (located in the Napa Valley) was one of the first wineries to promote White Zinfandels, which are simply a light rose wine.
Crisp, high in acidity and light- to medium-bodied, Sauvignon Blanc is recognizable for its grassy, herbaceous flavor and aroma. When grown in warmer climates the flavors are more fruity, melon-like. The grape is important in California, New Zealand and Northeastern Italy, but it really shines in France's Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions. There it is used prodigiously as a blending grape and is responsible for the stand-alone varietals Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. Though not as rich and complex as Chardonnay, this is a versatile grape, one that grows well in a number of places, responds well to oak or a lack thereof, and can be drunk young or aged several years. As well, it can make for some fabulous late-harvest offerings.
Light, crisp and fresh, Pinot Grigio is excellent with light seafood, pasta or chicken breast dishes. It's also the perfect wine to serve before dinner alongside an appetizer of cheese and crackers. A fairly acidic wine, it's best to avoid pairing Pinot Grigio with recipes containing highly acidic ingredients like citrus or tomatoes. Typically pale yellow in color, Pinot Grigios have a silky-smooth texture, with delicious flavor notes including citrus, melon, pear, tropical fruits or honey.
Riesling grapes need cooler climates and they produce both refreshing light-bodied wines and full-bodied table wines to pair with the greatest cuisine. As with Chenin Blanc, Riesling has a very high natural acidity, which both balances the sugar (think of the way we have to sweeten lemonade) in sweeter wines and acts as a preservative for long ageing. The oldest, still-living wine ever tasted was not red--it was a German Riesling, a Steinwein, from the 1540 vintage. It was tasted in 1961, after 420 years, and had not yet perished. Rieslings are floral and fruity, and can be delicate, subtle, and low in alcohol, making for a very nice summer wine. But even sweet, low-alcohol wines from the Mosel in Germany balance the sugar with a steely, teeth-cleaning acidity. And though you might think of Rieslings as necessarily sweet, there are many dry Rieslings, the best being from Alsace. These show best with several years of bottle age--though they are certainly fun to drink young!--and pair magnificently with pork, foie gras, and other rich foods.
The classic red grape of the northern Rhone where it produces such wines as Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Crozes Hermitage and St. Joseph to name but a few. It produces intense inky purple coloured wines when young with a distinctly spicy tone. As it matures it turns to deep garnet with evolving earthy, stewed blackberry and damson flavours. It gives huge extract and tannins and is capable of great ageing. As 'Shiraz' in Australia it presents a more approachable nature, more plummy and elegant when young but still retaining that spicy character and intense colour. Often blended in the New World with Cabernet Sauvignon for added complexity. It is best suited to hot climates and granite soils.
The classic white varietal of Burgundy and perhaps the best known and loved white varietal in the world. It is vigorous, easy to grow but susceptible to spring frosts as witnessed regularly by the vigernons of Chablis. It grows well in cooler climates but can lose acidity if picked late, especially in warmer regions such as Australia and California. Its typical varietal characteristics are honeyed, tropical fruit flavours with toasty, buttery nuances. It ages well and is totally at home with oak, which imparts those delicious vanilla and butterscotch tones so beloved of Burgundy drinkers. Its diversity of style can perhaps account for some of its worldwide appeal.
With flavors and aromas ranging from black cherries, to sweet red berries, to ripe and juicy plums, Pinot Noir is a lighter colored and flavored red wine that pairs well with a wide variety of foods. Pinot Noir wine is made from the red Pinot Noir grape. This grape grows under very specific growing conditions, which are often reflected in the flavor of the wine. Softer, fruitier Pinot Noirs are excellent with roasted chicken, salmon or pasta, while more tannic Pinot Noirs are delicious paired with hearty casseroles and stews.
The second 'noble' red grape of Bordeaux and the first in St. Emilion and Pomerol. Responsible for that delicious, plummy, soft style of wine it is an ideal blend with the more austere Cabernet. It is an adaptable grape that ripens early, gives great colour and fruit sweetness, but is susceptible to spring frosts and to rot. It has become extremely popular throughout the world in both its blended and varietal form, especially in Italy, Australia and Chile. Its most hallowed 'claim to fame' is perhaps Pomerol's 'Chateau Petrus, one of the world's most expensive and sought after wines.
Chianti wines are often made with one of Italy's most famous grapes: Sangiovese. Predominantly grown in Tuscany, Italian Sangioveses are known for their fresh fruit flavors and subtle herbal aromas. The grape is grown in parts of Australia and the United States as well, producing wines of softer acidity that the Italian versions. A food-friendly wine, Chianti matches well with steaks, chicken, mushroom dishes and anything with tomato sauce, from pizza to pasta, for a classic Italian pairing!
Known simply as 'Zin', this is California's most common red wine grape. It produces all styles of wine - red, white and rose from bone dry to sweet, even a port style from late harvested grapes. For years it was dismissed as a quaffing jug wine not to be taken seriously. Things have changed, however, and we are now seeing some pretty serious offerings coming from the better producers. It is rarely blended and is at its best as a dry red wine with aromas of ripe strawberry fruits and a whiff of spice. It prefers cooler climates, as it can tend to over ripen.
The classic grape of Bordeaux and the dominant variety in all the top growths of the Medoc. A most fashionable varietal, sought the world over and synonymous with rich blackcurrant concentration, cassis and cedarwood. It is a small grape, giving very deep colour and extract, quite resistant to disease and capable of producing wines of great longevity, elegance and structure. It is grown throughout the winemaking world as both a single varietal and a blending grape, where it imparts a classic quality to many local indigenous varieties. It has been particularly successful in Australia, California and South America where the long, warm ripening season and diverse soils realise the grape's true potentials. It has a natural affinity with oak, which imparts the wonderful cedar and 'cigar box' attributes for which the grape is famous.