Happy Monday and last few days before Christmas! While this year is so different, and has even been hard in many ways, I truly believe life is what we make it, and Geoff and are committed to having a fun and festive holiday this season even though we’re only able to see a few close family members (I say only, but realize this is such a huge blessing as many can’t even do that! we’re very grateful.)
For us, part of what makes the holidays is tradition. While we’re starting to build our own, we’re also continuing some of our families’, but central to all is delicious food and drink! Drinking eggnog the week leading up to and after Christmas, eating cinnamon buns Christmas morning, and one of my favorite memories… gathering around the table Christmas eve for my Italian family’s annual 7 fishes dinner. They’re things that always make it feel like the holidays and I hope to continue, especially when I have a family of my own!
Pairing wines with food can be confusing, and even daunting, so I wanted to share a bit on it along with some recs to simplify it for you guys! You don’t need to know a lot to have the tools to make good pairing decisions, and it can really enhance your enjoyment of your food and festivities! Hope it’s helpful!
The jist of it:
Wines and food have some distinguishing characteristics that you can use to help with pairing. Wines tend towards being either bitter (think tannins/dry reds), acidic (think tartness/dry whites), or sweet. Food has those three, while also offering salt, fat, and spice (although wines can have these to a lesser degree). When looking to pair, identifying which of those characteristics your food has is the first step!
Once you’ve determined which characteristics your food has, you now can decide if you want your wine to complement (think contrast) or support (think match) those characteristics. For example, if you have a flavorful, buttery fettuccini alfredo, you could complement it with a lighter bodied, citrusy sauvignon blanc, or support it with a more fuller bodied, buttery chardonnay. You can also go a different route such as highlighting flavor profiles they both have in common, which ends up complementing and supporting! Eg… If you decide you want an light bodied yet herbal, earthy red to pair with the fettuccini because you were a bit heavy on the herbs and spices while making the sauce… maybe the similar flavors support but the light body of the red compliments. It’s important to remember that there isn’t a ‘right or wrong’, and pairing (as well as consuming) should be delicious and fun!!
Here are a few additional suggestions to help with pairing:
1. Choose a wine that’s more acidic than the food.
2. Choose a wine that’s sweeter than the food.
3. Choose a wine with the same flavor intensity as the food.
4. Red wines pair better with bold flavored meats (e.g. red meat).
5. White wines pair better with light-intensity meats (e.g. fish or chicken).
6. Bitter/tannic wines (e.g. red wines) are best balanced with fat.
7. It is better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat.
8. More often than not, White, Sparkling and Rosé wines create complementary pairings.
9. More often than not, Red wines will create supportive pairings.
So let’s apply this practically…
When sipping and chatting away, wines that are smooth, not too dry, and medium to lighter bodied are a great way to go. If you want a really lovely, slightly evervescant (meaning has a bit of bubble that’s very smooth, think Perrier but less bubble) and off-dry red, a Lambrusco is a fantastic option. A Gamay is also a lovely sipping wine, as it’s very light bodied, easy drinking, and is great served slightly chilled. A blanc de blanc or champagne are great sipping (and toasting) options if you want something sparkling, as they’re not as sweet as prosecco but not bone-dry. Chenin Blancs, Pinot Noirs, and Côtes de Provence Rosés (beautifully colored pale pink, dry rosé) are also great options!
Brooklyn Winery has a delicious Blanc de Blanc and Ruinart, Vueve, and Moet are fantastic higher-end champagnes. For under $15 though, Domaine Saint Vincent is a great $13 option that we love and definitely over-delivers for the price! Winc’s Gamay, Keep it Chill, is pretty great for a gamay, their Cape Route is a solid Chenin Blanc, and Coppola’s Diamond Pinot Noir is a great pinot for only $15. Minuty comes in around $15 as well, and is one of my favorite Côte de Provence Rosés, with Miraval (the most citrusy of the 3) and Whispering Angel being other slighter high priced but delicious options.
Hors D’oeuvres / Snacking:
For cheese boards and appetizers, dry medium to light bodied wines tend to work well, with more flexibility depending on what you’re serving. For salty or fatty appetizers, especially cheesy or creamy ones, more acidic or tart wines tend to pair and complement well as these foods bring out their fruitiness and flavors more. A great red option would be a Zweigelt; it’s a lighter medium bodied red that’s smooth and juicy, but think almost but not quite ripe juicy, for a more tart/dry juiciness. Grenaches, Côte du Rhônes (juicy for an old world red), and Cabernet Francs are also great red options that are balanced and light to medium bodied. For whites, Sauvignon Blancs (or their classy french twin, the Sancerre) are a great light to medium bodied option, as they’re crisp, refreshing, and a great balance of of fruity and tart, allowing them to pair well with so many different foods, even sweeter ones. A dry Reisling is another great white wine option, being light to medium bodied and more floral.
Winc has a great Zweigelt. For Côtes du Rhônes, you don’t need to spend much, Les Dauphins is only $10 and delivers well for that price. Brooklyn Winery has a great Cab Franc, as does Cooper’s Hawk. For Sauvignon Blancs, Kim Crawford is one of my favorites, Pascal Jolivet is delicious, or if you want a more robust one, Brooklyn Winery’s is also very good and bursting with fruit! Françios Millet makes a fantastic Sancerre.
For meals and main courses, as there tends to be a lot more flavor, intensity, and variety in the food, so fuller-bodied wines work well for pairing! (although, I love full-bodied wines and sometimes sip with just cheese, so you definitely don’t have to limit them to full on meals!). For reds, the classic Cabernet Sauvignon is always a great choice, as it’s full bodied, robust, and has a healthy level of tannins. If you want one a bit juicier, go for a California cab or even a Red Zinfandel (a bit less dry while spicier), or if you want one earthier and drier, old world cabs (from Europe), or even a Bordeaux which is a cab and merlot blend, will be more what you’re looking for. Malbecs and Syrahs are also great options, with smoky and spicy notes that go great with dishes that have similar flavors. If you’re wanting to go the white route, oaked Chardonnays tend to be fuller bodied along with Voigners and Gewürtzraminers are great options!
I’ve tried and loved quite a few Cabernets and red Zins, but two that stand out are Storypoint’s Cabernet and Prisoner’s Saldo Red Zinfandel… both are under $30 (Storypoint you can sometimes find under $20) and great quality! St. Francis, Chasing Lions, Ground Effect, and Educated Guess are also great cabs, and if you’re want a really special one (but pricey), Faust is amazing! Boneshaker, Joel Gott, and Elyse are also fantastic red Zins. Brooklyn Winery’s Malbec is such a fantastic wine in general, as well as Malbec, especially after it’s had some time to breathe. As far as Chardonnays, Penfold’s Bin 311 is a fantastic option, and Cooper’s Hawk has a great Voigner and Gewürztraminer.
And last but not least… dessert. What to sip? For dessert, I don’t think the wine being sweeter than the food ‘rule’ necessarily applies, as most desserts end up being sweeter than even dessert wines. These recommendations are great for pairing, however, if you’re like me and don’t like a lot of sweet/sugar, they can serve as dessert themselves (as can great cocktails!). Prosecco is a great sparkling wine for dessert, as it’s sweeter than Champagne yet still on the dry side It would pair well with desserts that are rich but not very sweet, like a flourless chocolate cake, or even something like fruit. If you want a sparkling wine that’s sweet, Moscato is a great way to go. For more rich wines that would be categorized as ‘Dessert’ Wines, Port (usually red) and Ice Wine (white) are common and quite delicious for sipping or pairing with sweet desserts. Tawny Ports are more sweet, carmel-y, and nutty, while Ruby Ports are more fruity, slightly less sweet, and jammy. Ice wines are one of the rare occasions when I drink sweet wines… they can be divine! I love that they are great for sipping chilled, as it makes then a bit more refreshing. With sweet wines, just be aware that sugar is a big contributor to not feeling great the next day! If you’re going to have a sweet drink, keeping it to one or two even if you have a few dry wines/drinks can make a huge difference in how you feel the next AM!
For proseccos, you don’t need to spend much; Ruffino and La Marca are great options around $12-16. Penfold’s has a great port as does Cooper’s Hawk, and for ice wines, I can’t recommend Cooper’s Hawk’s Ice Wine more… again, I rarely drink wines that aren’t dry, but their Ice Wine is just wow.