Food and Wine Pairings
Picking a great wine that will compliment your meal, whether it’s a cedar plank salmon filet or a roast chicken from our ‘Bistro meal to go’ is as simple as 1-2-3.
Many of the hundreds of wines available were selected to enhance certain foods that are already customer favorites. The bottom line is not to get too fancy. Great wine can enhance great food and vice versa, but the focus for everyday matches should be on enjoying both. You can always trying new things once you get a feel for what you are doing.
1. Pick a wine you like
This one is easy because if you don’t already like the wine you are serving, that won’t magically change once the food is on the table.
2. Match weight and intensity (not color) of the wine to the dish
This one is not so easy, red wine with fish is not what we were taught, but can be great. If you are hung up on the word ‘weight’ just compare the wine to milk. The weight of skim milk, whole milk and cream change the experience, even though the flavors are basically the same.
3. When in doubt, follow the sauce!
The flavor and intensity of some dishes like chicken can vary dramatically depending on how they are prepared. For these, you should really take a good look at the preparation method and sauce when picking a wine. Think of the flavor difference whether your food is slathered in barbecue sauce, roasted with lemon and fennel or sautéed with Alfredo sauce.
Of all the dishes where the preparation method matters when picking which wine to serve, none prove the rule better than chicken. Roasted chicken is a perfect match for either a fuller bodied white wine like Chardonnay or lighter red. Gravelly Ford Pinot Noir (about $10) will be a really nice match with our rotisserie chicken, especially the dark meat. A creamy white Alfredo will compliment a rich, buttery, citrusy white like Chardonnay, while tomato based dishes will really favor medium bodied Italian or Spanish reds like Chianti, Sangiovese or Tempranillo.
While there will be some variation depending on preparation, I will almost always lean towards the more intense reds like Cabernet and Merlot. Tenderloin has a little less intense flavor than a strip or flank steak so either a California Merlot or Bordeaux like Sirius (about $12) will really hit the mark. With a more intense steak like a grilled rib eye or NY Strip, a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon is the way to go. Liberty School Cabernet (good), Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet (better) or Caymus (best) are three great choices depending on your budget. These bigger reds have enough flavor intensity to stand up to such a richly flavored dish.
Rich intense reds are the stuff to match the intensity and savory quality of lamb, especially wines with lots of ripe fruit. Look for Syrah, Shiraz, Petit Sirah, or Zinfandel. If you are going to rub the lamb with some olive oil, rosemary and salt and pepper, the spicy herbal quality of the Syrah or Zinfandel will complement them perfectly. Best bets here are the Bogle Petit Sirah ($10) Layer Cake Shiraz ($15) or Decoy Zinfandel ($21)
Lighter meats with lighter wines. This brings us back to the rule of matching the weight of a dish with the weight of the wine. So for veal, or pork, all things equal, you should choose a medium weight red. If you are simply grilling, or with a mushroom based sauce, I would choose a nice Bordeaux or a Merlot. If you are adding tomatoes or tomato sauce, open a nice Chianti or other Sangiovese based red.
This is similar to chicken in the variety of ways it is prepared, but a couple ways stand out. For a traditional baked ham, you can use a fruity red or white. For the white, I would try a Riesling; the sweetness is a great foil for the salty ham. If you prefer red (or simply want to have a red option) I would try a Beaujolais, slightly chilled, or Pinot Noir like Fire Road or Oyster Bay.
For roast pork, especially with any kind of an herb crust, I love Cotes du Rhone. The bright fruit and slight spice of the wine goes great with all of that savory, salty goodness in the pork.
I am using this term in the general sense, as once you put barbecue sauce on something, that sauce tends to dominate the flavor of the dish. Sweet spicy and smoky flavors are perfect for those Rhone wines again or as a runner up, Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel. Slow smoke a rack of baby back ribs or some pulled pork and you will understand why beer takes a back seat. Best bets here are Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel (a little more expensive at about $17 than the regular Ravenswood, but well worth it) or Domaine Chantepierre Cotes du Rhone ($11).
Tilapia, Flounder and other white fish taste different and should be treated differently than their meaty cousins. These fish are lighter in flavor so there are two things to remember. The first thing is that a lighter bodied white wine works best, especially one with citrus flavors. French unoaked Chardonnay like Rothschild Chardonnay ($10) or Jadot Macon Village ($14) is a great choice. The second thing to remember is the original rule #3 above; follow the sauce. If this is being covered in some sort of a sauce, pair the wine with the sauce and you will be fine (even if the sauce is red)
Salmon, Tuna or other darker flesh fish. These fish are more intensely flavored and pair better if you think of them like a meat. A nice Pinot Noir like Gravelly Ford ($12) or Meiomi Pinot Noir ($30) would be perfect with grilled Salmon fillets orseared Ahi Tuna steak.
Whether you are broiling scallops or shrimp or even better, one of our ultimate crab cakes, a lighter semi-dry white works well with the natural briny quality. Big House White ($10), Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc ($15) for really citrus driven dishes and Conundrum ($24) are great choices.
While flavors vary depending on what fish is in the sushi; I would put a good sparkling wine up against any of them. Astoria Prosecco ($12) is a simple solution. A sparkling rose would be best, but they are not always available. Whatever you do, just remember to go easy on the wasabi!