Wine Pairing Basics (part one - Regional)

As we gathered for our Thanksgiving dinner, I was asked, "how do you determine what wine is best to pair with the meal?"...The easy answer is that is takes a lot of trial and error, but in reality, there are certain things I take into consideration when trying to find the best wine for the meal. Let me first say that food and wine pairing should not be something that you agonize over. Everyone's tastes and preferences are different.

To start, I think it is very important to know the common flavor/aroma profiles for at least the most common wine grapes.  For example, Sauvignon Blanc is known for its' high acidity. It is light to medium in body. When I taste Sauvignon Blanc, I always get a bit of vegetal character, similar to green grass, green beans or asparagus. I find this character stronger in wines that come from cooler regions, where the grapes may not have had time to ripen completely. The riper (or warmer region) Sauvignon Blancs pick up more tropical aromas (grapefruit, honeydew, passion fruit), but still have that tell-tale vegetal streak. Knowing this will help you to pair, as you will see later in this blog series.

The first thing I look at, is what type of food am I pairing? Is this a regional food? For example, if I'm eating Italian food, my first focus will be on Italian wines. Okay, next step, is it Northern Italian, Southern Italian? What wines are produced in that region? I figure that over time, the local cuisine and the local wine have determined what works best. Let's look at some classic regional pairings:
  • Champagne - caviar or oysters
  • Bordeaux - roast lamb
  • Riesling (particularly German) - goose/duck
  • Beaujolais - charcuterie
  • Sauterne - Roquefort cheese or foie gras
  • Port - Stilton cheese (wait, Stilton is English, and port is from Portugal....yes, but the English were responsible for the sweet ports we drink today)
  • Burgundy - Coq Au Vin, duck or salmon
  • Sherry - green olives or almonds
  • Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - steak
  • Chianti - pasta with meat and/or tomato sauce
Knowing the common flavor profiles of the wines listed above, will help you to find similar wines from different regions that might also be fun to try. So, next time you are looking for a wine to pair with you meal, start with the regionality of the dish.

In the next blog, we'll look at weight of the meal, balancing the meal with the wine, and some of the "tricky" foods to pair.

Feel free to share some of your favorite "classic" pairings.

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