A lot of people enjoy wine, but have not yet learned how best to pair wines with food for the maximum enjoyment. While I am not a big wine drinker, my father made sure I was at least educated in the basics. In his honor I will share some of what he taught me.
We start with the simplest of rote teachings that I grew up with: Red wines for red meat (beef, venison, buffalo, etc), white wines for white meat (fowl, pork, etc). That is merely a starting point – there are so many delicate variations to explore that wine enthusiasts, each with his or her own opinions, abound. Let’s just stick with some basics.
There are so many more varieties of grapes being grown around the world that to try to cover them all at once would take a really long time and likely confuse many readers.
All of the wines mentioned below are readily available from numerous vineyards, and consequently from vine to vine are a little different. You may find that you prefer the flavor of a wine from California or Texas over that of the same type of wine produced in Europe, or vice versa. Experiment with the differences and find the wines that you like best.
Personally, there is little difference between a table wine and a cooking wine. A little for me, a little for the pot, as it were. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many people consider wines to be categorized as only to be savored from the glass, while others are good only for cooking, and yet others are only good for making vinegar. As with any taste experience, personal taste is everything.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine that often sports hints of cherry or blackberry. It has a full-bodied, but firm flavor, quite gripping when young. With age, rich currant qualities come forward. Vanilla notes, if present, come not from the fruit but from the oak treatment.
-Food-wine pairing: best with simply prepared red meat.
-Cheeses: Cheddar, Gouda, Edam, Havarti
Merlot is the go-to for most people starting to experiment with wine. It is wasy to drink and excellent for most cooking projects. Most often it will sport black-cherry and herbal flavors.
-Food-wine pairing: any will do
-Cheeses: Gouda, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Brie, Cheddar
Pinot Noir is very unlike it’s cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon. The structure is delicate and fresh with very soft tannins. This is related to the low level of polyphenols. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf or damp earth
-Food-wine pairing: excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes
-Cheeses: Swiss, Port Salut, Gruyere, Feta
Syrah, or Shiraz, is a very popular wine for both drinkability and table pairings. The shiraz variety gives hearty, spicy reds. While shiraz is used to produce many average wines it can produce some of the world’s finest, deepest, and darkest reds with intense flavors and excellent longevity. It offers aromas and flavors of wild black-fruit (such as blackcurrant), with overtones of black pepper spice and roasting meat. The abundance of fruit sensations is often complemented by warm alcohol and gripping tannins.
-Food-wine pairing: meat (steak, beef, wild game, stews, etc.)
-Cheeses: Sharp Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Roquefort
Zinfandels are sporty wines offering raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, raisin, and prune flavors. For decades zinfandel was California’s grape, though now it is grown all over the west coast of the United States, in Australia, Italy, and elsewhere, and its ancestry has been traced to Croatia. California zinfandel remains the model for all others, and it grows well and vines distinctively all over the state.
-Food-wine pairing: any will do, though very acceptable with fruits
-Cheeses: Double Gloucester, Asiago, Bleu, Feta, aged Gouda or Cheddar
Chardonnay is often wider-bodied (and more velvety) than other types of dry whites, with rich citrus (lemon, grapefruit) flavors. Fermenting in new oak barrels adds a buttery tone (vanilla, toast, coconut, toffee). Tasting a moderately priced Californian Chardonnay should give citrus fruit flavors, hints of melon, vanilla, some toasty character and some creaminess.
-Food-wine pairing: it is a good choice for fish and chicken dishes.
-Cheeses: Brie, Asiago, Havarti
Riesling wines are much lighter than Chardonnay wines. The aromas generally include fresh apples. The riesling variety expresses itself very differently depending on the district and the winemaking. Rieslings should taste fresh. If they do, then they might also prove tastier and tastier as they age.
-Food-wine pairing: dry versions go well with fish, chicken and pork dishes.
-Cheeses: Bleu, Colby, Brie, Edam, Gouda, Havarti
Pinot Grigio creates light, zippy, food-friendly white wines that do not clobber the palate with oak and alcohol. Its alter ego, pinot gris (same grape, different name), has become the white wine of Oregon, where it produces lively, pear-flavored wines that may carry an additional fruity sweetness. The California version is a bit heavier, while vintners in Washington make intense, tart wines that match well with seafood.
-Flavors: Citrus, fresh pear, melon, Fuji apples, seafood
-Cheeses: Goat cheese, Muenster, Gouda, Edam, Asiago
Sauvignon Blanc is generally lighter than Chardonnay. It tends to show an herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass. The dominating flavors range from sour green fruits of apple and pear through to tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant. Quality unoaked Sauvignon Blancs will display smokey qualities. They offer bright aromas with a strong acid finish.
-Food-wine pairing: a versatile food wine for seafood, poultry, and salads.
-Cheeses: Gruyere, Mozzarella, Asiago, Neufchatel
For the host or hostess who does not wish to keep a cellar of wines, simply keeping one red and one white that are versatile on hand will cover most casual occasions. A good Zinfandel is also a catch all for a lot of people as it goes with so much.
There are tons of information out on the internet for those who wish to develop their wine palate. One sight of particular interest is Wine Enthusiast [http://www.winemag.com/], which offers Wine for Beginners [http://www.winemag.com/wine-for-beginners/]. The article offers some valuable information up to and including storing wines and investing in them. This site was a primary source for material used in this blog.
My primary investment in wine is what it will do to a roast or add to chicken or duck when cooking, and I freely admit it. Your relationship with wine will develop to suit you.
— Ann Cathey