I’m far more skilled at eating food than making it, so I go out as often as I can afford to. Whether I go big or keep it simple at a local Italian joint, it’s great to have some wine pairings when dining out. Most of the places I frequent aren’t surprised when I show up with a bottle of wine. I’m always happy to pay corkage since wine is often marked up 3x or more. For this article we look at a few of our favorite restaurants and selected wines to pair with a dish they do extremely well. Call us gluts if you like, but we had to include two dessert pairings because I am a sucker for sweets.
What makes a perfect food and wine pairing? Check out the article on the Fundamentals of Pairing Wine and Food and learn the secret to how we picked the wines below.
First Course Pairing: Salad and Bubbly
Acidity in food is often found in the first course (unless you’re in France and it comes after!) such as salads and sea fare. When pairing a wine with an acidic dish look for a wine that has higher acidity than the food (otherwise it will taste flat). White wines and champagne are a great choice for a first course, in fact that is why champagne is often referred to as an aperitif.
- Dish Grapefruit, Avocado, Green Olive and Walnut Salad
- Restaurant Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles, CA
- Wine Silvano Follador Prosecco Valdobbiadene Brut
Salads tend to be higher acid with the use of vinaigrette, leafy greens and fruit. In this pairing the zesty grapefruit led us to chose a dry sparkling wine with high acidity that has more pear-like flavors, such as Silvano Follador Prosecco Valdobbiandene Brut. The fruity flavors in the wine and grapefruit will multiply each other and make the dish taste fruitier overall. The more “green” flavors in the dish, like the salty-tart green olive and fatty avocado, bring out the delicate fruity pear and citrus flavors in the wine.
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Second Course Pairing: What Wine To Pair With Lasagna?
Let’s face it, sometimes we all just want a hot mess of cheesy tomato sauce and bready delight. Here at Wine Folly we believe pizza is a food group. One of our favorite stand-bys in the Los Angeles area is a cash-only Italian dive. The dark one-room dining room is replete with red and white tablecloths and grease-stained pictures of spaghetti. I don’t think I’ve ever actually dined there, but I used to get take out once a week.
- Dish Vegetarian Lasagna
- Restaurant Tarantino’s, Pasadena, CA
- Wine Pallus Chinon “Pensees De Pallus”
The trick to this dish is that tomato sauce needs a wine with higher acidity, so looking at a cooler climate red wine is a great place to start. Another factor we took into account was that Tarantino’s uses green bell pepper in their basic marinara sauce. Bell pepper is one of the aromatics that Cabernet Franc has, especially Cab Franc from the Loire Valley (France). The Chinon brings out the bell pepper in the dish and the lasagna makes the Chinon taste like black cherries. Heaven in my mouth.
Steak Wine: Why Merlot Is Fit For Steak
I’m a proponent of merlot as a steak wine. Turns out a lot of merlot out there has enough “UMPH!” to make a mouth miracle when you drink it with steak. Especially if you get a chef’s prep steak which is around medium-rare. The umami flavors and fat in a steak need acidity to cut it. A lot of places attempt to do this with a variety of expensive steak ‘toppers’ like blue cheese or bearnaise sauce. I say, cut the calories and keep it simple with a glass of merlot.
- Dish Hereford Beef Filet, Shiitake Risotto, Wilted Spinach, Crispy Egg Yolk
- Restaurant Ivy Wild, Sewannee, TN
- Wine Leonetti Cellars Merlot
In this dish there’s a lot of umami, or meatiness, along with the fat in the dish, so a red wine will compliment the meatiness nicely. Washington State tends to produce red wines with brilliant acidity and fruit, the merlot from Leonetti is a fantastic choice and will liven a rich meaty dish.
A little about Sewannee, TN… it’s like going into a time warp about 150 years. The town is mostly grounds to The University of the South and most of the buildings are stone. It doesn’t have a tourist industry as the majority of folks who pass through the area are either parents or enthusiastic cavers looking to go spelunking in one of the many hundreds of limestone caves. Good people.
Why Sweet Wine Calms Very Spicy Food
Indian food with its spice is a killer for most wines. There’s nothing to cut the burn if you get a dry white or red wine. However highly spicy foods like Thai or Indian do great with riesling and other sweet wines such as gewurztraminer or a chenin blanc. If you give up on wine, get a coke.
- Dish Spiced duck breast with ground fennel seed curry
- Restaurant Vij’s,Vancouver, BC
- Wine Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling
Pairing riesling with Indian food may not seem like your ideal selected wine, but it could be because there are a lot of crappy rieslings on the market. Look for German rieslings for their higher acidity which makes the sweetness seem less apparent. The wine acts more as a palate cleanser and helps the imbiber enjoy the spicy flavors more.
Something Small Sweet & Salty
- Dish Nutter Butters
- Restaurant Poppy, Seattle, WA
- Wine Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port
Love PB&J? This micro-sized dessert item at Poppy is the housemade variation of the candy of the same name. When paired with a vintage or LBV Port it tastes like PB&J.
Did Someone say Creme Brulee?
Dessert wines such as port and Madeira have higher alcohol content. Alcohol in wine acts like highly spiced foods and is often difficult to pair with dishes other than those with sweetness, fat or salt. Fortunately, the components of fat and sweet are found in dessert… Yes! I’ll see that dessert menu of yours!
- Dish Creme Brulee, Popcorn Ice Cream, Curried Peanuts, Pretzel Streusel
- Restaurant RN74, Seattle, WA
- Wine Graham’s 20 Year Tawny Port
Tawny port with Crème brûlée is a classic pairing and the whole thing gets nutty with additional salty popcorn ice cream and pretzel. The alcohol neutralizes the richness of an egg yolk-based dessert.
Learn to be your own master of wine pairings and learn the 6 Basic Fundamentals of Wine and Food Pairing.