Matching Food and Wine

One of the greatest dining pleasures is to find a wine or beer or any beverage really that enhances the delights of both the drink and the dish.

Paradiso del Sol Winery in Zillah has a very unique wine tasting experience. The sips, the bite, and a last sip is the Paradiso’s Experience. No bread, oyster or wine crackers here. Instead each of their wines is paired to a droplet of food.

The morsels are presented on a small plate with a tasting sheet that explains what each bite is and the wine that it is paired with. Nine wines, including whites, roses, reds and deserts, and those tiny bites give you that heightened sensory experience.

The Paradiso Oyster White, a barrel fermented Semillon was paired with brie. One of the best matches I’ve found for that particular cheese. Their Sangiovese – the grape of Tuscany – was paired with a wonderful pepperoni from Glondo’s. A traditional and unfailing pairing. For their red blend, winemaker and owner Paul Vandenberg blended together Sangiovese and Tempranillo, a grape indigenous to Spain. This was also a more traditional pairing with a bleu cheese.

For something on the sweet side, a ruby Angelica made from Zinfandel, a highly brambly fruited wine was paired with dark chocolate. And we all know that fruit and chocolate play well together.

Other tasting occasions for pairing wine and food and people are something I’ve done regularly over the years. Donating a wine tasting for a good cause is something I enjoy doing. It is especially rewarding when I hear a diner say something to the effect, “I don’t like Chardonnay but with this, I actually like it!” It’s all in the way it’s presented. Right?

For the latest fabulous wine tasting to benefit United Way of Kitsap County, my gypsy friend and I opened the gates to a new dining adventure for Steve and Betty and eight of their best friends. We began with Spanish Carrots in a sherry vinegar, garlic, cumin and olive oil that was paired with the Atrevida 2014 Mendoza Chardonnay. This four-year-old Chardonnay had understated oak, bright fruit and a crispness that matched the vinegar and the weight of the carrot marched the weight of the wine.

The Hazelnut Vegetated Quinoa was composed of grilled green onions, red bell pepper and spring peas with an Italian dressing. Vegetable always work well with the herbal profile of some Sauvignon Blancs. In this case, Michael Florentino 2015 Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc was a great match.

Double oops! on the next course. I opened the College Cellars 2016 Walla Walla Chardonnay a course too soon. But then the opportunity to try this barrel fermented wine made by college students and contrast it to the totally different Gordon Estate 2016 Rose of Malbec originally planned.  The dish was Tuna & Cannellini Stuffed Shells, surprisingly, both wines worked.

The Carrot Timbale with Chive Cream and Crab garnish was the best match of the day in my opinion. Crab, cream and carrots with the superb Oregon Stoller 2017 Dundee Hills Chardonnay was enchanting. Winemaker Melissa Burr’s touch was not the usual oaky wine but rather a mix of Chardonnay clones that spent 9 months together in a stainless steel tank. The result is a succulent yet vibrant wine that contrasted this dish in a heavenly way.

Tomatoes are really a fruit, right? And high in acid so if you pair it with a wine high in acid, it’s like trying tomatoes for the first time. Barbera, Chianti and Zinfandel are also high in acid and fruity. A prefect pairing for the Tomato Crisp which is basically bread, olive oil, fresh tomato slices and parmesan cheese that is toasted on the grill. There were lots of Ooos and Aahs when paired with the rich Identified Lodi 2015 Zinfandel.

Dessert was the pièce de résistance. A cake of ginger, lemons and white pepper. I can get anyone to east this cake. It’s spicy, naturally and not too sweet. This was accompanied by a bottle that had been in the cellar for 14 or so years, Selbach 2003 Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese.

It’s easy to alter the taste of a wine just by eating something. Whether sweet or hot, spicy or earthy, fruity or herbal, a food changes the chemistry of your palate. Experiment with your wine by trying it with a little bite of everything on your plate. The meat, the vegetables, even the dessert.

And it’s really fun, following a few basic rules:

Go with tried and true pairings, such as spaghetti and meatballs with Chianti, hot dogs and beer, Tapas with dry sherry, paella with Rioja, Oreo cookies and a glass of cold milk.

Tannic and high alcohol wines do not do well chilled or with spicy food. If the dish is spicy hot, go with a chilled bottle of something really fruity to put out the fire of the dish. Tacos with habanero sauce would be much better with a cold Negro Modelo.

The weight of the wine and the weight of the dish should be equal. For example, Dungeness crab with a Riesling, Chardonnay and a bowl of buttered popcorn and barbequed ribs with a Zinfandel.

Be sure the wine is sweeter than the dish. If your dish is sweeter than the wine, that bottle may have a lot of pucker power.

Wishing you many wonderful wine adventures!