John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly
Some favorite food and wine pairings
Summer is almost here and if you’re like me, you will do almost anything to avoid yard work. One of my best “get out of yard work” ploys is to offer my services as chef de cuisine in the Brown household from time to time. I take this obligation seriously regardless of the menu du jour and make sure that even the most humble meal is accompanied by an appropriate wine. Ah, but therein lies the challenge. Pairing wine with an appropriate menu selection can be an intimidating exercise, particularly when you’ve invited a few friends or business associates to dinner. However, it can also be fun. Today, I’ll give you a few tips that will hopefully make the experience more enjoyable than daunting. I know you’ve all heard the first commandment in the food and wine bible: Thou shalt not match red wine with white meat or fish, nor white wine with beef, game or other meats. For instance, there is hardly a better wine and food pairing for you carnivores than a thick, juicy steak accompanied by a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon like the ones produced at Franciscan, Silver Oak or Catena (from Argentina). Likewise, it is hard to beat pairing a full-bodied, unctuous Chardonnay such as Chateau Montelena, Talley Vineyards or Falcor with a rich seafood dish like lobster with drawn butter. While these two classic food and wine combinations seem to underscore the tenets of the food and wine bible, I’m going to advise you to break that commandment on occasion. After all, every now and then a little sinnin’ is fun. So let’s start breaking rules. Fish with red wine? You bet, but here’s a little tip: red wines, particularly medium-bodied ones such as pinot noir or sangiovese, match well with fully flavored fish such as salmon, tuna (not the canned kind) or sword fish. However, using these same wines with delicate seafood like sole, flounder or scallops will provide a sensation akin to running your fingernails down a blackboard. Try matching a grilled fillet of salmon that has been dry rubbed with cumin, chili powder and brown sugar with a pinot noir like Domaine Serene Yamhill or David Bruce, or a sangiovese-based wine from Monte Antico or Cecchi Bonizio. Lock your lips around a glass of one of these wines after a bite of grilled salmon and you may start speaking in tongues. These same type reds do well with white meats such as grilled chicken, veal or all cuts of pork too. How about a big juicy hamburger with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio? Nah, it won’t work because the hamburger will overpower the delicacy of these particular wines. But try a medium-bodied white such as 2008 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay or a Rose (such as Mulderbosch Rose of Cabernet) and it works quite well. Herbal flavored foods like those with sage, basil, rosemary or dill go great with the grassier-styled sauvignon blanc. Kenwood, Dry Creek and Murphy-Goode come to mind as good accompaniments to herb-enhanced foods like pesto, sage dressings, dill mayonnaise and asparagus - just to name a few. I love fuller-bodied reds with pasta in a marinara sauce. You may be surprised to know that I am not particularly fond of Chianti with this dish because I think it gets rolled over by the red sauce. I suggest Zinfandel (Renwood Old Vines, Montevina, Ridge Geyserville) or blended wines such as Big House Red and Marietta Old Vines with traditional pasta in red sauce.. Sparkling wines are wonderful paired with salty or spicy foods. Try Pierre Sparr Cremant Brut or Domaine Chandon Blanc De Noirs with smoked salmon , popcorn or anchovies along with jalapeno and other hot pepper appetizers. Gewurztraminer ( Hogue, Columbia, Navarro) and riesling (Ch. Ste. Michelle, Hugel or Clairborne and Churchill) are spectacular with oriental dishes, particularly sushi, maki Thai and spicy Chinese cuisine. For chocolate desserts save a little of that full-bodied Cabernet from dinner and give it a try. I also love Tawny Port (Taylor or Fonseca) with nuts and blue cheese, and late harvest riesling (Chateau St. Jean) with.... …anything!