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Tips on Wine Pairing

Cameron Hughes answers some of our nagging questions about pairing food and wine and lends a few tips on ordering wine at a restaurant, for those of you eating out this holiday season.


Q

We know white wine usually goes with fish and red usually goes with meat. Are there any examples of times where you’d order a red with a fish, or a white with a meat?

A

The trick to wine and food pairing is the sauce. I would recommend a medium body red wine like Merlot, Chianti, or Cabernet Franc with white meat or fish with a heavy sauce (think chicken with béchamel or sea bass with hollandaise). The best white pairing for these same dishes is a big, rich Chardonnay. If the fish or white meat are grilled, go with a light white wine like Chablis, Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc and for red, stay light, too. Try Pinot Noir, Grenache/Garnacha, or Sangiovese.


Q

What’s the deal with chicken? We feel like this could go either way. In your opinion, is there an ideal wine with say, a roast chicken?

A

There is no ideal—roast chicken is a great way to try many different pairings. Try sparkling wine (Champagne), Verdelho, Albarino, and/or Chardonnay. For reds, Pinot Noir to lighter bodied Grenache and/or Merlot blends pair very nicely. Chicken has a natural tannin that integrates beautifully with most wines. Just keep it light—try to stay away from big, over the top high alcohol wines like Cabernet or Syrah.


Q

Off the top of your head, what specific wines would you pair with:

A

leafy greans:

Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or steel fermented Chardonnay are your best bets. In general, highly acidic white wines pair best with greens, regardless of dressing.

olives:

While olives and wine are not a natural pairing (olives being heavily brined), you might try a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. An earthy red like Tempranillo will work too.

white fish:

White fish, being more delicate, deserve a light, bright wine if steamed or delicately sautéed. Consider Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Chablis, Chardonnay, or Muscade. Reds like super delicate Burgundies (Pinot Noir) or Gamay are excellent for pairing as well.

tomato-based pasta sauce:

A tomato-based pasta sauce would work well with a red blend, like a Meritage. Merlot, Chianti, Nero D’avola, Zinfandel, Gamay, Grenache are all fine choices to match the high acidity in tomatoes and add to the flavor of the overall dish.

lamb:

Personally, I prefer Syrah. No matter the preparation of lamb, the meat has a gamey, spicy quality which marries well with the spicy nuances found in the Syrah grape.

Asian flavors:

Either sparkling wine or Champagne or something light and slightly sweet: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, or Moscato because the spice and sweetness in the wine will carry the flavors well. Anything too tannic or heavy will wreak havoc with the spice.

An Awesome Tip: One good rule of thumb is to pair wine with a dish that both traditionally comes from the same country/region. For example, for an Italian pasta sauce, try a Chianti/Sangiovese. For olives and tapas, try cava or a dry Spanish red, and so forth.


Q

Ordering wine in a restaurant can be an intimidating process. There’s often pressure to impress your guests and the sommelier, appease your own tastes, and save your wallet! Any tips?

A

Knowing your general price point is a good way to start. Choose the second or third least expensive offering of a particular region or varietal, never the cheapest. In general, Central Coast California Syrah and Chardonnay offer tremendous value. Ordering wine at a restaurant is a great opportunity to try something new from a curated list, so try ordering a wine you’ve never heard of before. When presented with the wine, smell the wine, not the cork. Finally, trust your palate, trust your taste, and enjoy!

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