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Pairing Wine with Food This Spring

Written By Andres Montoya On March 19, 2014


BonannoCabernet Sauvignon, such as this BonAnno from the Wine Barn, complements spiced rack of lamb or grilled game.Spring is just around the corner and pairing a wine to an occasion is the first step into finding wines you will truly enjoy this upcoming season of spring breaks, Easter, mother’s day and graduations. Whether you are considering a light spring salad and grilled fish, or you are ready to impress your family and guests with a cooked to perfection rosemary roasted leg of lamb, or making your grandmother’s secret honey glazed ham for Easter, choosing the right wine will only enhance the flavors of your culinary creations without breaking the budget.

If you let the occasion take center stage, then you will find that matching wines with a particular dish or meal will be easier than you think, allowing you to enjoy the food more while learning more about the wine too. Consider these few basic guidelines to help you find the right match, as you continue to expand your food and wine horizons this year.

Body balancing matters: Wine matches with food best when the weight and intensity of the wine balance with the weight or richness of the food. These elements are more important than any flavor associations and usually lead to unforgettable pairings. Body balancing is essential in most classic wine and food matches. Cabernet Sauvignon complements spiced rack of lamb or grilled game because they are equally intense. Pinot Noir makes a better match with roast beef, stews, and mushrooms because the richness of texture is the same in both. Hearty foods need hearty wine; a lighter wine will fade into the background. Just remember that the wine should be at least as full-bodied as the food it’s paired with. On the other hand, fresh sea food dishes served raw or cooked lightly and served with lemon such as raw oysters, crab, shrimp, and white fish will pair best with lighter/mineral terroir white wines like Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc. 

The secret is in the sauce: Flavors in wine can enhance a dish, just as adding seasoning or extra ingredients when added to food, which is why the old rule about: “white wine with fish and red wine with meat” is a thing of the past. Flavors in the food should complement flavors in the wine, regardless of the main ingredient. The key is to focus on the sauce, for example a Grenache served with a raspberry glazed pork chop, a Pinot Noir paired with salmon or trout served in tomato broth, or a creamy Chardonnay would be perfect for a rich Caesar or Cobb salad.

The basic elements: There are just a few elements in wine and food pairing to keep in mind:

Alcohol: Full bodied wines tend to be higher in alcohol, heavy sauces will tend to make these heavier wines taste a little sweet, but salty foods such as ham, bacon and cured meats can make high alcohol wines taste bitter.

Acidity: Balanced acidity in wine is your friend, in both white and red wine, as it helps to make the food taste vibrant and refreshing, and helps uplift the flavors in the dish.

Sweetness: Peppery and spicy foods like a little sweetness, as do slightly sweet dishes, such as Asian or Indian food and spices paired with a Riesling or Gewürztraminer.

Tannin: Many red wines have bold or elevated tannins, which can compliment fatty dishes. Think leg of lamb or slow roasted braised meats, as well as rich, creamy foods, such as blue and aged cheeses.

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