The Art of Wine Pairing… PAZAZ™ Style!

As in any art there is a wonderful learning curve that combines the assimilation of knowledge with the drive of passion. Each bend around the perverbial corner of access to the treasure trove of wine expertise gives way to the ever present reality that, “The more you learn about wine, the more you realize, the less you know.” If the subject is expansive (meaning it grows like a Chia Pet on the head of a bald man… the best approach is to keep it simple soldier.

Lets start with the basics. When finding out what wine someone would enjoy you must ask, “Red or white, dry or sweet?” This filter combines simplicity with the expertise of direction. If they answer, ” Sweet white”, then you must ask to what degree of sweetnesss? From the semi-sweet Kabinett which is from the Mosel region of Germany exhibiting high acidity with floral notes and hints of slate and minerality in cooler regions (there is a dry Kabinett also). Then there is the very sweet sautern (there are also dry sauternes) with the majority being found in France, Germany, Austria, and the United States.

The higher the Brix content (sugar) the sweeter the wine. If you are enjoying a semi-dry to sweeter riesling (white wine) then you will typically be enjoying spicy savory dishes. The sweeter the wine the closer you are to desert which would be paired with (if you can afford it) a Chateau d’Yquem 2011, 100 point wine from the Wine Spectator. The dryer the wine the more potential for a wine higher in acid which pairs perfectly with richer savory dishes. The higher the brix content like the afore mentioned wine then you would enjoy this superb complement to everything from a creme brulee to a baked Alaska.

If the answer to the original question is a dryer white wine then the typical question would be, “Do you like barrel aged (oaky, buttery) white wine or more austere stainless steel fermented white wine? If they have no idea what you just said then ask them what they are enjoying for their meal and take it from there. Sancere from the eastern part of the Loire valley in France is perfect with shellfish. Chardonnay is an excellent pairing with the full bodied flavor of salmon or the more delicate sea bass, halibut or black cod.

There are many varietal alternatives to both red and white wine. For this exercise in wine pairing I will now move to red wine featuring two very popular red varietals, cabernet and pinot noir. The most popular cabernets come from two different appelations which are distinguished with specific geographical and climatic origins.

The Bordeaux region of France and the Napa valley in California are famous for cabernet.

There are many other countries and regions that produce wonderful cabernets but these two are marketed as the most popular and significant. Typically the distinguishing difference between the two are as follows:

France – Old World – Earth First

California – New World – Fruit First

When pairing a cabernet you must decide if you want a quaffable wine that offers simple structure and a smooth finish or if you want a more complicated higher in acid cabernet that pairs more suitably with rich/savory dishes. The smoother finish cabernets would be perfect with pork or lamb while the richer cabernets would be perfect with beef.

The Napa valley from its southern very famous district/town of Oakville featuring the wineries of Robert Mondavi, Heitz, Silver Oak Napa, Opus one, Far Niente, and Plump Jack. Further north you’ll witness the legendary Screaming Eagle, Beringer, Chateau Montelena, and Stags Leap Wineries. In the famous “Judgement of Paris” the most famous red wines from France and California competed against each other. The red wine victor was the 1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellars winning over first growth wines Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion. This was quite a blow to the French as really they are most famous for their wine.

Bordeaux wines are typically driven by the terroir/earth highlighted by velvety tannins, delicious creme de cassis notes, and an intense minerality. These structured wines pair handsomely with rich savory dishes. When pairing wines like these which have higher acidity the wine makes the food taste better and the richness from the savory dish makes the wine taste better.

Now we get to Napoleans favorite wine… pinot noir. Napoleans favorite pinot came from the region of France known as Chambertin. The beauty of pinot noir is its elegance. The elegance comes from its earth, fruit, and finish. After studying California pinot I can honestly say there are really two regions that stand out from the rest… the Russian river region located in Sonoma County and the Santa Maria valley located east of Santa Barbara. The pairing of pinot is very versatile, probably more than any other red wine. The pinots I recommend are Byron and Toretti Family Vineyards. These two never disappoint and always offer exceptional wines that stand the test of time.

Pinot is my favorite wine. Serve pinot with salmon, pork, lamb, beef, and pasta. The spectrum of flavors of course varies from each pinot but to me the two pinots listed above offer a rich raspberry/cherry glow finished with a hint of basil and a whisper of cranberry. These wines will bring that inner smile which only comes with the satisfaction of excellence highlighted by the expertise of experience.