Category Archives: Pairing Wine With Food

Wines for the tailgate

When one thinks of drinking at tailgates, wine is not the first beverage that comes to mind. Beer probably ranks top of the list for most, though for me tailgate means bourbon & coke. Okay, maybe not anymore, but it did 10 years ago back in my days at UVA. Point is, most of us don't think wine when we think tailgate.

But perhaps we should. Look at the myriad of foods that come in tailgate parties – hamburgers and hot dogs. Crab dip and casseroles. These flavors are just screaming for wine. Maybe not all wine, but there are some wines that are tailgate friendly, and here are a few of my favorites.

Screw cap wines – this is a general category, but I think it is valid. Just as you pop open a beer, you want to reach into that cooler and just screw off the cap to pour that wine into what is most likely a plastic cup. Taking the time to use a corkscrew doesn't quite fit as you're eating baked beans from an aluminum platter.

Bubbly – I will clarify that I enjoy bubbly primarily at early season tailgates, particularly in the south, when the weather is still toasty and a super chilled bottle of bubbly is a perfect treat. My favorites are Cava, and while you cannot go wrong with Cristalino, an amazing wine for the price, I also like the Poema Brut we recently tried. Dry and crisp and great with anything salty.

Albarino- this may not be the most recognizable wine at your tailgate party (and some go against my screw cap suggestion), but it will be absolutely delicious! Crisp and clean, Albarino will go with any grilled seafood or seafood dip at the party. Favorites include the Burgans Albarino (great value at $14) and the Bodegas Fillaboa (also about $14).

Malbec – the perfect wine for grilled meats, hamburgers and hotdogs and just drinking on its own at a party. I'm going with the Ben Marco '08 Malbec here as we've got a great deal on it at $15.99 (down from $20). Mainly because this is a BIG Malbec. It's ripe and jammy with a spicy kick – it's a great match with food, but in particular, easy (maybe too easy) just sipping on its own.

No matter what you pick for your tailgates – beer, bourbon or wine, I hope you enjoy that general football season warmth – fall weather rolling in, the sound of the stadium roars and a chance to be a crazy fan. Me? I'll be watching my Virginia Wahoos as they take on the season with their new coach and new attitude. Are we in for a renaissance of Virginia football? One can only hope!

Some Basic Food & Wine Pairing Tips

Pairing food & wine is not a science. It has a lot to do with personal preference and tastes, so there are no cut and dry rules. Occasionally you’ll get a pairing that makes you say “WOW!” By the same token, you will occasionally find a pairing that makes your taste buds recoil in anguish. But most pairings fall somewhere in the middle. In fact, most wines work with most foods, but knowing a few basic rules can enhance your enjoyment.

Complementing Flavors

Complementing flavors means you are matching the structure of the wine with the structure of the food. Some examples are:

Match creamy with creamy – Creamy wines, such as Chardonnay or Viognier, matched with cream-based sauces (pasta or poultry) or a creamy cheese.

Match acid with acid – Bright, crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a lovely match for that fish with a lemon sauce. A good rule of thumb – if the recipe or food has lemon or other citrus in it, you’re going to need some acid to match. Great high-acid wines includ Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Chablis.

Match sweet with sweet – Chocolate cake? Lemon custard? Match a similar wine with the similar food. Rich and dense chocolate cake is a great match to Port or other dark, sweet wines. A light lemon custard looks for sweet and acid, so a Moscato or Muscat-based dessert wine is not too heavy and a perfect match.

Contrasting Flavors

Contrasting flavor means you are trying to offset a taste or structural element in the wine and food. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

DO match spicy with sweet – A big tannic red with spicy chow mien? Not so much. Take that dish and pair an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer, and it’s a party in your mouth. The sweetness of the wine is offset by the spice in the food and instead of tasting sweet, you taste the delicious fruit in the wine instead. Pair Riesling, Pinot Gris (Alsace style) or Gewurztraminer with spicy Thai or Indian food. It’s a great combo.

DO match creamy with crisp – Another fun match is to pair a bright acidic wine to cut through a cream-based food. Take creamy cheese. Sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc can cut through that cream and bring out the best flavors in both the dish and the wine.

DON’T match tannin with sweet – oh boy, a sweet food will zap all the fruit out of a tannic red and all you’re left with is… tannin. Now tannin is a good thing, but we want to taste it in the BACK of the wine

DON’T match tannin and acid – Go ahead, take a lemon based sauce on pasta or fish and pair it with a big tannic red. You may feel like someone put braces in your mouth because metallic is the flavor that will be most prominent.

Regional Pairs

Not sure what to have with a certain food? If you’re having a regional dish, such as pasta bolognese, try pairing it with a regional wine, like Chianti or another Tuscan red. Chances are it will be a good match. Something about the food and wine coming from the same soil and area make a perfect pairing!

For more pairing tips, check out our Wine & Dine pairing tool on the site. Should help guide you towards some good wine matches with your meal!

Wine Resolution #1: Drink More Bubbly!

Though not my top resolution, or even one that I write down every year, I do try to do this often – drink more bubbly. More wedding bubblyspecifically, drink it with food. Sure, we have it at weddings and on New Year’s Eve, but why don’t we open sparkling wine because we’re having a wonderful meal? We should! My reasons for bubbly’s food matching deliciousness?

– good, crisp acidity
– low alcohol
– varying degrees of body – from light to full

These three reasons are key in explaining why bubbles are a perfect match to food. Acidity and low alcohol are what makes a wine good with food – flabby, high-alcohol wine overpower or mute the flavors of the food. Plus, d epending on your meal, 260x135_HOLchampagnefrom sushi to steak, you can choose light-bodied sparkling wine, like a blanc de blancs, or a full-bodied sparkling wine, like a blanc de noir. I posted a “body” guide to Champagne earlier this season. This is the time to stock up, too. Crazy good deals on Champagne are happening now, not to mention the everyday values of Cava and US Sparkling wine.

I hope that celebrating bubbly with food is a growing trend. Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune wrote an article on twelve good California Sparkling wines to ring in 2010. What I love most is that each wine he mentions includes food pairing ideas!

So don’t be afraid to pair that bottle of bubbly with a meal. If not that, at least bring out a bowl of popcorn with it – you cannot go wrong with that match!

Holiday Entertaining Tips and Video

Mike and I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen with Chef Ruth van Waerebeek, the Executive Winery Chef at Concha y Toro in Chile. We tasted some delicious wines and cooked some delectable treats for the holidays.

Chef Ruth likes to pair her foods to the wine, so the focus is on finding flavor combinations that bring out the best in a wine.

Check out our videos as we cook with Chef Ruth!

Recipes, pairings & video:

Crispy Fried camembert cheese with nut crust
(Makes 8)


Pair with Concha y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere 2008


8 pieces (4-ounces each) of camembert or Brie cheese
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup toasted almonds
1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
2 large eggs
¼ cup heavy cream
Oil for frying
Quince or guava paste for serving
Mixed salad greens for serving (opt.)

Place the cheese in the freezer for 30 minutes.

In the food processor place the walnuts and almonds and process until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a shallow plate, add the sesame seeds and combine.

In another shallow plate mix to combine the eggs with the heavy cream. Take the cheese out of the freezer, Dip each piece of cheese in the egg mixture and dredge in the nut mixture, pressing to coat well. Arrange the cheese on a platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes or up to 6 hrs.

Before serving, heat the oil in a deep fryer or wok until hot. Add the cheese, a few pieces at the time, and fry, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Serve at once with a slice of quince or guava paste and some mixed greens.


Chupe de Jaiva (Creole-style crabmeat pie)
(Makes 6 single servings)

Pair with Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2007

5 cups stale white bread, crusts removed and cut into small pieces
1 ½ cups seafood broth (or bottled clam juice), hot
2 tablespoons canola oil \
¾ cup scallions, finely chopped
½ red bell pepper, in small dice
1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup corn kernels (defrosted)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon paprika powder
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup milk (or more)
1/3 cup heavy cream
¾ pound lump crabmeat (picked over)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon spicy red chili sauce, or to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese


altPlace the bread in a large bowl, pour the hot seafood broth or clam juice over it and let soak for 15 min. Crumble and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 370°F.

Heat the oil in a large skillet; add scallions and bell pepper and sauté, stirring frequently, for 4 min till soft. Add carrot, garlic, spices and herbs, corn, and reserved soaked bread, and stirring, pour the milk and cream into the mixture. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes longer, (if the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk). Take off the heat and stir in the crabmeat. Season this mixture with salt, pepper and chili sauce to taste and mix to combine. Butter 5 to 6 individual gratin dishes and divide the crabmeat mixture evenly over the prepared dishes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake the hot oven 20 to 25 minutes until nicely.

A great dish to enjoy with this elegant, well-balanced Chardonnay – the perfect combination between a rich, buttery mouth feel and a refreshing, crisp aftertaste.

Grilled lamb skewers in merquén marinade,  with a Chilean-style mint salsa
(Makes 4 servings)

From the Northern Andean foothills till the Patagonian grasslands, tender lamb is the meat of choice for the “ Parrilla” or Chilean grill, especially when spiced up with the pungent and exquisite merquén mixture, an unique smoked chili pepper mix from the indigenous Mapuche Indians. Served with a refreshing green mint salsa.

The ideal match for a great Chilean cabernet!

If merquén is not available you can make your own spice mix based on: mixture of ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds

Pair with Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada 2006

Ingredients for the merquén marinade:
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk
2 tablespoons onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon merquén or other smoked chili pepper mix

For the skewers:
1 ½ pounds leg of lamb, deboned and degreased, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
36 fresh bay leaves
4 small firm peaches, quartered
8 12-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

For the Chilean-style mint salsa:
¼ cup scallions, chopped
½ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
½ jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste

Prepare the marinade; combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a glass oven platter. Add the lamb, mix to combine and let sit for up to 2 hours.

Prepare the Chilean mint salsa: Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings, this salsa should be brimming with flavour. Refrigerate until ready to serve or up to 3-4 days.

Prepare charcoal, gas or electric grill to medium hot.

Thread 3 pieces of lamb, 2 quarters of peach and 3 bay leaves loosely on each skewer. Lightly oil grill rack. Grill skewers, turning occasionally, until just cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Serve with mint salsa.

And how does it all taste? Mike and I taste through what we’ve cooked with the wine pairings.

Crisp weather = warmer wines

SA fall vinesSome people are seasonal drinkers, choosing wines that match the weather. I tend to be one of those people. Summer = crisp whites; Winter = hearty reds. Granted, I mix it up a bit as there is never a bad time for most wines. This past couple of weeks, it’s clearly become a new season. Fall is here – the changing colors, the blowing leaves, the brisk winds and of course, college football. For all but the last, which I still love to watch with a good beer, this means a change in my wine choices as well.  Out with the summer wines – I need something to go with this sudden chill down. Nothing too hearty, but a little something to take the cool nip away.

A few of my favorite fall wines and why:

Pinot Noir Okay, so this is a year round favorite, but it’s especially great for fall. Pinot Noir is like the light jacket of wine – bright fruit and smooth tannins vermonte pinotslowly ease you into this cooler weather. Right now some favorite Pinot Noir include:
Pessagno Winery Lucia Highlands Estate Pinot Noir 2007 – delicious silky smooth Californian Pinot – ripe and rich, yet elegant. Awesome value right now at $28.00
Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva 2007 – a bit of spice and earth quality match well with the bright cherry fruit. Great Pinot from Chile for $13!


Tempranillo – Spicy and earthy, but lighter bodied, Tempranillo is perfect to celebrate the change of season. Spain is the go-to country for this grape, which is extremely food friendly. Lots of values these days, including:
Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2003 – More traditional style of Rioja, with the typical age notes of tobacco and toasted oak. But also still full of delicious fruit. $20
Abadia Retuerta Rivola 2007 – This is the more modern style of Tempranillo, with ripe fruits and smooth, silky tannins. Still great with food, though! $17

Italian Blends – Italy has so many

varietals, regions and styles, you can certainly find a wine to fit any season. For fall I love fuller bodied Barberas and the viettigems of Southern Italy. A few favorites include:

Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne 2006 – medium-bodied, concentrated red fruits, a bit of and spice, great acid, mild tannins and a lingering finish. A perfect food wine. $19

Nero d’Avola – Try a wine made from this grape, because it’s got depth and character. Kind of like what you want in a friend or colleague. Typical descriptors include: dark berry fruit, exotic

spice, licorice, pepper, long finish. The grape has potential to age, but depends on the producer.

Carmenere – A Chilean specialty! With a smoky and meaty quality, this grape makes wine that is a lovely match to fall foods. Or just sitting by the first fire of the season.  Also, South America is known for its value, and these two well-priced Carmeneres are excellent. 
Concha y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere 2008 – Easy-drinking, full of dark plum and smoky character typical of Carmenere – and under $10
Chono Carmenere Reserva Maipo Valley 2006 – Recently tasted this wine and thought, wow. THIS is a good Carmenere. While I love the smoky, meaty characteristics of Carmenere, sometimes they can also have a green pepper edge that is overpowering. Not in this wine! Balanced and focused on the fruit, a great value at $13.

Enjoy the wines, enjoy the leaves and the changing colors… and enjoy the crisp air before it gets frigid and you’re longing for summer already!