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What Wine Goes With What Food? Advice From Our Food and Beverage Director

What Wine Goes With What Food?

By David Reynolds, Director of Food and Beverages at Essex Meadows

Imagine you’re at a nice restaurant. The menu describes delectable dishes and the wine list is expansive. Of course you want your whole dining experience to be just right, including the wine pairings. But maybe you’re unsure what goes with your order. Or perhaps the whole “wine pairings” scenario intimidates you a bit. Even for a wine enthusiast, the immense range of flavors and wine characteristics can be daunting.

Good news: There are no firm rules about how to pair wine with food, nor is there a “right” wine or a “wrong” wine to accompany any particular food dish. The spectrum of wines and food flavors can’t be tied down to such simplistic or concrete wine-food pairings.  Every wine drinker has a different set of taste buds, ethnic core, economic and social background. What tastes “right” to you may be unbearable to someone else.

That said, there are general guidelines about what wine might complement certain foods. To say that this is “wine pairing” is too regimented for a true marriage of specific food dishes with fermented grape juices. 

I’ve been suggesting wine pairings in restaurant environments for more than 35 years – in rowdy local pubs, high-volume gourmet steak houses and genteel fine dining.  My approach is to engage in a congenial guest inquisition. The more I can learn about the person, the better recommendation I can make. Here are some simple questions I ask, ones that you can ask yourself the next time you’re choosing a wine:

  • What do you generally like in a wine – flavors, boldness, mildness, sweetness, dryness?
  • What do you think will go with what you’re ordering?
  • Are you feeling adventurous or do you want to stick to favorites?
  • Are you intimidated or baffled by the whole wine scene?

With a few leads from guests’ responses, it becomes easier to match appropriate offerings with the attributes they say they favor.  And since your wine pairing should add to the pleasure of your experience, I always conclude with this: “If you don’t like it, we can throw it on the floor and try again.”

Is world-class wine produced nearby?

The international reputations of France, Italy, Germany and Argentina are well-established. Domestically, most folks look to California as the premier producer. But throughout the world, the U.S. and even
New England, surprising gems can be found at local wineries

If you live in or near Essex, Connecticut, you’re just a short drive from vineyards that produce award-winning wines. The closest to Essex Meadows include Chamard Vineyards, Bishop Orchards Winery, Gouveia Vineyards, and Paradise Hills Vineyards & Winery. But Connecticut boasts dozens of wineries throughout the state.

What goes with what?

There are no rules, and you should feel free to take liberties based on your personal tastes. But in general, you’ll see basic dishes paired like this:

  • Poultry, white meat. Typically, white wines complement white meat. Pair chicken and turkey breast with sauvignon blanc or chardonnay.
  • Poultry, dark meat. Drumsticks, thighs and game birds like duck all pair well with medium-bodied red wines such as pinot noir or zinfandel.
  • Steak. According to wines.com, the classic wine choices to pair with grilled steaks are big, bold red wines, especially California zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and malbec.
  • Lobster or crab. For these meaty treats, pair with a rich and complex white like New World Chardonnay, white Riojas or Meursault.
  • Pork. It’s referred to as”the other white meat,” while at the same time it can seem more like beef. Tasty wine pairings with pork are expansive, depending on how you prepare it.
  • Pasta with red sauce or pizza. You can’t go wrong with a traditional Chianti.
  • Fish. Pairings vary as greatly as kinds of fish. To keep a tally, this article at winefolly.com offers several good wine pairings for fish dishes. 

Wine and food pairing recommendations I make at work

Essex Meadows is a retirement community in Middlesex County that caters to discerning older adults.
As Director of Food & Beverage, it’s my job to make every dining experience a delight for residents, with tantalizing food and a satisfying selection of wines. Here are some of the recent menu items with wines I would suggest. Some of the descriptions can sound over-the-top, but it’s the nuances that can make each pairing feel just right. Enjoy: 

  • Seared Scallop and Smoked Bacon Ramen Bowl – Gewürztraminer – The Gewürztraminer grape originated in northern Italy and is used in white wines. It pairs well with scallops with snappy aromatics, higher alcohol and lower acidity, which lend it to a slower consumption while savoring. The pineapple, grapefruit and peach inundate the taste buds, cutting and complementing the fattiness of the bacon and enhancing the tenderness of the scallops. 
  • Bourbon-Glazed Salmon with Cracked Black Pepper – Oregon Pinot Noir – Even an oaked chardonnay can’t stand up to the flavors of this fish and spice combo. Why not try a pinot noir paired with your salmon? Pinot noir is a light to medium fruit-forward red wine, with overtones of raspberry, herbs and spices. It has light tannins, but enough to not be overshadowed by either the salmon or the pepper. The fruit brings out the sweetness of the glaze and the meatiness of the salmon.
  • Rack of Lamb with Basil Mint Pesto – Tuscan Sangiovese – Full-bodied with a spicy, rich fruit taste, with notes of earth and leather. This dry and powerful Italian wine complements the fattiness of the lamb and the Mediterranean herbs of basil and mint, which are actually of the same herb family. The finish is long and hints of cherries and figs. Slow down and enjoy a robust Sangionvese paired with rack of lamb.
  • Lemon-Herbed Roast Chicken – Good Northern California Oaked Chardonnay or Grenache-based French Cotes du Rhone – Roast chicken has a lot of flavor and deserves a wine that can praise those flavors in the gravy and accompanying stuffing or vegetables, so either of these suggestions is a match made in culinary heaven. The cooler-climate, full-bodied chardonnay will have vanilla, caramel and lush buttery smoothness to pair well with your golden roast chicken.  The Cotes du Rhone red will have flavors of black currant and rich spices, and a rich fullness to complement the roasting process.
  • Anything Edible – Crisp, cold Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (Yellow Label) Champagne – From scrambled eggs to a Waldorf salad to spinach and garlic pizza to roast prime rib of beef, this wine pairs well with just about anything. Notes of green apple, vanilla and pear are all wrapped up in lots of tiny bubbles. What the heck, maybe you don’t need food at all!

That’s a pretty tasty-looking menu. If you’d like to know more about Essex Meadows and the refined lifestyle residents enjoy at mealtimes and all the time, contact us here. We’ll be in touch soon.