The Cookery’s Courtney Holdmann Skare Revisits Food and Wine Pairing

While browsing the Wine:30 archives the other day, we had a chance to review last year’s column outlining some of our basic food and wine pairing strategies. While we still think those strategies are a good foundation for making pairing decisions, we’re going to devote the next two columns to expanding our “take” on food and wine pairings, and remove some of the guesswork from your planning. And so, we begin with some guidelines to keep in mind.

One of the first things to know is that certain flavors in food can greatly enhance or detract from the appeal of the wine being served. Knowing these basics can improve your pairing skills. Following is a short list of typical food flavors, and some “dos” and “don’ts” to keep in mind.

• Sweet: Sweetness in food can cancel out the fruit and/or any residual sugar in wines, making them taste drier than they are. Sweet dishes call for wines of at least equal sweetness.

• Salty: Salty or briny foods also can cancel the fruit in wines. Salty dishes call for aromatic wines with high acidity, some sweetness, low tannins, and/or intense fruitiness.

• Tart: Tart foods cancel some of a wine’s fruitiness. Serve them with lightly sweet, very fruity, and/or full-bodied white wines. In some cases, tart or crisp wines will also work well.

• Spicy: Spicy/hot foods can cancel some of a wine’s fruitiness too. Serve spicy foods with lightly sweet, very fruity, low tannin, and/or crisp wines. We advise you stay away from higher alcohol, tannic red, and/or oaky wines.

• Rich: Rich dishes often overpower delicately flavored, light-bodied wines. Serve richer dishes with full-flavored, full-bodied, higher acid wines.

• Smoky: Smoked foods can overpower all but the fruitiest, richest wines. Low tannin, extremely rich, and/or moderately sweet wines are best here.

• Acidic (Racy): High-acid foods (including those with citrus or tomato) need high-acid wines. Wines with low acid appear flabby and out of balance with acidic foods.

• A few more things to keep in mind:

– The wines of a region often go best with the cuisine of that region, (Think Chianti and Spaghetti Bolognese).

– Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are the most versatile varietals. They go with a wider range of foods than most other varietals.

– The heartier the meal, the heartier (more full-bodied and full-flavored) the wine should be. Neither the wine nor the food should overpower the other.

– Match the wine with the sauce more than with the type of meat. (Fish with a heavy, spicy tomato sauce would overwhelm most white wines and even many light reds!)

– Red meat needs red wines with some tannic grip. A modest amount of tannin behaves like acidity to cleanse the palate. Red wine tannins are also softened by dishes that contain certain ingredients, such as cracked black pepper or fat. Peppery dishes can also improve young fruity reds.

In our next column, we will get into some more specific pairing recommendations, and offer some suggestions for some of the harder to match wine and food combinations. In the meantime, remember our first rule: Drink what you like, and like what you drink!

Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007

Seghesio Vineyards from Healdsburg, Cal. has been producing some of the most consistent Zinfandels for years. With bottles ranging from Sonoma County, to Rockpile, to Alexander Valley and many single vineyards within, we choose an Old Vine Zinfandel from the 2007 vintage to taste with Courtney.

“This wine’s nose and flavors of ripe red berry and a hint of spice are very approachable. It falls in the middle of the spectrum of red wines, making this wine a great accompaniment to many dishes or a nice glass of wine to enjoy by itself. This zinfandel is very balanced with its ripeness of flavors and touch of spice continuing throughout the long finish. I would pair this wine with a number of dishes from the menus here. First, the balance of tannins and fruit and acid would make this a nice match for the pulled pork sandwich with bbq red wine vinaigrette, pickled onions and mustard slaw on ciabatta from the lunch and dinner menu. On the wine bar menu, I would suggest the bacon wrapped dates to pair well with the hint of spice offered here. For entrees, the pork tenderloin with a cherry chutney and sour cream accompanied by a whole grain, brown rice medley would work very nicely as well as the wild salmon marinated in soy and garlic with a shallot vinaigrette.”

~ Courtney Holdmann Skare, The Cookery (Fish Creek, WI)

Appearance: rich ruby/garnet red with a light purple hue

Aroma: ripe berry flavors and freshness

Flavors: lush red fruit/berry flavors with a hint of spice

Finishing Notes: long full finish, well balanced with nice tannins and acid, good food wine or enjoy by itself

Where to Buy: Main Street Market and Madison Avenue Wine Shop

Where to Try: The Cookery, The Inn at Kristofers and The Mission Grille

(Note: This is but one of many different Seghesio zinfandels that can be found at a number of restaurants and retailers throughout the county.)

Information about “Where to Try” and “Where to Buy” these selected wines was provided by the local wine purveyors and vendors. If you happen to also serve or sell these wines, email [email protected].

WINE:30 is written by Karl Bradley and Jody Wuollett. Karl is the general manager and self-proclaimed “sous” sommelier for the Mission Grille. Former restaurant executive and Door County native Jody is happily under-employed as a Mission Grille food server and a member of the local band Northbound.