Wine Guide Article

Information about Wine

Pairing Wine and Food

A Basic Wine Guide is difficult to do justice to the subject of wine.

Even before I started my restaurant over three decades ago I was intrigued with paring the ancient beverage of wine with food.

I needed a basic guide to get me started because I was totally intimidated by all the press on the subject.

I offer this basic guide in that spirit, with one provisoNo matter what anyone tells you, learn what you and your guests like and you'll be sure to enjoy a wonderful evening of food and wine.

Wine Guide

A good match brings out and complements the flavors of both the food and the wine.

All it takes is a little practice and I have put together this basic wine guide and approach to help you.

Personally, I like to experiment, to discover and to celebrate food and wine. I like to be adventurous and at least try new or different combinations! I like to eat out and I like to cook. And this is what this wine guide is all about: a passion for food, recipes, and what can enhance the total eating experience.

What constitutes a good match? Please let me say (again), paring wine and food is to some large degree a matter of individual taste and preference. Anything that helps make a meal more enjoyable and memorable for you and your guests should be the most important consideration.

Those who truly love wine know the first rule of thumb for any honest wine guide: appreciation is achieved through interest and tasting and, from those, knowledge.

This brief wine guide will give you the basics; the "rules of thumb" and then give some suggestions about going beyond those.

What Makes a Red Wine "Red" and a White Wine "White?"

There are two factors in determining color: the color each grape varietal naturally produces (ie: skin color), and the process grapes go through when made into wine.

Red varietals have red skins, but would not retain their color if they were not soaked with their skins. Red wines generally stay in vats with their skins and seeds for longer periods of time than the white varieties. This not only affects color, but also increases tannin levels in these wines. They also tend to be barreled more often and for longer periods of time than white varietals.

White wines are typically de-stemmed and skinned immediately in the crushing process, thus removing any additional color and bitterness found in the skins and seeds. White wines are often processed in temperature controlled tanks in order to bring about the flavors associated with white wines.

Basic Wine Guide: Pairing Wine with Food

Start off with lighter wines and then move to medium-bodied and full-bodied wines with each course.

  • Sparkling and champagne wines are versatile and can be paired with many foods and almost all desserts.
  • Look for balance when pairing food and wine. Putting a sweet wine with sweet food will only make everything taste sweeter.
  • You've all heard it: White Wine with Fish or Poultry ...Red Wine with Meat.  Generally, matching white wine with fish or poultry is a good idea because white wines help soften the natural flavors of the fish or poultry without "overpowering" it. A "strong" red wine seems to enhance the flavors of meals that feature red meat. However, I serve red wine with some fish and poultry recipes because of how the item is cooked and what kind of sauce is served with them.
  • Concentrate on the sauces and method of cooking.  If it is a light sauce, then serve a lighter wine. If the sauce is bold, then a full-bodied wine would probably work better. Food that is poached will work better with lighter wines. Food that is grilled will work better with full-bodied wines.
  • Serving wine that is too cold or too warm will mask the flavor of the wine. Generally, a  temperature of around 55 degrees is good for whites. Red wines should be opened a little before serving and should be served at room temperature.
  • Glasses: larger ones (wide rimmed) are usually for red wines. Medium rimmed glassware is good for white wines.

Information About Common Varietals of Wine

Lighter to Medium Wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Beaujolais, White Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer

  • Chardonnay: Generally good with ...Seafood, Chicken, Turkey, Mustard, Lemons, Salmon, Roast Pork, Buttery Sauces. Likes to be "married with" cheeses like Munster, Swiss, Gruyere and Gouda.
  • Pinot Gris: Generally good with ...Salmon, Crab, Scallops, Lobster, Chicken, Roast Pork, Oysters, Mussels.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Generally good with ...Seafood, Vegetables, Oysters, Fish, Veal, Pork, Bouillabaisse, Fondue, Quiche, Pasta and Seafood Salads. Likes to accompany Bleu Cheese, Roquefort, Brie, Gruyere, Gouda and Feta.
  • Riesling: Generally good with ...Sole, Crab, Turkey, Smoked Meats, Ginger, Lobster, Prawns, Onions, Trout, White Sausages, Veal, Squab or Game Hen. Munster, Swiss, Gruyere and Gouda can accompany a reisling.
  • Gewürztraminer: Generally good with ...Sweet and Sour, Ham, Sausage, Sole, Curry, Sauteed or Stir Fried Vegetables, Veal, Tropical Fruits and Munster cheese.
  • White Zinfandel: Generally good with ...White meats, cold cuts and fried chicken.

Heavier or Fuller Wines: Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel

  • Pinot Noir: Pairs well with both red and white meats such as salmon, lamb, fowl and beef, seafood, pheasant, veal, and pork roast. Excellent with sharp cheddars, gorgonzola and bleu cheeses.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Matches well with richly sauced pastas, beef, veal, lamb, game, spicy sauces and chocolate desserts. Complements Bleu Cheese, Roquefort, Sharp Cheddar, Brie, Camembert.
  • Merlot: Matches well with same foods as cabernet sauvignon and a very wide range of cheeses.
  • Zinfandel: Goes well with beef, Pizza, Barbecue, Smoked Meats, Chili, Hamburgers. Likes to "keep company" with Bleu Cheese, Roquefort, Monterey Jack, Edam, Longhorn, Gorgonzola

Wine Terminology for this Wine Guide

    Acidic: Tartness/sourness.
    Aroma: Smell of a young wine.
    Balance: When sugar, acid and alcohol complement each other.
    Body: fullness of the wine.
    Bouquet: Smell of an aged (processed) wine.
    Caramelized: Honey, butterscotch, chocolate.
    Chewy: Wines with a lot of tannin and flavor.
    Clean: no chemical characteristics and direct flavor.
    Decanting: Process of pouring wine from bottle to a carafe to separate sediment from wine.
    Dry: .0%-.9% residual sugar.
    Earthy: Dusty, mushroom.
    Fat: A heavy wine, can imply richness.
    Finish: Last impression of a wine in your mouth.
    Fruity: Citrus, berry, tropical fruit, dried fruit.
    Herbaceous: Fresh grass, tea, hay, straw, green beans, asparagus and green olive.
    Legs: Drops that roll down sides of glass when swirled.
    Length: The way a good finish can evolve after swallowing.
    Nose: Term used for the bouquet and aroma of wine.
    Plummy: Big, round, ripe reds.
    Residual Sugar: Sugar left in wine after fermentation and bottling.
    Smoky: Characteristic associated with heavily oaked wines.
    Spicy: Cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and licorice.
    Tannin: Natural compound from skins and stems of grapes, also found in woods that wine is aged in.
    Varietal Wine: Wine that is labeled with a predominant grape.
    Vintage: The year grapes were harvested.
    Wood: Vanilla, pine, cedar, and oak.

This basic wine guide gives you the information you need, but I want to share some suggestions about how you can learn more about wine and food pairings.

You obviously will want to learn more than this basic wine guide contains.

  • Go to a wine tasting or two. I have held a number of them at the restaurant and at home. They are great fun!
  • Become a member of a monthly wine club (or start your own club!). A membership makes a great gift for someone interested in wine. So does a cheese and wine gift basket!

One last "technique" I use at home when I am entertaining. I ask each of my guests what wine they'd like to have with the food I am serving. I simply keep a couple of bottles of each varietal in my wine rack and allow my guests to select their wine for the evening.

I can't possibly make a "mistake!"

Maybe that's one of the reasons I was in the restaurant business! :-)

I certainly appreciate you taking the time to read this basic guide and I hope you found it helpful.

Please take the time to read a complete wine guide, like the one pictured above. Good, up-to-date, wine guides are very helpful.

Finally, with a little experience, you are your best wine guide!



“In the abstract art of cooking,

  • ingredients trump appliances,
  • passion supersedes expertise,
  • creativity triumphs over technique,
  • spontaneity inspires invention,
  • and wine makes even the worst culinary disaster taste delicious.”

Bob Blumer