Niagara winemaker Sue-Ann Staff, owner of Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery, has a rule for pairing food and wine: “If you can chase the meat, pair it with a white. If, on the other hand, the meat can chase you, go for the red.”
If only it were that easy. One Christmas, we had goose at dinner. One reference recommended an old Bordeaux red while another suggested an off-dry German Riesling. We had a bottle of each. The Riesling was best while the red was overpowered. Today I would open a Marsanne, Roussanne or a Rhône white blend.
If you are new to food-and-wine pairing, look for winery-offered lessons. The Comox Valley’s 40 Knots Winery, for example, offers lessons. Otherwise, just learn by experience and be creative.
One basic rule is white wine with fish—except when the fish is not white. Pinot Noir is the ideal match for salmon, as I learned from Tony Stewart, the president of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, which produces excellent Pinot Noirs. I learned on my own that Pinot Noir also pairs well with risotto and pork.
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Steaks, roast beef and burgers call for wines like Merlot, red Meritage or Syrah. Vegetarian and vegan cuisine is often best with a dry rosé or a crisp sparkling wine. Sparkling wines are unmatched for versatility, including pairing with Indian and Chinese dishes. I have been at dinners where four different Champagnes were served, including an off-dry one with dessert.
Wine pairing with dessert is not as obvious as it seems. Icewines or late harvest wines can be cloying with a sweet dessert. Once, I spent two weeks researching dessert wines in Austria. Almost every winery served cheese with their wines rather than sweet desserts. The perfect cheese with most dessert wines is a soft blue like Cambozola.
Three to Try
Noble Ridge Reserve Pinot Grigio 2019
The wine has aromas and flavours of apples, pears and melon. The bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing vibrancy. The finish lingers. Pairing: Most seafood. 91/100
Fort Berens Meritage 2018
This is a blend of 68% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged about a year in French and American oak barrels. It begins with aromas of cherry, plum and chocolate. Rich in texture, it delivers flavours of plum, black currant and dark cherry with a touch of vanilla and mocha. Pairing: Burgers, beef and pizza. 91/100
Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2018
This wine was aged in oak barrels for 19 months. The colour is quite dark. It has aromas of spice and plums—think of a figgy pudding! The generous palate offers flavours of cherry and plum. Pairing: Robust stews or game. 90/100
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