Wines For Hard-To-Pair Sweet and Savory Foods
We can all agree that when you eat something amazing, and then find another food that perfectly complements it, the result is crazy good. And for those even more rare occasions when you’re lucky enough to elevate that pairing to the next level with a phenomenal wine – the end result is off-the-charts crazy good. So let’s explore unfamiliar food and wine pairings and dispel any myths about what you can’t partner together. Let’s embrace clean flavors, fresh ingredients and a few simple pairing tips that when all combined, create a profound taste discovery – broadening your culinary repertoire to make for incredible dining experiences.
We’ve chosen three food groups which seem get a bad rap when it comes to pairing with wine: pizza, tacos and cupcakes. And yes, cupcakes and wine is now a “thing,” which is a fantastic thing if you ask us. We’ll tackle the pizza toppings by offering pairing suggestions from our Napa Valley wine experts, along with insight on how to make your taco night a fiesta on the palate with both reds and whites. And finally, a collection of sweet treats with their best wine mates. A couple of the pairings are guaranteed to be unexpected, but definitely welcomed.
The bitterness we associate with this family of plants and call anti-oxidents for us humans also acts as a warder away of vineyard issues, which seems poetic to me since the pressures of survival are what makes things “natural.”
Pizza – Choosing Your Toppings
Pizza and red wine are a classic pairing, but it doesn’t have to stop there. With the abundance of fresh vegetables, outstanding charcuterie and local, artisan cheeses available year-round in Napa Valley, there’s no excuse for not getting creative with your toppings and wine selections. Here are some of our favorites to try at your next dinner party, or when enjoying a quiet Friday night in with a slice and a movie.
Mushrooms and Thyme
A more heavenly match could not exist when it comes to these two. Simply pair them with extra virgin olive oil, parmesan and touch of shredded provolone, to make a pizza worthy of your best bottle in the cellar. A natural pairing for the earthy and woody notes in the mushrooms is a Burgundian-style Pinot Noir, but try a Pinotage (cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut) or a tart, red berry-driven Zinfandel with notes of cranberry or pomegranate.
For whites, the lemony, herbaceous notes in thyme calls for grassy Sauvignon Blanc, lean Chenin Blanc and Pinot Grigio, or an Unoaked Chardonnay.
A staple in households across America, this fully loaded pie doesn’t just have to be about quantity. Instead, select well-cured meats offering intensity in flavor from the spice rubs and fat-rich cuts of high-quality meats and sausages. The higher fat content equals flavor. Sip bolder, more complex wines like Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage-red blends. Lighter, saltier meats like prosciutto, coppa or mortadella are good toppings if pairing with full-bodied Chardonnay or Viognier.
Fennel, Sausage and Fontina
A natural match for wines with similar anise or Pastis flavors. If pairing with a white, opt for off-dry or rounded wines to connect the hints of licorice (perceived as sweet on the palate) to the wine. Think Pinot Gris (not Pinot Grigio) or a honey and citrus-based Semillon. A white Rhône-style blend with Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne would fit the bill nicely as would a floral Riesling or Gewürztraminer. For reds, go with rosé, young Cabernet or light-bodied Grenache to match the acidity levels found in the fennel. The fattiness from the sausage and fontina will soften the red’s tannins for a smooth finish.
Move Over Margaritas, Here Comes Malbec!
The go-to libation at any Mexican restaurant across the country – a tequila-filled margarita – seems like a safe bet when sitting down for an enchilada or fish taco. And fair enough, as this cuisine category seems to stump most when it comes to finding the ideal wine pairing. The common objection being all Mexican food is “too spicy” to pair with wine. While in fact, many classic Mexican dishes are indeed bold in flavor, it’s generally the strong acidity from the tomatoes, lime, cilantro or onions from the base sauces that’s the culprit. Not the spice or “heat.”
But the great news is there are a myriad of tasty wine combinations that do work wonderfully. Finding a way to balance the acidity – and some of the heat if you’re a chili fanatic – isn’t hard to do. Rule of thumb is acidity is tamed by sweet. Choosing light-bodied wines with a noticeable sweetness like an off-dry Riesling or aromatic Gewürztraminer will counter-balance the tart flavors in the dish. For slow cooked sauces layered with deep, earthy flavors like a mole or adobo chili, think about a fruity Zinfandel, dusty Malbec or young Cabernet or Merlot.
Do however avoid oaky and tannic reds (and those buttery Chardonnays, too) as oak and tannin, which are perceived as “bitter” on the palate, will actually accentuate any bitterness stemming from the sauce’s ingredients. Alcohol levels should also be kept in check as high amounts will increase the burning sensation of any heat (spice) present. Instead, opt for bright, youthful wines which are lower in alcohol like a fresh Beaujolais, fruity Pinot Noir or crisp rosé to bring balance to the palate.
Here our recommendations for Tuesday Taco Night where wine is enthusiastically welcomed:
• Baja Fish Tacos: Fruit-forward wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling, Albariño, Unoaked Chardonnay, Sparkling Wine
• Grilled Chicken Tacos with Mole Sauce: Earthy reds: Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon blend/Meritage, Petite Sirah
• Tacos Al Pastor: fruity wines like Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Rosé of Pinot, Moscato (off dry), White Sangria
• Carne Asada Tacos: Medium-bodied reds like Merlot, fruity Cabernet blends or young Grenache or Syrah
• Soft Blue Corn Tacos with Spicy Black Beans and Cajun Rice (vegetarian): Off-dry whites like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier or fruity reds like Zinfandel, Merlot or young Cabernet Sauvignons