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A Regular Guy Wine Guide

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Photo by Jennifer Hitchcock
Photo by Jennifer Hitchcock

BEYOND “RED FOR BEEF AND PORK, WHITE FOR FISH AND CHICKEN”

LOVE food, but I am not a gourmand. I have the same level of enthusiasm for pan-seared rockfish as I do for blue-box macaroni and cheese. Whatever is on the plate, freshly caught or flavor packet included, the right wine pairing helps you enjoy your meal. Here are 3 basic red and white wines, and my personal thoughts on what they complement. Although I’m by no means a professional “wine expert,” I have had more than my share of the stuff, so here’s what I enjoy pairing together.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine for red meat / The tannins in it offset fats and proteins in steaks, venison and lamb dishes, coq au vin, or anything drowning in a butter cream sauce. For me, it’s a rich wine for rich food, but it doesn’t go well with hot, spicy items. Cab Sauvignon increases bitterness and spiciness, and not in a good way.

Pinot Noir pairs wonderfully with dishes that have an earthy, rich flavor / While this might conjure up images of smoked duck, pork roasts or salmon steaks in a mushroom sauce, this red wine also slums well with takeout chow. Try a glass with a slice of pizza, lo mien heavy on the scallions and soy sauce, or cold BBQ chicken.

Syrah/Shiraz is the go-to for a heavily spiced dish / I found this out when I was eating rosemary lamb kabobs fresh off the grill with Syrah in a plastic cup. The flavor of this red wine is complex, earthy and fruity. It has a strong enough palate to wash down sausages, spicy red chili, anything with loads of black pepper or distinctive herbs in it, but the body is light enough to not go straight to your head.

Chardonnay is white, but isn’t light; it has a heavy body and dominant flavor / It is sort of a joke that chardonnay “goes well with food” you should interpret as “doesn’t taste bad with anything.” So what does it compliment? The oak flavors and “buttery” mouth-feel of chardonnay bring out the best in heavily sauced seafood, or a fatty fish seasoned with a lot of herbs and spices. Heavy fish, roast chicken and turkey dishes, pasta that isn’t in a tomato base, shrimp scampi, steamed lobster, and (don’t laugh) chicken casserole.

Pinot Grigio has a more delicate body, and is refreshingly crisp / This is what you want for those light dishes. Filet of sole, steamed mussels, grilled shrimp, tossed salads with fruit and nuts. Any meal where you don’t want a subtle flavor to get overpowered by a heavy wine lends itself well to Pinot Grigio.

Pairing Sauvignon Blanc is a bit tricky for me / It is very crisp and acidic but still has some body. My advice is to match it with sharp tasting dressings and sauces, and ignore whatever the meat is. Try a glass with bitter leafy vegetables, vinegar dressings, foods that are citrusy, or dishes that aren’t oily but are heavy on the parsley, basil and cilantro. A great simple pairing is Sauvignon Blanc and freshly shucked oysters with lemon wedges.

Finally, what goes well with elbow pasta complimented by a delicate orange rehydrated powdered cheese sauce? Try a chilled glass of under-$15-a-bottle-pink dry rosé. With its white wine acidity and fruity red notes, even the most sophisticated somm would admit it’s a pleasing pairing. Even if they don’t admit to ever eating blue-box macaroni.