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Wine Pairing Basics

by Chirs Mauch
     Spring is right around the corner and with it, the holiday dishes of Valentines, Easter, and Mother’s Day. Are you one of the millions of people who are serving ham? If so, then you may have some problems trying to figure out which wine to serve. Ham can be hard to pair with wine. In general, Ham has a light, sweet flavor, especially with the sauces that tend to go along with it. If you had a heavy wine, you’d drown out that flavor.
     A tart wine would taste funny with the sweet sauce. So you want to go with a gentle, light, semi-sweet wine. This may not sound like the best time to think about food and wine pairings, but if your family is anything like mine the end of Lent is one of the happiest of days.
     Chocolate, red meat or even (gasp!) wine, whatever you may have given up for the last 40 days, it’s time to reintroduce yourself. The Holiday meal should be a happy occasion, and what better way to enjoy good company than with a little vino at the table?
     So what wines pair best with your Holiday dinner? Aunt Pat doesn’t like big reds, Big sister Beth, likes sweet whites, Nobody really care for rose’ So what to do.
     Of course it depends upon what graces your holiday table, but we’ll go over the classics and give you the very best food and wine pairings for each. Two easy rules to follow are to pair like flavors with like flavors and match weight with weight.
     For Easter, many folks serve a gorgeous baked ham. This means pulling the cork on a great Riesling. The traditional pairing of ham with Riesling is almost mandatory on many tables, and there’s a good reason why:  Because it works. Particularly if the ham has any kind of honey or fruit glaze going on. These tastes pick up what’s best in a fine Riesling: the apricot, peach, and vineyard-peach notes that makes a great dry Riesling sing. Something other than Reisling, try a Vouvray or Gewuztraminer.

     If you’re Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, or just simply a foodie, lamb may be on the table. Spring lamb, leg of lamb, roast of lamb, stuffed lamb chops, they are all delightful, and they all demand an equal in their wine pairing. So what wine do you pair with lamb? Easy: a Pinot Noir. What you are after here is a fruity yet elegant red wine with just a zip of acidity that will show off the meal, instead of weighing things down. Want to try something other than Pinot Noir, I’d recommend a traditional Malbec from Argentina.

     Perhaps you are a vegetarian, You can still have a perfect wine pairing. Asparagus is one of the toughest vegetable to pair with wine and most sommeliers will give you the same answer if asked which one wine pairs with asparagus best: A bone dry Gruner Veltliner from Austria/Germany, hands down, no contest, this is what this great white wine is known for. Master of Wine Janis Robinson notes that Grüner Veltliner is usually produced dry with spicy, peppery notes. It is often full-bodied and with age can take on aromas and flavors similar to white Burgundies.
     As an added bit of luck, GV’s also pairs particularly well with spring peas and lentil dishes of any description. In fact, this wine is often described as having those very notes in the bouquet, along with a bit of fruit, minerality, and a dash of white pepper on the finish. A good, complex GV will even stand up to the meat dishes if pressed to the task.

     What about those chocolate  and marshmallow peeps???? So what wine does one pair with chocolate and marshmallow? Why, a sweet dessert wine of course. But not just any dessert wine, you wanted something perfect, and I have it. For the chocolate bunnies, a German Eiswein is the perfect idea. Port is a great match with chocolate, it goes down nicely.

     I suggest a nice tawny with dark or bitter chocolate.
For your marshmallow peeps, I recommend a dessert wine made from Muscat-Ottonel. Again, it’s the big aromatics in play here that will pair wonderfully with the subtle flavors and sweetness of the marshmallow. These wines also work great with those other Holiday basket favorites: Jelly Beans! Presecco or any other sparking wine is a hit with your guests. Even Aunt Pat and your big sister will appreciate a good bubbly.

     One last rule to follow regarding wine and food pairing: There are no rules. While these are just a few suggestions, ultimately the wine that you and yours like the best will be the right choice for the dinner table. Sometimes the best pairing is the one that is the complete opposite of what should be right. Don’t be afraid to experiment and to try new ideas and wines.

     One thing is for sure, the best pairing of all is the family and friends around your Valentines, Easter, or Mother s Day at the dinner table.


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Sue Baxter