The concept of pairing wine and food is not an exact science. Quite honestly, too many people make too much of it. What I mean is that too many people fret over trying to find that perfect pairing.
Food and wine are meant to be together, but it’s important not to get caught up in rules. Forget about white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. Forget about rules that say only certain wines can pair with certain types of foods. Flavours, weight, texture and acidity all play important roles, but the most important factor is balance — balance in the wine, and balance in the food (and, of course, being open to trying everything and anything). All the components should belong and nothing should seem out of place.
If I’ve learned anything over the past 20 years it’s that certain wines just go with everything. They are a chef’s best friend because they are so versatile, so well made and so even that the range of dishes with which they will pair extends beyond what most sommeliers would even consider recommending.
And the beauty of these wines is that they will change, as they should, depending upon the dishes with which they are served. Hence their versatility. Having these wines in your arsenal (on your wine list or cellar) is like having a collection many times larger. And it’s kind of nice to know that regardless of what’s coming out of the kitchen, you can rely on these wines to pair well with little effort. But don’t tell your friends. Let them think you agonized to find that perfect pairing. They will definitely be impressed.
S. Maria la Palma Le Bombarde Cannonau 2011, Sardinia, Italy ($18.99)
Expressive aromas of bright raspberry, liquorice, clove and other exotic spice with penetrating flavours of plum, cherry, spice, earth and leather. A silky, lingering, vibrant finish. Not a heavy wine, but possesses tons of flavour and an underlying structure that may fool you at first. The perfect example of a sophisticated, easy-drinking wine that doesn’t have to be in-your-face to be great. Pairs with everything from poultry, seafood and vegetarian dishes to spicy squid and Asian cuisine.
COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2011, Sicily, Italy ($46)
A go-to wine regardless of what’s on the dinner table. Complex layers of juicy and savoury cherry and raspberry, liquorice, meat, earth, mineral and spice, with silky tannins, a great underlying backbone and persistent finish. So approachable; a wine that’s hard not to love.
Navarro Lopez Granrojo Garnacha 2012, Castilla, Spain ($16.99)
An incredibly attractive nose that totally delivers on the palate. Elegant and polished showing graceful intensity with black-cherry and raspberry flavours; vibrant and minerally, firm, well-integrated tannins and lively crisp acidity. Screams for lamb, but delicate enough for grilled squid.
Malivoire Gamay 2012, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($28)
Gamay is making a comeback, and for good reason. Whether it’s Beaujolais or Canadian Gamay, producers have raised the bar and are showing consumers that great Gamay has little resemblance to insipid Beaujolais-Nouveau. Full flavours of cherry and fresh berries with pepper and spice, lovely floral notes; soft, silky, juicy tannins while maintaining freshness and elegance and a nice minerally finish. Will pair well with salmon, chicken, duck, pork or vegetarian dishes.
Viña la Reserva de Caliboro Erasmo Barbera/Grenache 2013, Maule Valley, Chile ($30)
Youthful, bright purple with beautiful fresh aromas and flavours of wild berries, chocolate and spice; juicy with silky-smooth tannins, great balance, immense drinkability and a long, persistent finish. Delicious as an aperitif with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, with grilled meats and seafood. Serve slightly chilled. Owner Count Francesco Marone Cinzano has always said that wines should be made to pair with food, and this wine is a great example.
Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania, Australia ($35)
Elegant, juicy and supple with loads of mineral, bright cherry, currant, earth and berries; a silky texture, gaining more depth with every taste, and finishing long and fresh. Great balance between ripe fruit, earth and acidity and showing nice restraint.
Maycas del Limari Chardonnay Reserva Especial 2009, Limari Valley, Chile ($28)
Who says that Chardonnay is not a good food wine? Perhaps the over-oaked Chardonnays that are fortunately becoming less prevalent may lack versatility, but elegant wines allowed to express the grape and vineyard in the bottle are outstanding partners for a variety of dishes. Rich and textured with apple, melon, quince and pear flavours, loads of fresh mineral notes and a long, bright finish.
Bougrier Vouvray Douce 2012, Loire Valley, France ($18.99)
Bright, lovely, fresh and floral with pure apple, fig, citrus peel and ginger spice; easy-drinking, zippy acidity and just a hint of sweetness on the balanced finish. 100% Chenin Blanc. A natural partner with seafood and Asian cuisine, but don’t restrict what dishes this wine can and will partner with.
Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2011, Okanagan, Canada ($48)
Amazing power, intensity and focus with mouth-watering, bracing acidity and loads of lime, nectarine, apple, grapefruit and mineral with layered complexity. A tight, steely backbone, racy with a long, wet-stone mineral finish. Great with seafood, great with a steak.
Poggiobello Friulano 2012, Friuli, Italy ($32)
Fresh, lively and refined with layers of pear, stone fruit, citrus and melon, just the right mix of mineral and spice, a touch of ginger, great focus, zesty acidity and just a touch of softness on the zippy finish. Even pairs with earthy vegetarian dishes.
Stags’ Leap Amparo Rosé 2012, Napa, USA ($32)
Rosé gets a bad rap because of White Zinfandel, but good dry rosés are delicious and default food wines. Made from Grenache grapes, this wine is full and concentrated with aromas and flavours of raspberry, cranberry, pomegranate and cherry with hints of spice and earth; refreshing and crisp, firm structure and long, fresh finish. Anyone who thinks rosés aren’t serious wines should try this. And it will pair with everything.