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Wine Speak: The Art of Entertaining

So, let’s say that you are expecting six of your most wine-savvy friends over for dinner on Saturday night, and you have spent many hours planning your delightful meal that is sure to wow your guests in a big way. You have a few different courses that you’ll be serving but when it comes to the wine, you’re not quite as confident in your pairing abilities as you’d like to be.

The way that I come up with wine ideas is to break down the meal in this way:

What is the protein? Are you serving some sort of fish — is it a delicate tasting fish, a richer shellfish or oily fish? And for meat protein — beef, pork. lamb…..? Is the meat a lean cut or fatty cut….? Does it have a wild, gamey flavor?

This is only the beginning and a small part of the process.

Secondly, ask yourself how you are preparing the fish, beef, pork, lamb — will it be grilled, poached, roasted, sautéed, braised? Each of these cooking methods lend themselves to different types of wines. Are you adding some kind of a rub or a glaze and if so, what is the seasoning, spices you’ll be using?

And most importantly, what kind of a sauce or condiment will you be serving alongside it? This will, most likely, be the predominant flavor in the dish.

Finally, what else will you be serving with the main dish? What types of side dishes will contribute to the overall flavors?

So, to take an example of how this process works, let’s say that you are preparing a beautiful fish dish as the entrée — it is a roasted halibut to be served with a tropical mango and pineapple chutney? This type of condiment will be the predominant flavor, for sure and since it’s made — typically — with ginger, fruits, spices, it’s important to think of a wine that will stand up to and balance without being overwhelmed by these types of flavors. My mind goes to a white wine and not just because it’s a fish dish but because mango and pineapple are tropical fruit flavors that usually pair beautifully with white wines. Many white wines are even described with these fruits.

Since halibut is a meatier type of fish you don’t want to choose a wine that’s too delicate or is not as expressive as others, such as Gruner Veltliners (Austrian), Pinot Grigios or other Italian whites that are more “neutral” in character. Think of some spicy, aromatic white wines such as Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France, or Albarino from Spain, or Viognier from the Rhone Valley in France — many Viogniers are also made in California’s Central Coast region.

Are you preparing a roasted lamb or peppered duck with a black currant sauce? I think most would agree that a red wine of some kind is the perfect pairing, but what kind? Given that the meat is roasted and the duck is “peppered,” I instantly go to Syrah because, often, Syrahs have a roasted meat character, are often described as “peppery” and usually have a deep, dark fruit character.….the black currant sauce will taste somewhat sweet to offset the gaminess of the meat, so you want to choose a wine that is not too dry. Another idea would be red Zinfandel, but if you have your heart set on a favorite Cabernet, be sure to choose one with lots of plummy, dark, “sweeter” fruit vs a more tannic, drier one.

Once you start paying more attention to how your wine and food tastes together, you’ll get more of the hang of it and it will become second nature.

The possibilities are truly endless!

Bon Appetit,


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