Food Friendly Wines

If you’re a major foodie like me, a lot of the fun in eating good food is coming up with a wine that makes both food and wine sing! If you make it a personal goal to try as many different types of wine as you possibly can you’ll increase your chances of finding new and unusual — aka fun — pairings.

About three weeks ago friends of ours joined my husband, Michael, and me at Benu, a San Francisco restaurant that received — not too long ago — the coveted 3 Michelin star rating. Let me tell you, the stars are well deserved. We had 12 courses, all Asian-influenced, that had components notoriously tricky to pair wine with: soy-based sauces, unusual citrus fruits and interesting gelatinous deliciousness.

My “go to” grape to pair with many types of Asian food, i.e., Thai, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese, is Riesling, because the grape (although highly underappreciated) is extremely versatile. Because of its natural aromatics and slight (to sometimes more pronounced) sweetness, it doesn’t fight foods with soy sauce, chili heat or spice. In fact, it pairs quite beautifully.

So when I asked the Sommelier at Benu, Yoon Ha, who is by the way a Master Sommelier, about a Riesling to begin our meal, he suggested one from a region less known for the grape than Germany and France. This one came from Austria; a country whose signature white wine is Gruner Veltliner. Even though they produce a small amount of Riesling, this particular one was positively stunning. When we asked where we might be able to purchase this wine, the answer came back, “there’s pretty much no chance of finding this wine in a retail store due to the tiny production”. Oh well, we tried.

The next wine the sommelier suggested is one of my favorite grapes, a Grenache blend from the Rhone Valley, France. Yet another fantastic pairing with the food because of its high toned, fruit-driven, spice — not too heavy and not tannic.

The fun with this type of meal is that you have so many different flavors bouncing around on your palate. It’s important to enjoy a wine that is very versatile, but can hold its own and not be overwhelmed. There are many wines out there that can do the job yet are not the “typical” wines we think of most often, like Chardonnay and Cabernet. These wines, depending on how they’re made and where they come from, can often fight foods. This is because oak — which is often used when ageing these wines —is not the food friendliest of components. And higher levels of alcohol which are often associated with these same wines with oak, will either, at the very least, not flatter the food or, worse, will enhance the bitter qualities of both the food and the wine so that neither one shines. No!! It can’t be, you say?! My favorite Chardonnay and/or Cabernet not good with food?? I’m not saying that these wines don’t work at all, but they can be somewhat difficult with the trickiest of foods.

Sometimes, I’m in the mood for a particular kind of wine and so, I plan a meal around that wine, or it can happen the other way around. If I’m in the mood for barbeque, I dive into the Rolodex in my brain for what pairs really well with BBQ, Syrah and Zinfandel!

On both ends of the food spectrum — from 3 star Michelin restaurants to good, old fashioned barbeque — one thing I’ll never quench is my thirst for that perfect pairing!