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Apply the Rule of 3 to discover Food/Wine Pairings you will relish

We recently taught a wine seminar at Harvard University celebrating the Art of Food/Wine Pairings. Our muse? West Coast Wines! California, Washington and Oregon were all gainfully represented.

The red wines we shared we shared with Harvard students during a recent Wine Seminar we taught.
The red wines we shared we shared with Harvard students during a recent Wine Seminar we taught.

It was not lost on us that the underlying vinous theme focused on wines from a part of the world that is quite large and quite diverse; it's a culinary Choose Your Own Adventure. And so the food pairing principle "if it grows together it goes together" is, quite simply, harder to exemplify. Not to worry!

If you cannot at least start out PAIRING BY PLACE and, therefore, tapping into the local cuisine which blossoms naturally with wines grown in a particular region, then you must make a go of it by applying one of these principles to achieve a balanced, complementary, aw-eliciting experience:


Consider the Weight of the dish* (usually taking into consideration how it is prepared (e.g. steamed vs. grilled vs. roasted) and if it is dressed in a rich sauce or just a squeeze of lemon). You'll want the weight of the wine to match the weight of the dish.

Consider also the Acidity in the dish. Is the dish bright? Does your mouth water at the thought of it (like the thought of grapefruit, tomato sauce or dill pickles)? If it is a high acid dish, you'll want a high acid wine.

Next, consider the 'Meatiness' of it. Is the bold factor dialed all the way up? Whether it is a hearty vegetarian dish like sauteed portabellas and eggplant, or roast lamb and potatoes, the more savory the dish the more tannin-loving (aka how dry your tongue feels after you swallow) it will be. High tannin/very dry wines marry perfectly with hearty, "meaty" fare.

Last, what about Sweetness? BBQ sauce is Zinfandel-loving because Zin tends to be bold, bursting with ripe and/or dried fruits. While the wine may be vinified dry, the flavor experience from all that fruit complements the sweetness of the BBQ sauce.


Alternatively you'll want to create balance by contrasting what's on your plate - and nothing is truer than when you are faced with a particularly Salty dish! Fried foods, often Chinese fare and meats like Ham or charcuterie tend to be saltier and require a wine with a sweeter or more fruit-forward composition to create a harmonious palate experience.

While these principles are sure to get you started, there's something awesome to be said for the exploration itself, for figuring out how flavors jive - for finding out the hard way, and if you're lucky, for finding out the optimal way. Each revelation is a win in itself - inspiration promotes celebration (and keeping at it)! So most important, HAVE FUN on the journey.

 *   By "dish" we don't just mean the protein on the plate! Consider the sides as well (sometimes they are more interesting and fun to pair off of), or what components you want on your fork - the 'bite' in its entirety.

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"impossible" pairing - nein?!

Is there such a thing as an "impossible" food/wine pairing? Some say Yes, others No. I'm of the mind that nothing's impossible! Sure there are a few tricky foods in the wine-o-sphere: asparagus, artichokes and eggs, come to mind immediately.

But trial and error proves time and again that for eggs there is always sparkling wine (and the higher the acid, and finer the bubbles the better, me thinks). For asparagus you can try Albarino, the Spanish white varietal that is low in alcohol, high in acid and lanolin-like in texture and is as food-loving as they come. In fact, this is my usual go-to for trickier pairings like super spicy fare or a redmeat-centric dish that would really do better with a red wine or even a rose, but where a white is required.

In my mind, artichokes are actually the biggest wine challenge - and in truth, this is probably a pre-conceived notion that I have because as much as I absolutely love them, they are such a pain to work with that I rarely prepare them myself.  Leave it to my good friend, a wonderful cook, to invite me over for dinner and make them! Fortunately she gave me the heads up so I could ponder the pairing for a little bit. She also told me that the main protein would be monkfish - so my playing field was happily narrowed: a white wine would be the best route to take.

As alluded  above, bubbly is certainly a safe bet when it comes to tricky pairings. But I wasn't in the mood for full-throttle bubbles or too much toasty richness; and Prosecco doesn't strike me as a sparkling with enough pungency or pizazz to fight back in the Table-side Food Challenge Throwdown that was presented. Something with tang seemed more like it.  Something that had enough 'muscle' to stand up to the 'choke was needed.

Tocai came to mind, but didn't win me over. So did New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontes - but I wondered if their pungency would actually be too much.  And I really do think a little bubble and low alcohol goes a long way, so I perused my esoteric bubbly wine options instead. A lightly Sparkling Gruner called PUNKT was tempting, but I wasn't sure the fruit and tang would come through enough to stand its ground. Then my eye caught sight of this bizarre and awesome wine called La Tosa.

La Tosa has historically been the ultimate zesty, fresh white wine with  just a hint of sparkle. But last vintage the twin brothers who make it decided to go full-on in the bubble department - and the new version of its former self is killer. Still a blend of Malvasia, Trebbiano, and Ortrugo grapes, lemon-lime flavors absolutely pop on the palate and an awesome fresh herbal note adds intrigue. Lively acidity brings it all on home. I thought, what  the heck?, and grabbed a bottle to chill.

Once around the table with my pasta bowl in front of me, I dove right in to the supposed wine-killer: the artichokes. Then I saddled up to my wine glass, breathed in the fresh bouquet and took a big sip. It was delicious! Each element stood its ground in ideal harmony - the artichokes danced while the wine sang. VICTORY.

What wasn't so hot was the La Tosa with dessert: Gummi Bears. It was down right foul. I took a mental note to save that challenge for another day!

What would you pair with Gummi Bears?

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thanksgiving wine ideas

For Thanksgiving you often think of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris as "perfect" pairings. And in fact, those are the varietals that I almost always seek out for the big day in part because they are such a good match but also because it is an 'excuse' to spend the bigger bucks on a great red Burgundy or some incredible Alsatian PG. But Thanksgiving really is an open-ended wine pairing holiday. Like chicken, turkey offers a clean slate. It's like the tofu of the meat world; it's something that needs dressing up to have a real identity. As such, wine pairing is more about all the sides you are going to prepare - cranberry sauce, earthy root vegetables like brussel sprouts or creamed white onions, or sweet potatoes, or your mother's fruit salad (with marshmallows) that you have every year because it's "tradition". Yes, the Pinot family can take the fun on home with sides like these. But the world really is your oyster!

Here are a few other ideas to consider - and when I say consider, I mean who all is coming to dinner, what their preferences might be and how to keep everyone happy (sometimes the real objective at your holiday gathering)....

Whites  ~

White Burgundy, or the more affordable alternative, Macon Chardonnay. The thing about these wines is that Burgundy (and the surround areas where you can spend a few less dollars) offers a full, fleshy and fruit-forward experience that won't weigh you down. They are gently oaked wonders, which means that you can still bring Chardonnay (a familiar grape) to the table without bringing a bottle of buttery, wooded, BIG juice, that won't quite work with such a big meal. Clean, pure, fruit and citrus lift are a winning combination.

Albarino. Albarino is an incredibly versatile option that will pair with anything. Its low alcohol, terrific, sea-like minerality and bright acidity keep your guests, and your overindulgence, in check, and also offers a little something unique and enjoyable beyond "the usual suspects". While gaining in popularity, it is still a grape that not everyone knows. Few are likely to have a preconceived notion of what to expect - and whether they will like it or not. Chances are - they will, too.

Reds ~

Malbec. Now this is a grape that people know and tend to have only very positive feelings about! And, it is also a grape that won't over-power the turkey and will certainly complement the earthier fare on your table. Seek out fruit forward, earthier styles (as opposed to the chocolatey, rich ones) for a real treat.

Zinfandel. Zin can be tricky because so many of them are so high in alcohol. That is dangerous both on an over-consumption level and also because it really can weigh you down. The juicy sweetness and slightly earthy nuance on offer (in great Zin) certainly pairs with the cranberry sauce. But for the Thanksgiving table that runs the 'non traditional' gamut in particular by delivering an Italian feast (and yet for folks that want a truly "American" wine to pair), this is an option to consider. My recommendation? In this case, spend the extra bucks to get a really well-made, more nuanced wine.

What will you be drinking next Thursday?


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Pairing wine with pumpkin

Last weekend at a pumpkin carving fiesta a good friend asked me which wine I would pair with pumpkin. I was arm deep in pumpkin guts at the time (see image to the right) so I told him to keep an eye out for a post this week. And now here we are 3 days from Halloween with an ample supply of pumpkin around town - also known as the biggest opportunity to bust out your culinary genius. A post was all too necessary! Here are a few different ways you could go (and there are many...):

Pumpkin Rissotto w/Scallops

If you prefer a cheese-tastic take on rissotto, go for a buttery Chardonnay from California. If you prefer a lighter, savory risotto, go for a more mineral-driven, Alsatian white like Chasellas or even Pinot Blanc.

Roasted Pumpkin w/Root Vegetables

My brother in law makes a killer roast pumpkin - with all the root veggies and even tomatoes left to stew inside his prized Princess pumpkin. In this case, a fine option would be a Valpolicella from Italy. Savory, with stewed fruits and some nice structure, this wine's earthiness, fruit forward qualities and natural food-loving nature would be a treat. An earthy red from the Cote du Rhone would also work superbly.

Beef and Pumpkin Stew

Go to the mothership of all things beef: Argentina! Go team Malbec.

Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Bread

Any dessert made with pumpkin and seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg will love a great off-dry white. Think Riesling or Gewurtztraminer. Either of these will complement the savory brown spices in the dessert, yet the richness of the food will be cut by the great acidity and low-alcohol nature of the wine.

Which pumpkin dish is your favorite to make this time of year?

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Food and Wine Lovers can enjoy a taste of everything

This week we have a little something for every food and wine lover! Let's start with the "real" juice: Just a few days ago launched a new version of its old self, Who does this new site benefit? Those looking for more rare, esoteric or otherwise small production, lesser available/known stuff. The site also features special deals of the day by way of email blasts. Do you think you'll investigate this new wine buying opportunity? We also learned this week about a specialty vinegar on the market, which apparently has chef's jumping out of their skin. Minus 8 is an Ontario-based outfit that harvests grapes  at precisely that temperature - sort of like ice wine, but for food lovers! Check it out.

Last but not least, our friends at Divas Uncorked are gearing up for their annual food and wine fest out out the Vineyard. The event is a weekend affair August 12 - 15 and features various festivities all about the island. You can choose to attend certain events "a la carte" or buy the all-access pass. More information is available here.



Women and (Red) Wine (Pairing) - plus Dr. Vino's sipped/spit list

How many articles have you read where the bone being picked is over who gets the wine list in a restaurant, the man or the woman? This week I stumbled on another, which parlayed a bit off of the recent Brigham study about women, wine and their weight. Take a look at this one and report below what is your experience on the topic. I can't help but wonder if this is a regional/cultural thing, because I can't remember the last time someone didn't hand me the wine list. I have no real beef on this one - at least here in Boston. You? Next up, if you don't yet know what are some great options for pairing wine with fish - or are looking for at least one new idea - check out this piece.

Last but not least, if you enjoy a good laugh with your wine, go here for Dr. Vino's recent "sipped or spit" piece. For me this occasional Vino post theme is a lovely, not so guilty, pleasure!



Who's New in Food & Wine around Cambridge/Somerville

As the flowers begin to pop up, it seems every spring many new restaurants do the same. It’s been impossible to keep up with the flurry of activity around town this year – and in the world of our own restaurant reviews, we prefer to visit each new spot at least twice before giving any Final Answers about who is doing things well (or who isn’t). This week on Wicked Local we bring to you just a quick synopsis of the Cambridge/Somerville springtime “new releases” you may want to put on your “must checkout” list. Check it out!

Have you popped in to anyone of these new spots yet? What was your impression?



Easter wine recs

Easter is a holiday that not everyone celebrates – nor in the same ways. Traditions are a bit more fluid somehow here in the United States. Maybe your family prefers a delicious Easter brunch after a morning visit to church and an Easter Egg Hunt for the kiddies. Maybe you do your own thing with your family in the morning, then visit with friends in the afternoon over a mid-afternoon dinner of baked ham or a leg of lamb. But one thing is certain: such a lack of specific tradition can cause some level of Easter week “panic.” Of course, there's no need to stress when a little advice is at the ready. Pop over to Wicked Local today to get some ideas for your celebration! Will wine have a place at your Easter table this year? What will you uncork?



This week in wine, food and beverage

I perused the world wide web this week to see if I could find any good juice to whet your whistle in anticipation of the  Super Bowl on Sunday, in the way of wine, anyway. For me it is a" holiday" wholly dedicated to enjoying absolutely delicious beers, as you gear up for whatever main meal you may be dishing up (for me it will be homemade pizza, with roast chicken, fresh basil, mozzarella and pineapple).  Maybe I'll open a bottle of some exceptional vino to pair with my dinner, but more likely I'll be digging into the Ommegang Abbey Ale - a wine lovers beer, in my humble opinion, because it offers such an intriguing, inviting nose, a round texture and layer upon layer of flavor. What I found instead was some intriguing news about the world famous Ferran Adria, of Spain's El Bulli. He's taking a little break - and the "reason" up for grabs, according to the press.

I was also pleased to see some great thinking and posturing by a couple of folks I respect in the wine writing world:

Check out this post by Joe Roberts/1WineDude regarding a recent listing in the Sommelier Journal about  top picks for 2009. He makes a great point about the price tag on these recommended wines, but I disagree with his conclusion that "the pros don't find the experience delivered by those bargains to be all that memorable". Given the audience of the Journal in particular, I have to imagine some of these folks are posturing among their peers. In addition, top restaurants operate on a completely different buying scale. I could go on, but the bottom line is I think if you asked a broader selection of Soms around the country the same question, the outcome would be changed. We might have to revisit this topic sometime...

Last but not least, I was happy to read Dr. Vino's article on the up-and-coming Blaufrankish varietal (aka Lemberger). Check out his musings here.

Which beverage will be in hand for you this Sunday?



A good cause for wine, a good read and surprising industry news

Gourmet MagazineGot Graham? Or have you at least tasted one (or more) of the Bonny Doon wines? What did you think? My experience tells me most winemakers are a bit bizarre - the level and specific style of bizarreness being unique to each, of course. But I do think there is something super special about the California bread of crazy winemaker. Yeah, they are brilliant; but they push The Envelope more knowingly or deliberately somehow (whereas folks from Washington or Oregon, Spain, France and the like operate as they are, just bizarre creatures making wine). Joe Roberts, aka 1WineDude, reviewed Randall Graham's new book Been Doon So Long and also chatted with the winemaker this week about it. Pretty freaking funny. Entertain yourself reading Robert's blog post over lunch. Then grab a copy and report back with your opinion of  it.

By way of news this week, my old favorite Gourmet magazine is going under! I couldn't believe the headline. I mean, yeah, wine has been less a focus for sometime, but the photos are gorgeous, the journalism interesting, and the recipes worth investigating. Plus, it is an institution! Read more at Decanter. Are you upset? Or have you found another pub to entertain you?

Last but not least, for those in the Boston area you can support a good cause while enjoying some vino. On Oct 15 hang out on the rooftop at the Taj, taste some wine and support the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston. Click here for tickets and more information.