Wine Pairing Basics

We all know that food and wine were meant to be together, but not all combinations are ideal.  It can be quite daunting to try to find that “perfect pair”, but here are some basics guidelines:

  • Match the overall quality and intensity of the food and wine 
  • Decide whether to complement or contrast the flavors
  • Wine and food from the same region are usually complementary
  • Acidity in wine can cut through fatty foods and balance out saltiness
  • High tannin wines can over power delicate flavors, but also cuts through fatty foods
  • Spicy food can be alleviated with a sweet wine, while high tannins will increase the heat sensation

I was able to put these ideas to the test the other night in my sommelier class with seven different pairings.



  • Goat Cheese with 2015 Cailbourdin Pouilly Fumé, AOC Loire Valley, France    
    • This pairing neutralizes some of the acidity in both the cheese and the wine, making the cheese seem even creamier.         
  • Grilled Chicken with 2013 Faiveley Mercurey, AOC Blanc Clos Rochette, France  
    • The light oak on this Chardonnay accentuates the grilled flavor on the chicken.
  • Duck Breast with 2014 Lynmar Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley AVA, California   
    • The acidity cuts through the fattiness of the duck and the earthiness of the Pinot complements the gamey flavor of the duck.
  • Roast Pork with 2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico, DOCG Tuscany, Italy 
    • The fruit in the wine brought out some nice flavor in the pork.
  • Seared Ham with 2015 J.H. Selbach  Riesling Spätlese, QmP Mosel, Germany
    • The subtle sweetness of the wine was delicious with the salty ham.
  • Foie Gras with 2009 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes, AOC Bordeaux, France
    • This sweet wine brings out some of the saltiness of the foie, and the foie balanced out the sweetness of the wine.
  • Roquefort NV Graham’s Six Grapes  Ruby Port, Porto DOC, Portugal 
    • Another sweet-salty combination, that smoothed out the blue cheese and highlighted the richness of the port.

Overall, each person has slightly different tastes, but when you do find a “perfect pair”, it is delicious.


Tasting Menu at Semilla


Last weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying a lovely tasting menu at Semilla, an 18 seat restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  The food was vegetable focused and delightfully inventive.  We added on the drink menu for the full experience.  The wines were impressive in age, variety, and suitability for the meal.  I was so busy enjoying the wonderful  wine and food that I did not take adequate notes or pictures, but here are a few highlights…

I was thrilled to start the meal with a 27 year old German Riesling (Wallufer Oberberg Kabinett Halbtrocken, J.B. Becker, 1990, Rheingau, Germany).  This is probably the oldest wine that I have drunk, and it was wonderful.  The aging really mellowed the sweetness and added depth to the wine, so it was perfect for the subtle, earthy sweetness of the Beet Tartare.  My favorite course of the evening was the salt-crusted sunchokes.  These were served with a Chardonnay (Les Ammonites, Domaine Buronfosse, 2014, Jura, France).  Although, I’m not always a fan of Chardonnay, this was unoaked and balanced out the saltiness of the dish quite nicely.  The meal finished off with two lovely desserts (and who doesn’t want  two desserts? ).   I’ve included the full menu below and would highly recommend an evening at Semilla for a night of creative and delicious dishes.

Menu from 2/2/17

Apple & Smoked Mozzarella Soup

Beet Tartare with Pickled Chanterelles & Whole Wheat Crackers

Salt Crusted Sunchokes with Fermented Ramp Aioli

Rice & Peas with Crab & Bergamot

Butternut Squash with Za’atar & Squash Vinegar

Celeriac Tart with Pickled Okra & Green Coriander Vinaigrette

Burnt Cabbage Roll with Preserved Lemon & Coffee Jus

Sunflower Seed Ice Cream with Meyer Lemon & Flowers

Angelica Semifreddo with Hazelnuts & Pickled Blueberries

Tasting Notes – Quinta Nova


Producer: Quinta Nova
Region:  Duoro, Portugal
Grape Varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao
Overall Rating:  ★★
Pairing:  I enjoyed this Touriga blend with the roast lamb platter from Au Jus. (proving that take-out food can provide a balanced meal).  This wine was absolutely delicious!  The medium body and tannins were perfect for the roast lamb, but the nicely balanced fruit and spice makes me want to sip this wine any time.  Also, the Quinta Nova Winery winery looks like a fairyland and has a hotel, so I might need to start planning my next vacation…

Color: Purplish
Brightness: Dull

Intensity: Moderate/Aromatic/Powerful
Age: Youthful/Some Age/Aged
Scent:  blueberry, prunes, mushrooms, and a little tobacco

Dry/Sweet: Dry
Body: Medium
Acidity: Fresh/Smooth
Tannin: Medium
Flavors: Fruity, with lots of prune flavor, but also some black pepper.

Tasting Notes -S+A Touriga Tempranillo

img_20161019_191944Producer: S+A
Region: California
Grape Varieties: Grape Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo
Overall Rating:  
Pairing:  Nice fruit and spice in the Touriga and Tempranillo blend.   The berry flavors complimented the sweetness of the ham and the earthy, tannins were a good pairing for the scalloped potatoes.

Color: Ruby
Brightness: Bright

Intensity: Low/Moderate
Scent: berries and earth

Dry/Sweet: Dry
Body: Light/Medium
Acidity: Smooth
Tannin: Low/Medium
Flavors: Raspberries, strawberries, vanilla and some peppery spice

Tasting Notes – Supercluster

Name: Supercluster
Producer: Winc
Region: California
Grape Varieties: Touriga Nacional
Overall Rating:  
Pairing: This is a rare California Touriga Nacional.  It was lighter than I expected, having read about the strong tannins in many Portuguese Tourigas.  Even with it’s lightness, the oak aging resulted in a baked strawberry pie flavor, and the subtle tannins gave it enough complexity to pair nicely with the Philly Cheesesteak Bowl from Green Chef.


Red: Purplish/Ruby
Brightness: Dull/Hazy

Intensity: Low/Moderate
Age: Youthful
Scent: cherry and blackberry

Dry/Sweet: Dry/Off-dry
Body: Light
Acidity: Fresh/Smooth
Tannin: Low
Flavors:  Strawberry pie, but some tartness on the finish.

Tasting Notes – Elderton Botrytis Semillon

IMG_20160610_234352Name: Botrytis Semillon
Producer: Elderton Wines
Region: Barossa, Australia
Grape Varieties: Semillon
Overall Rating:  ★★★
Pairing: This is a dessert wine, so I enjoyed a glass with Neapolitan Cupcakes from the Cooking Classy  blog.  And I did actually really enjoyed this wine.  I’m not usually a fan of sweet or dessert wines, but this was light, not syrupy, and it had decent acidity to balance some of the sugar.

Color: Amber/Copper   Brightness: Day Bright

Intensity: Low/Moderate
Age: Youthful/Some Age
Scent: apricot and orange marmalade

Dry/Sweet: Sweet
Body: Light/Medium
Acidity: Fresh
Flavors: Even more orange, than in the aroma, plus some honey.

Tasting Notes -F. Stephen Millier Pinot Grigio

 F. Stephen Millier Angels Reserve Pinot Grigio
Producer: F. Stephen Millier
Region: Lodi, California
Grape Varieties: Pinot Grigio
Overall Rating:  
Pairing: Indian Takeout – low acidity and light sweetness balances the Indian spices.

Color: Straw
Brightness: Hazy/BrightIMG_20160525_094752

Intensity: Moderate/Aromatic
Scent: pear and honeysuckle

Dry/Sweet: Dry/Off-dry
Body: Very Light/Light/Medium/Medium-Full/Full-bodied/Heavy
Acidity: Crisp/Fresh
Flavors: citrus and honey