A matter of taste

Wine experts agree that wine drinkers should pair according to preference

Wine experts agree that wine drinkers should pair according to preference

August 26, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

Choosing a wine to drink is, ultimately, a personal choice.

There are classic pairings, champagne with strawberries or cabernet sauvignon with steak.

The old-school theory is to match the color of the wine to the color of the meat, said Matt Najewicz, bar manager, bartender and server at LJ's & the Kat Lounge in Hagerstown's East End. Red wine with red meat and white wine with chicken or fish. Though Najewicz said he doesn't adhere to that philosophy.

Not every classic pairing is to every wine drinker's liking.

"I can't stress enough the importance of drinking what you like," Najewicz said.

David Asam, a certified sommelier at Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va., agreed.

"There are no set rules for wine pairings, every match is completely subjective, and solely a matter of personal taste," Asam said.

But that didn't stop us from asking some local wine experts for their opinions on pairings.


We asked Asam for some general and specific pairings for several wine categories such as light red wines and Rieslings.

We also asked Najewicz for some pairing ideas. He was hesitant to suggest dishes for general wine categories such as light reds or Rieslings because there can be so much variation within a category. So, instead, we asked him to suggest some pairings for specific dishes.

Kirk Grooms, wine manager at Long Meadow Wine & Liquors, also offered some of his personal favorite pairings.

Asam said some wines go better with some foods, and some foods do not generally like wine. Foods difficult to pair include artichokes, tomatoes, and asparagus. For those, Asam suggests trying Gruner Veltliner from Austria.

"For foods such as Mexican ... I suggest Corona ... sometimes a beer is the better fit," Asam said.

David Asam, sommelier
Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

o Pinot Noir (a light red): Two of the major hot spots for pinot noir are Santa Barbara, Calif., and Willamette Valley, Oregon. These wines are extremely versatile and can go with most foods. Some of the best pairings are mushrooms, duck, pork, veal, chicken and salmon.

o Medium red: Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain, or Italian Chianti (Sangiovese). Wonderful with pasta dishes with red sauce, or lighter-style meats like veal, chicken, or pork. Also wonderful wines for grilled meats.

o Full-bodied red: Cabernet sauvignon, malbec or syrah. These grapes are planted in numerous countries, but some of my favorites right now are coming from Argentina. Pair with red meats or game dishes, or something with a rich sauce.

o Rosé wines: A personal summertime favorite. These wines are often sweet, but are not sweet when made in the intended method, Asam said. (White Zinfandel, although a pink wine, is not technically a rosé.) Rosé is perfect with fresh seafood like raw oysters, ceviche or light seasonal salads. Rosé can also accompany crab cakes, yet Asam says the best grape for crab cakes is Viognier.

o Chardonnay: The most popular white grape still. Asam says he wishes people would venture out and try something different, as there are many other good alternatives. The most well-known Chardonnays come from Burgundy, France, which gives a earthy mineral flavor, and from California, which generally boasts, rich buttery oaky vanilla styles. These wines are indeed very versatile with food. Rich oily fish like sea bass, or succulent lobster or lighter white meats are a great match.

o Riesling: Can come in many forms from the bone dry Alsatian-style to the dessert-style sweet of German Eisweins. Yet the best come from Germany. This grape needs a very cool climate, which in turn produces high acidity and low alcohol. It does go well with crab cakes. Rieslings are often good with spicy foods and fried foods.

Matt Najewicz, bar manager, bartender and server
LJ's & the Kat Lounge in Hagerstown's East End

o Crab cakes: Najewicz recommended a Washington state Riesling, which is a sweeter Riesling, or a sauvignon blanc such as the New Zealand label Fire Road's, which has an herbal or flowery undertone.

o Prime rib: A nice big red such as a cabernet sauvignon, which has a more tannic or acidic taste and does well with rich foods.

o Osso buco: A pinot noir or a merlot. Najewicz said a pinot noir is a lighter red wine that is less tannic or acidic and tends to have a fruity flavor. Merlot is more fruit-oriented than other red wines. He suggested a French Bordeaux, which is made with merlot grapes.

o Meat lasagna: Two red Italian wines, either Amarone or Ripasso. Amarone is a heavy, rich, big red wine. Ripasso is made pressing the Ripasso grapes through the Amarone grape leftovers (pits, stems and skins), resulting in a red wine with similar characteristics as an Amarone, but less expensive and not as intense.

o Strawberries: The classic pairing is champagne.

o Spicy Chinese food: Sake or a Riesling - the Riesling's sweetness will help cut through the spiciness - or a merlot.

o Fried chicken: Sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay

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