Food and wine pairing can be such fun. There is no such thing as only one wine perfect for a particular dish. Everyone's palate is unique and we have different sensitivity thresholds to acidity, bitterness, alcohol, sweetness and tannins. The most important thing is balance. The wine should not overpower the food and vice-versa.
Welcome to a new feature we are going to offer regularly: a full menu paired with wines for each course. We are just learning how to really make our meals sparkle with the right wines, and so we are turning to Mary, our resident wine expert, to help us. We created a seasonal menu full of our favorite summer foods and asked Mary to pair wines.
Read on for our full summer menu - all four courses! - and the wines that Mary suggested. Then click on for a full slideshow of our final wine choices and the food itself.
Here is our menu - a a grilled summer meal of herbed pork, ravioli, and garden greens. We ended the meal on a light note with lavender panna cotta and strawberries. Click through each course for the recipe.
Herbs and Greens Summer Menu
• Mesclun salad from the garden - similar to this spring salad with chives and goat cheese
• Baguette and fresh new butter with herbs
• Herb ravioli in garlic sauce
• Grilled pork tenderloin with cornmeal and herbs
• Honey lavender panna cotta with summer berries to finish
Mary gave us wine suggestions for each course, and we went to our local wine shop and asked for help in finding the best bottles within these ideas. We had a budget of $80 for the wine and the final bill came in exactly on the dot.
For plenty of photos of the food and wine, go to the slideshow.
For this menu I started by looking at the make up of the different dishes:
• the dominant aromas of the dishes,
• how mild or strong flavored the dishes seemed ,
• whether they were rich and fatty or lean and acidic
• the richness or lightness of the dishes, (the cream or butter content)
• fruit flavors and sweetness of the dishes
Mesclun salad from the garden
Salad has always proven difficult to pair with wine because of the vinegar in the dressing. The wine should always be more acidic than the dish or else the dish will seem very thin, lean and maybe even metallic.
That said, Fino Sherry works with salad, as does a grassy Sauvignon Blanc. To reduce the vinegar character in the salad dressing use verjus (or a mixture of verjus and lemon juice) - or even some good balsamic that adds a little sweetness.
Riesling can also work quite well, as the acidity is very high. Maybe try an off-dry Riesling Kabinett from Germany or a dry Riesling from Australia
Baguette with fresh new butter
Well, we know that Chardonnay loves butter so here is the place for you to try out different Chardonnay wines. Also, other wines also work depending on whether the butter is salted or unsalted. Try unsalted also with Alsace or Oregon PInot Gris and the salted with a Marsanne.
(Qupe winery in Santa Barbara makes a great one that I can still taste in my mouth from a few weeks ago, and it is broad, rich and viscous - which would work well with the butter).
Herb Ravioli in garlic sauce
Here we have a fairly rich sauce on the ravioli. Try a good quality Pinot Grigio from Friuli or Alto Adige, that is both refreshing enough to balance the oil or butter and also has enough body to match the pasta.
Alternatively, a Chablis or mildly oaked Chardonnay would also work. Unless the sauce is made from butter avoid a big oaky Chardonnay.
Grilled pork tenderloin with cornmeal and herbs
Pork is a fairly mild meat, and also can be a bit dry. The best option is something refreshing and fruity with good acidity but not too tannic. It is a lighter dish so avoid big powerful tannic wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon. As there does not seem to be a sweet fruit sauce stick to a fruity red.
Pinot noir would work wonderfully. The elegance, perfume and silky tannins would be in perfect balance with the grilled pork and also match with the cornmeal and herbs. A cool climate Pinot might be better to avoid jammy flavors which might fight with the simple grilled character. Burgundy, Oregon or Santa Barbara Pinots would be my recommendations .
Alternatively, try Italian Dolcetto d'Alba from Piedmont. Like the Pinot it has medium plus acidity, good juicy fruit and not too much tannin.
Honey lavender panna cotta with summer berries
Here the most important aspects to think about when selecting a wine are the lightness and elegance of the panna cotta and the red fruit finish. Steer away from BIG dessert wines such as Port or Madeira. Acidity will also be important to cut through the creamy panna cotta but then not too acidic as to clash with the fruit. The dessert wine should be sweeter than the dish.
Here you have several options. If you can find a Moscato Rosa from the Veneto, or Alto Adige. Perhaps you might even find that someone in CA is making one as well? The delicate Muscat and rose aromas would really compliment the red fruits in this dish, and also be elegant enough for the panna cotta.
Other options are ice wine (Canadian is very expensive but try one from the Finger Lakes or New Zealand). Moscato d'Asti - so light and ethereal would also work very well.
Austrian Beerenauslese wines would also work as they are usually not oaked and have very pure fruit expression, great acidity and sweetness to balance the panna cotta.
Something different could be a sparkling Brachetto d'Acqui from Piedmont in Italy - very aromatic with distinctive strawberry aromas, light bodied and sweet.
Final Menu Pairings and Wine Choices
We were in heaven, having all these expert wine choices! We had a good time at the wine store, browsing around and talking with the resident expert there. We decided to skip the extra wine with the bread and leave that off for the moment.
• With the salad: Alvear's Fino Sherry, $15
• With the pasta: William Fevre "Champs Royaux" Chablis, $22
• With the grilled pork: Bouchard Pére & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2005, $22
• With the panna cotta and strawberries: Primio Bacio Moscato d'Asti, $16
For plenty of photos of the food and wine, go to the slideshow.
Have you ever paired an entire meal with wines? How did it work out? Try one of these - you won't be disappointed! You don't have to put together the entire meal and four bottles of wine; just try one or two courses.
Related: The Cheesemonger meets The Winemonger: A Cheese and Wine Pairing Primer
(Images: Faith Hopler)