Do you prefer red wine or white wine? This is the universal opening question when the topic of enjoying a glass of wine arises. Be it at home, a party or a restaurant, it helps define us, not only for our choice of beverage, but as a symbol of our diet preferences, even our personalities.
Overall, red wine is generally the beverage of choice with meals, in many cases without regard to what is on our dinner plates.
Do you order red wine at a restaurant before you even look at the menu? Many diners rationalize their pairing of red wine with nearly all menu choices by considering red wine as a “safe” pairing choice over white. The justification is that red wine is more compatible with a variety of dishes. While this is an easy trap to fall into, it is a common mistake many hurried diners make. I find this hard to understand, since many wine consumers have long abandoned the ages-old rules of pairing wine with food.
Do you revert to red wine because your reference point for whites is Sauvignon Blanc? Certainly, Chardonnay is on the wane as a dinner wine, but there are numerous choices that pair excellently with a broad cross-section of menu choices.
White wine in the last decade has been making slow inroads as a palate pleaser and a natural pairing wine for many cuisines. Its natural acidity is the best foil for spicy dishes and dishes with clean, simple flavors. For some, these dishes have been paired best with a Pinot Noir, typically French or Oregonian. I refer to it as the chameleon wine, compatible with a number of flavors, aromas, textures and levels of heat. But Pinots have limitations when paired with dishes with elevated components of spice and/or heat.
Here, then, are my suggestions for white wines that broaden your wine alternatives and satisfy your taste buds and olfactory senses.
- My go-to wine for many difficult pairings is sparkling wine. Its acidity, minerality and palate-clearing bubbles consistently complement Asian and Indian dishes. I’ve even enjoyed it (once, as an experiment) with an unadulterated, unadorned steak and it worked. A soft French Champagne with a copious amount of bubbles cut the fat that coated my tongue with each bite and kept my taste buds spry rather than muting them as a red wine might.
- In the last five years an increasing variety of whites from the northern regions of Spain has hit our shores. While perfectly matched for simple fish dishes, they pair equally well with simple pork and veal dishes or any dish with a light, bright sauce. Try an Albarino, Verdejo or Godello.
- There is one Chardonnay I indulge in for food pairings: Chablis, from the extreme northwestern area of Burgundy. Its genes are Chardonnay, but that is well disguised. Its crisp minerality is refreshing, in contrast to fruit bombs from other wine regions. Try it with pureed vegetable soups or a hearty fish stew.
- I would be remiss to pass over Riesling, which has long lived with a bad rap as a sweet wine. I encourage those who feel this way to try one of the drier styles from the Alsace region of France. They will enhance your pleasure quotient in bold, flavorful dishes such as Asian duck rolls or roast goose.
- The Loire Valley in central France produces fine whites that pair well with a broad spectrum of charcuterie, terrines and cheeses. Sancerre, of course, but also try Vouvray and Muscadet. Both offer unique flavor profiles, with balanced acidity, that are a perfect match for fatty foods.
Do you still feel compelled to take the easy route when deciding on wine to pair with food? Many restaurants have stepped up their game on their wines-by-the-glass lists. The next time you dine out, spend a few extra minutes perusing the whites on these lists. Experiment with an unknown grape, paired with an hors d’oeuvres or appetizer. You may find a wine that is the perfect accompaniment for your next meal.
Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.