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A century ago riesling was the go-to wine adorning just about any table in the world where food and wine was served.
It's been a rough ride for the German grape since then but there is hope in 2013 that riesling has found new respect among chefs and diners who have come to accept its inherent qualities as perhaps the most versatile wine of all with food. Riesling is all about sugar, or lack of it.
When it is bone dry you can use it like a squeeze of lemon to freshen dishes. As the residual sugar increases, riesling can tame the spice/heat and smoke in dishes until it's in its sweetest incarnation, when it can work its magic on stone-fruit dessert dishes.
Practice pairings: St. Urbans-Hof Riesling 2010, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Germany $20; Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling 2011, Rheinhessen $17
Pinot noir is another variety closely linked to its ability work with food. The temperamental grape is anything but after it's bottled. Bursting with ripe fruit and lower tannins, it is a poster child for food matching.
Cheese and pinot is a wondrous match, and the fruiter the pinot the better. In this case, it doesn't really matter if the cheese is young or old, or soft or hard.
Simplicity is the key to great pairings and with pinots, especially older French bottlings, it is the simple dishes that work best. Think roast veal loin, roast chicken, grilled lamb. It's also a great wine for mushroom dishes be they risotto or pasta. In fact any earthy, vegetable dish comes to life with a glass of pinot noir.
Practice pairings: Mud House Pinot Noir 2010, Central Otago, New Zealand $23; Nk'Mip Pinot noir 2011, Okanagan Valley, B.C. $22
Syrah, or shiraz if you prefer, is an underrated food wine if you match the right syrah with the right dish. Little or no new oak is the key to allowing this big red to best express its origin and its big rich peppery, meaty flavours.
Fresh, earthy and fruity, with bits of pepper, they seem to blend effortlessly with comfort foods such as grilled or roasted lamb, beef and poultry, coq au vin, game, duck, pork or a variety of cheeses.
Shiraz is also a wine that can tame rusticity in a dish so think stews and cassoulet along with wild boar and or barbecue. The only caveat is spice. Be careful not to set off a spice war where the spice and the alcohol in the wine increase the heat or spice in the dish. This is where the fruit comes in. It can really help to balance the dish and increase the flavours for all.