Perfect Pairings: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic and Viognier

Chicken with Forty (yes, forty) Cloves of Garlic is one of my favorite cold weather dishes.  A flavorful chicken braise like this is not a quick dish to put together, but it is a great kitchen project for a cold weather Sunday.  This dish is also something of a miracle in the way it transforms ordinary, inexpensive ingredients into a meal with delicious, elegant flavors.

Don’t let the forty cloves of garlic, which is quite literal, frighten you away.  The slow-roasting and simmering process takes away the bitter bite of the garlic and leaves earthy richness in its place.

I’ve chosen this dish as a “perfect pairing partner” for Viognier, but it could be a perfect partner for a number of wines.  I know a lot of people would choose a rich, butter Chardonnay to pair with this dish, and I agree with that whole-heartedly.  I also agree that it could pair equally well with unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, or Fumé Blanc.  It could fare well with Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Champagne or Rosé.  It’s a wine-loving dish if ever there was one.

Why Viognier?

This recipe for Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic gets it delicious flavor from slow simmering,   caramelization, and sauce reduction.  While all this slow cooking is going on, the umami-rich chicken flavors blend with the earthiness and complexity of the herbs and garlic. It all adds up to a delicious dish!

However, the reason I chose Viognier as the perfect pairing for this dish lies more in what the recipe does NOT include rather than what it does. While many recipes use a squeeze of lemon, a dice of tomatoes or a splash of vinegar to add flavor complexity, this recipe does not have any acidity added at the end.  We humans love the turbocharged flavor a dash of acidity brings to a dish, but it also diminishes our ability to taste the acidity in a wine. That’s one of the reasons why highly acidic white wines pair so well with seafood, salads, and Italian food!

However, acidity in food can kill a wine like Viognier.  A typical Viognier is a relatively low acid wine, so it’s generally not a good match for high acid food.  When paired with a high acid dish like Salmon with fresh Lemon, Viognier can transform from a rich, round, and delightful wine into something that tastes rather flat and bitter.  A dish like this with little or no acidity is Viognier’s chance to shine!

The Bubbly Professor’s Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

This dish takes a good deal of time and effort, so I like to make a big batch.  This recipe will feed 6 hungry people, or you can feed four people and have some wonderful leftovers.


  • 4 chicken breasts, complete with bones and skin
  • 4 chicken leg quarters, complete with bones and skin
  • 3 whole heads garlic
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2  cups chicken stock
  • 1 t. dried thyme
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 T. Heavy Cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them, unpeeled, into a pot of simmering water.  Let simmer for 60 seconds, then cool them quickly by shocking them in ice water.  Drain the garlic, pat dry and peel.  The garlic skins should slip easily off.
  2. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels.  Liberally season both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or dutch oven.  If you don’t have such fancy implements, a small stock pot will do.  Add the chicken pieces, in a single layer, skin side down, and saute until golden brown, at least 3 – 5 minutes on each side.  You will need to do this in several batches, moving the browned chicken off to the side untill all the chicken has had its turn. Don’t worry that the chicken is not cooked through; it will cook to tenderness during the braise.
  4. When all the chicken is browned and removed, lower the heat.  Add the peeled garlic to the pot and sauté the garlic, stirring continuously, for five minutes until the garlic is just golden.  Don’t let the garlic burn or get too brown, as this can lead to bitterness.
  5. When the garlic is golden, keep it in the pot and add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock.  Raise the heat and allow the mixture to come to a simmer while continuously scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Add the remaining stock, the wine, and the dried thyme, and return the chicken to the pot.
  6. Allow the mixture to return to a boil, then turn the heat down low, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. When ready to serve, remove the chicken to a platter.  Cover it with aluminium foil to keep the chicken warm while you finish the sauce.
  8. In a small bowl, which together the 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons cool water.  While whisking continuously, add 1/2 cup of the still-hot braising liquid to the bowl, then quickly whisk the mixture back into the pot.  Whisk for 2 – 3 minutes while simmering, until the sauce begins to thicken.  Finish the sauce by adding the cream and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
  9. Pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken, and enjoy.  This makes a great dinner with either a simple vegetable dish or a salad.
  10. Don’t forget the Viognier!

Perfect Pairing: French Onion Soup and Gewürztraminer

I rarely make soup at home  as my anh (adorable new husband) has a sort of primordial dislike of soup as a meal or even a starter course,. He can’t explain it; but I think he believes that a serving of soup somehow pre-empts genuine sustenance.  French Onion Soup is one of the few he can abide, and certainly a dish we can agree on˜so it gets served a lot at our house.

There’s one rather odd caveat about my version of the soup.  When we first got married, the anh mentioned he loved French Onion Soup but hated how hard it was to eat.  I had to agreed that I had been put off by stringy versions myself, so this recipe is custom-designed to avoid crouton-cracking splashes and stringy cheese arm-stretches.  I used to think such accommodations were silly, but during my decades as a cooking instructor one of the things I have learned to teach my students is that a fanciful presentation or even delicious flavor cannot make a customer enjoy a dish that is awkward to eat.

My preferred pairing for this dish is Gewürztraminer. In my experience, the funkiness of the onions seems to make the funkiness of the wine fall in line and it shines through with pure deliciousness! Try a dry Gewürztraminer, and off-dry Gewürztraminer…they have all worked quite well for me!


  • 1 pound White Onions, large dice
  • 1 pound Sweet Onions, large dice
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil (plus more Olive Oil or Olive Oil spray for croutons)
  • 1 t. Sugar
  • 1 – 2 t. Salt, or to taste
  • 1 T. Flour
  • 1 t. Dried Thyme (or Oregano)
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1/2 cup Dry White Wine (By all means, you should use Gewürztraminer if possible)
  • 4 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1/2 t. Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
  • 1/2 Loaf of Italian Bread or Baguette
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère Cheese
  • 4 T. Grated Parmesan Cheese

Makes four appetizer, or two main course, servings.

1.  First of all, make the croutons without too much drama.  I like to cut the bread into one-inch cubes – that’s part of the “easy to eat” platform.  Simply spray (or toss) them with olive oil, place on a flat cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Give them a quick toss, and continue baking until they are golden brown.  After they cool, wrap them in several layers of aluminum foil.  They will keep indefinitely.

2.  For the non-string-inducing cheese topping:  Mix the finely grated Gruyère with the finely grated Parmesan, set aside.

3.  In a large stock pot, melt the butter and add the olive oil.  Add the onions and season with 1 – 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, then stir.  Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, reduce the heat and cook for another 10 minutes at low heat.  Add the garlic.  Continue to cook the onion/garlic mixture for 40 minutes or longer, stopping to stir the mixture and check for browning every 10 minutes. Cook until they onions are very soft and a deep golden brown.

4.  Add the flour, thyme or oregano, bay leaves, and pepper.  Stir over medium-high heat for two minutes.

5.  Add the wine, stock, and water.  Stir until the mixture simmers, then allow to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Check back and stir the mixture every 10 minutes.

6.  Remove the Bay leaves, and give the soup its final “zing” by adding a generous Tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar.

7. When ready to serve, heat the soup to a simmer and divide among two or four bowls.  Spread a pile of croutons out over each bowl, and top with your finely grated cheese mixture.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and serve your “easy to eat, non-string-inducing” delicious French Onion Soup with a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer.  Enjoy!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas

The ABC’s of Wine and Cheese

The most beloved culinary duo in the world is undoubtedly wine with cheese. It’s easy to understand why:  in most cases, wine and cheese bring out the best in each other!

As you probably know, cheese is mostly fat and protein (sorry, dieters!!).  The fat content in cheese will smooth out the acid taste in any wine, making it seem smoother and rounder.  The proteins as well as the fat in cheese smoothes out the tannins in wine, making wines taste velvety and soft.  As for the wine, wine is mostly alcohol and water, with a multitude of tastes and flavors, including acids and tannin.  Acid and tannins cleanse your palate, bringing out the full flavor of the cheese.  It’s a match made in heaven!

The Bubbly Professor’s Rules for Wine and Cheese

While wine and cheese are made for each other, there is such diversity in both worlds that some rules must apply. Follow these rules to ensure a perfect match!

1. Pair soft cheeses with high acid wines.  Soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and Ricotta, remain soft by retaining most of their moisture, or whey. The curds are usually gathered, placed in molds, and left to age in humid atmospheres from a few days to a few weeks, and are most flavorful when eaten at room temperature.  Softer cheeses coat the mouth and may block many of wine’s more subtle flavors.  A high-acid wine will cut through the texture of soft cheeses, and makes a great combination.

  • The Perfect Match for Soft Cheeses:  High-acid White Wines such as Chardonnay, White Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, or Pinot Gris, Sparkling Wines, or High-Acid fruity reds such as Barbera, Pinot Noir, or Beaujolais.

2.  Pair goat cheeses and brine cheeses with the highest acid white wine you can find!  Goat Cheeses, such as Chevre, Montrachet, and Vacherin, often have a delicious, sharp, tangy flavor.  Likewise, Brine cheeses, such as Feta, can have a sharp acidic flavor, as well as a salty taste.  Both of these factors (salt and acid) call for a high-acid wine.  The tang of the cheese will make a wine that is very high acid taste much smoother.  This can bring a sharp wine into perfect balance, but by the same token can make a moderate or low-acid wine taste flat and flabby.  Salt and acid is a great match, while salt and tannin can clash big time. This rule is a deal breaker…don’t break it!

  •  The Perfect Match for Goat Cheeses:Sauvignon Blanc, White Bordeaux, Riesling or other high-acid white wines.    

  3.  Pair semi-firm cheeses with full-bodied whites or light-bodied reds.  The category of Semi-firm cheeses includes Havarti, Monterey Jack, Muenster, and GoudaThese cheeses are aged for a short time in a damp environment, drying them slightly and leaving them with a mild, sometimes nutty, flavor.  The mild flavors of these cheeses means there is little chance of a flavor clash, so semi-firm cheeses go well with many wines.  A full-bodied, full-flavored white is a great match, cleansing the palate with its acidity and adding its own flavors to the mix.  If you would like to pair these cheeses with a red wine, make it a fruity, light-bodied red so the wine does not overpower the flavor of the cheese.  

  • The Perfect Match for Semi-Firm Cheeses:  Full bodied whites such as Chardonnay, some versions of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Gris.  The best red matches include Barbera, Dolcetto, Merlot, Beaujolais, or Pinot Noir.

4.  Pair firm cheeses with fruity, full-bodied white wines.  Firm cheeses include Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyere, Manchego, and Jarlsberg. These cheeses are aged anywhere from2 to 18 months. Aging both reduces moisture content and increases the rich, nutty flavors so beloved in these cheeses. Usually, the most flavorful and sharp cheeses are aged the longest.  These cheeses, because of their sharp, strong flavor, pair well with white wines with fruity, even sweet flavors, and fuller-bodied wines.  These cheeses will make red wines taste very smooth and velvety, but the flavor of a red wine will overpower the nutty or smoky flavors of the cheese.

  • The Perfect Match for Firm Cheeses:  Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Albarino, White Rioja, White Bordeaux, Alsatian Whites…any full bodied white is worth a try!

 5.  Pair Cheddar Cheeses with rich red wines. A cheese originally from Great Britain, Cheddar is now made all over the world. In the U.S., three general types of Cheddar are produced — Mild Cheddar, usually aged one to three months; Medium Cheddar, generally aged for three to six months; and Aged Cheddar, typically aged six months or more. Cheddar is one of the most popular table cheeses in the world, and is used for a wide range of purposes.  Cheddar’s distinctive flavor pairs wonderfully with rich red wines.  If your rich red wine has fruit flavors, spicy flavors, and soft tannins, so much the better!

  • The Perfect Match for Cheddar Cheeses: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, RedBordeaux,Rhone Reds, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, or Shiraz.

 6.  Pair Colby Cheese with fruity red wines.  Named after Colby Wisconsin, the town of its origin, Colby is now primarily made inNew   Zealand. This moist cheese lacks the sharpness of cheddar and needs a milder companion.

  • The Perfect Match for Colby Cheeses:  Fruity Reds such as Barbera, Dolcetto,Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.

  7. Pair Provolone or Mozzarella with full-flavored reds.  Provolone and Mozzarella are supple and pliable with a great “toothsome” texture.  The flavor of both is mild, nutty, and delicate, yet they can stand up to full-flavored red wines.  These cheeses for a great basis for a cheese and red wine match, especially if one wants the wine to shine.  The cheese’s firm texture allows it to stand up to the tannin and acidity of a red wine, while its delicate flavors will allow the flavors of the wine to stand out.

  • The Perfect Match for Mozzarella and Provolone: Chianti, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Red Rioja, Red Bordeaux, Rhone Reds, or Cabernet Franc.

8. For a surprisingly good match, pair extra firm cheeses like Parmesan and Romano with crisp white wines.   Extra Firm Cheeses like Parmesan and Romano have the least residual moisture of any fresh cheese. A couple days after they are placed into molds, they are salted in brine, and left to mature for 2 to 7 years. Not coincidentally, extra firm cheeses have a sharp, salty flavor. For a surprising treat, pair salty, crumbly Parmesan or Romano with a high acid white wine.  Make it a sparkling Prosecco and feel the fireworks go off in your mouth!  This style of pairing perks up the flavor of the cheese and accentuates the salty “grano” in extra firm cheeses.  

  • The Perfect White Wine Match for Parmesan and Romano: Prosecco!  You will love it!  Also try any fruity, acidic white wine.  Italy makes lots of them, such as Fiano, Gavi, Trebbiano, Orvieto, Vernaccia, Vermentino, and Soave…they would all be great!

 9. Try the traditional match and pair extra firm cheeses like Parmesan and Romano with robust red wines. As long as you watch the tannin level, a full-flavored red wine is a great match for the full flavor and heavy texture of Parmesan and Romano Cheeses.  The firm fats and protein in the cheese will smooth out any rough edges, and you will have a classic, heart-warming taste combination. 

  • The Perfect Red Wine Match for Parmesan and Romano: Chianti, Sangiovese, Valpolicella, Barbaresco, and any other medium to full bodied, full-flavored red wine from Italy.  For a cross-cultural match, try Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, or Shiraz.

 10. For a study in contrasts, pair Roquefort, Stilton, or other Blue Cheeses with sweet, full-flavored wines.  Pairing sweet, flavorful wines with salty, savory blue cheese is the food and wine worlds “picture perfect” example of pairing wine and food based on a contrast of tastes and flavors.  As an added bonus, these pairings emphasize the flavor of its opposite, and can sometimes result in what I call “synergy”, or the sum of the whole being more than its component parts. (Translation:  new, added flavor layers.)

  • The Perfect Sweet Wine Match for Blue Cheeses: Sweet, full-flavored wines such as Sauternes, Ruby Port, Sweet Muscats, Vintage Port, or Late Harvest Zinfandel.

 11. On a night when full-bodied, full-flavored wrestling is on the menu, pair Roquefort, Stilton, or other Blue Cheeses with fruity, spicy, red Wines.  This seems to make a little more sense…and blue cheeses have a wonderful flavor affinity for fruity red wines.  The fruit flavor of the wine is a counterpoint to the pungency of the cheese, and earthy flavors abound!  For an added layer of pairing pleasure, throw some walnuts into the mix.

  • The Perfect Red Wine Match for Blue Cheeses:  Zinfandel, Shiraz, Malbec, Merlot, Carmenere, or Pinot Noir


12.  Match flavors.  Now things can start to get really interesting.  Be sure and abide by the rules above, but within the guidelines, pick a flavor in your cheese such as nutty, earthy, herbal, creamy, or smoky, and match it with a flavor in your wine.  This is known as a “flavor bridge” and it can be amazing!  In order for this to really work, you have to do some serious tasting…going by generalities just won’t cut it.  So, taste that cheese, and open a few bottles of wine.  Find a pair that matches in flavor, and prepare to be amazed! 

  • The Perfect Flavor Match:  You can have fun and find your own flavor matches, but here are some examples that might work: 
    • Herb-flavored Cheeses with Sauvignon Blanc
    • Smoked cheeses with Gewurztraminer
    • Nutty Cheeses with Chardonnay or Tawny Port
    • Stilton and Sauternes (earthy flavor match…yum…)

13.  A Word of Caution:  Beware of Bitter.  Some of my favorite cheeses, such as Stilton, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola, have a slight “undertaste” of bitterness to them.  This slight bitter taste makes a wonderful platform for an otherwise complex flavor profile…think of the bitter hit in espresso or the taste or field greens.  Bitterness, however, is a unique topic in food and wine pairing.  While most tastes (such as sweetness or acidity) in food and wine cancel each other out to a certain extent, bitter tastes in food and wine can emphasize each other, sometimes to detrimental effect.  If your cheese has a bit of bitter, make sure the wine you serve has little or no bitterness.  Wine generally gets bitter tastes from high levels of alcohol, oak, or tannin.  This factor will vary widely even among wines of the same grape and same region, so, unless the wine is known for this quality (such as Amarone), you will have to open a bottle to judge a wine’s bitterness.

  • The Perfect Match for Cheese with Bitter Tastes:  Keep it low alcohol, low oak, and low tannin.  Go for sweet or very fruity wines.

14.  Another Word of Caution:  Salt and Tannin can clash. One of the things that makes cheese so delightful is its saltiness, which lend a palate punch to anything it touches.  However, in some cases, salt in food can clash with tannin in wine, making a weird, metallic taste.  The fat content in cheese keeps this problem to a minimum, but it does happen sometimes.  If you are ever combining a rich, salty cheese with a red wine and something tastes kind of bitter, metallic, or just plain scary, it just might be the war of the salts and the tannins.  Switch to a lower-tannin wine, and all will be saved.

  • The Perfect Match for Salty Cheeses:  Keep it low tannin!  Any red wine has the potential to clash with salty cheeses, so make sure the tannins in your red wines are delicate, smooth, or mature.  Open up that bottle and have a taste…it’s the only way to really tell.

Blackberry Merlot Milk Chocolate Truffles

If you know me, or are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I am definitely NOT a fan of the dry red wine-chocolate food pairing combo.  However, that doesn’t mean that I am against putting the wine in the chocolate and cooking them up together! It’s a whole different world of flavor when cooking with wine, as opposed to the dynamics of pairing. (Sounds like a good idea for another blog post!)

This is a recipe that I use in all of my wine and chocolate pairing classes.  While I still hold true to my (against) stance for dry wine and sweet chocolate pairings, this recipe puts the wine in the chocolate  where the flavors can work wonders together.   

Truth be told, this is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  Take a bottle of Merlot, pour yourself a glass, and use the rest to make these irresistable truffles. 

Blackberry Merlot Milk Chocolate Truffles  

First Step:  Prepare to get your hands (and your kitchen floor) covered with chocolate!


  • 6 oz. Heavy Cream
  • 1 Pound Milk Chocolate (Any good brand chocolate disks or batons)
  • 1 Bottle of Merlot (the bigger and richer the better…I use Blackstone Winery)
  • 1 cup Blackberry Preserves, pressed through a sieve to remove seeds
  • ½ Pound of Chocolate, any type (for dipping)
  •  Ganache, frosting, or fondant for decorating (optional)


  1. Pour yourself one (4-ounce) glass  of merlot; enjoy.
  2. Pour the remainder of the merlot  in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the wine is reduced to about a half a cup.  Set aside to cool.
  3. While the wine is simmering, chop  the milk chocolate into small pieces.  Set aside in a large bowl.
  4. Heat the cream to a simmer.  Whisk in the preserves and carefully  heat back to a simmer.  Remove from  the heat and stir in the syrup you made from the red wine.
  5. Pour the still-hot cream mixture over the chopped milk chocolate pieces. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and blended in.  Cool the mixture until it is just  slightly warm to the touch. (Place bowl over a double boiler if you need more fire power to melt the chocolate, although milk chocolate usually melts fairly easily.)
  6. Put the mixture in the freezer for  at least one hour to firm.
  7. Use a spoon or small scoop to  divide the mixture into walnut-sized pieces.  I find it easiest use a small scoop, and to dip the scoop into hot water every few scoops. When they are finished; drop the pieces onto a baking sheet.
  8. Freeze for about an hour, or overnight. 
  9. To form the truffles, roll the scoops one by one between the palms of your hands to round them out.  Place them back onto the baking  sheet.  At this point the soon-to-be  truffles can be frozen until you have the energy dip them.
  10. Melt your dipping chocolate over a double boiler. 
  11. Drop the cold truffles, one at a  time, into your bowl of dipping chocolate.  Remove them with a fork, and allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl.  Note:  the better the quality of chocolate you use, the easier it will be to “dip” with.
  12. Place the dipped truffles on a parchment-lined tray. If you are feeling creative, decorate the tops with a little drizzle of chocolate or nice purple fondant.  Let stand until the chocolate and  decorations are completely set.
  13. Enjoy immediately, or hold the  truffles in the fridge for up to a week. You can keep the truffles in the freezer for as long as you like, and that way you can have a red wine chocolate fix any time you need one!

If you just must have a wine and chocolate pairing, I would recommend a slightly sweet to very sweet red wine.  Some good examples are late-harvest Zinfandel, Ruby Port, Brachetto d’Acqui, sweet wines made from Black Muscat, and sweeter versions of Sparkling Shiraz. 

My all-time favorite late harvest zin is “Zinnie de Potelle” out of Napa.  Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby Porto would also be a great pairing. 

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas.

Daring Pairing: Barbeque Reds!

Fire up the grill and pour me a glass…

You have to admit, the food phenom known as Barbeque has a lot going for it…the richest of meats, made even juicier and more complex through contact with a hot grill and rising smoke; plus the added flavor of whatever rub, marinade or sauce the griller fancies.  That’s a lot for a wine to handle! So the question of the day is….what wine should we choose to stand up to all that flavor, those spices, that smoke?  Have no fear…there are lots of Wines that can rise to the challenge.  We even invented a name for them…Barbeque Reds.

So…what makes a wine a Barbeque Red?

It’s affordable: An affordable wine complements the casual nature of barbequing.  Save your vintage Cabernet and fine, oak-aged Chardonnays for a more formal dinner, or, at the very least, an occasion where most people are wearing shirts and shoes.

It’s low-to-medium in tannin and bitterness: It’s a good idea for a barbeque red to be low to medium in the tannin department.  The char (bark) on some barbeque (yum) can contain a hint of bitterness, so it’s best to avoid an overtly tannic or bitter wine.

It’s fruit-forward: Fruit flavors tend to blend well with spicy or smoky flavors.  The fruitiness of the wine will also help avoid a “sweet food – dry wine” clash that might occur due to any brown sugar, honey, molasses or other sweet ingredients in your bbq sauce or rub. Look for flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, or red plum. Another note:  If you like slightly sweet red wines like sparkling shiraz or brachetto d’acqui, these wines will be able to withstand even the sweetest of bbq rubs beautifully – you might be surprised by how well they work.

Whatever you do, don’t look for barbeque red on the label or stroll around your wine store looking for the barbeque section.  Instead, use the following guide to find a tried and true Barbeque Red—these have all worked for me!

Merlot: Merlot has all the qualifications of a barbeque red…low tannins, lush textures, plenty of personality, and those ripe, fruity cherry-blackberry-plum-flavors. A good bet is a Merlot from Sonoma County in California, or one of the many ultra-affordable Merlots from Chile.

Australian Shiraz: Look for the widely distributed, affordable, rich, round, and fruity style. Australian Shiraz is also known for big, spicy flavors, which makes this a great wine to set beside your grill.  Australian Shiraz is unique in that it is generally big, bold, and spicy, and yet it is able to keep the tannins in check.

Zinfandel: Big, bold, and incredibly fruity, the blackberry flavors will just jump out of the glass, followed by black pepper, clove, cinnamon, and sweet spices.  Breathe deeply and you may even notice an aroma of chocolate….an added bonus for Zin lovers!

Beaujolais: Made from 100% Gamay grapes, this wine typically holds the true cherry-berry-red plum fruit flavors front and center, keeps the tannins in check, and is always affordable.

Malbec from Argentina: It makes sense that the wine from the land of the asado would be perfect for BBQ. Must be something about the country’s extreme love for grilled meats of all kinds!  Argentine Malbec is a fruity, spicy, full-bodied, high-extract wine with low to medium tannins.  This big, bold, juicy fruit bomb, of a wine is ideally suited to spicy, grilled, and barbequed foods of all kinds.

Barbera: Barbera is an ancient grape variety with its roots in Italy, where today it remains the second most widely planted red variety, after Sangiovese.  The majority of the Barbera wines you find will be from Piedmont, Italy, but you may find a version or two from California as well.  Barbera wines have the unusual, but interesting, combination of being deep and dark in color while light in tannins!  Great for a Barbeque Red!  The main flavor in this wine is fruit…think cherry, blackberry, plum, and cassis, followed by spice, vanilla, and a hint of cola.  Try this wine with anything your grill puts out!

Dry of off-dry Rosé: Rosé just might be your best choice for barbeque.  It’s served cold, it’s very refreshing, and that’s a welcome thing between gulps of spicy, smoky barbeque.  The fruity flavors of the wine will balance out the spiciness and heat of the meat, and there’s no tannin to speak of.  This this wine won’t compete with, or maybe even stand up to, the flavors of ‘que, but it will be a refreshing, cooling break between bites.  It’s also the perfect wine for the times when you may find yourself with fish, chicken, or veggies on the grill. My personal favorite is Mulderbosch Rosé of Caberent Sauvignon from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Try it, you’ll see what I mean!

Daring Pairing: Champagne and Chocolate!

Careful with that….

Champagne and Chocolate

This one sounds like such a good idea!  How Romantic! How Decadent! How Divine!

Now…stop right there! Come back to reality!   This daring pairing is very controversial, which is a geeky way of saying that a lot of people love it, and a lot of people hate it.  Just do a web search on “Champagne and Chocolate” – you will find a million articles saying how great it is, and a million articles saying how awful it can be.  Just wait until Valentine’s Day…nearly every wine blogger on the planet will have something to say about truffles and bubbles.

The problem is…chocolate is a very hard food item to pair with wine.  Chocolate is loaded with sweetness, fat, and bitterness…all taste components that are tough on wine.  There certainly are wines that can handle chocolate as a pairing partner, but they tend to be red (to handle the intense flavor and the over-dose of fat), and sweet (to handle the intense sweetness of the chocoalte).

When I make a recommendation for wine with chocolate I usually suggest Ruby Porto, Late Harvest Zinfandel or Banyuls for Bittersweet Chocolate and Brachetto d’Acqui or Tawny Porto for Milk Chocolate.  Hmmmm…none of these wines bear any resemblance to that most delicate of bubblies…the wine we call Champagne.

So…when we pair this bruiser-of-the-food-world up with the most delicate of wines, chaos ensues!  To be technical about it, the wine’s acidity and bitterness come forward, the delicate flavors are crushed, and what you are left with is something that reminds you of fizzy mouthwash!

A Better Idea with Chocolate:

Demi-Sec or Doux Champagne…that’s sweet Champagne to you newbies, and it gives the wine the ability to handle the sweetness in the chocolate. 

Rosé Champagne, Cava Rosado – pink bubbly has an extra dose of fruitiness, which allows the wine a better chance to still taste good when paired with something sweet.

Brachetto d’Acqui – Italy’s perfect match for chocolate:  slightly sweet, slightly red, slightly bubbly.

Sparkling Shiraz – A far cry from Champagne, I know – but slightly sweet versions are a good choice to pair with chocolate.

 In other words, if you want to pair bubbles with chocolate and want the wine to taste good…choose a sparkling wine with some sweetness or some pink or red color…at least the wine has a chance!                           


Daring Pairing: Red Wine with Fish

Fish can work with red wine...sometimes...

Red Wine with Fish

You know you’ve heard it…you’ve probably even lived it.  It’s the ultimate food and wine pairing cliché, chanted like a mantra by those who know just-a-little about wine.  Or food.  Or the pairing thereof.  So, here goes – and please don’t even think about taking this out of context or daring to quote me on this…it’s “white with fish, red wine with meat.” Now, as far as clichés go, this is not the worst.  There is some very good reasoning behind this line, and it is very true that red wine tends to overpower the delicate flavors of fish.

Here’s the truth behind the story.  The danger of a red wine and fish combo has to do with salt, acid, and tannin as well as delicacy of flavor.  It has even been noted that the iron content of red wine can be responsible for an overly “fishy” aftertaste as a result of a red wine and fish combination.

Salt, as well, can be vey tough on wine, especially red wine.  Salty foods tend to combine well with the acidity in most white wines, but salt clashes with tannin – plain and simple. It you want to try to experience this for yourself, have a handful of salted pretzels and followed by a gulp of Napa Cab. The combination can cause a bitter, metallic taste and mouthfeel when the two combine in just the wrong way.  So, the salt naturally present in most seafood, as well as the salt added in preparation, can cause an unpleasant effect when matched with high-tannin wines.  It’s not the color…it’s the tannin.

Then there is the acidity.  Many fish dishes are finished with lemon…the zing of acidity from that lemon wedge on the side of the plate adds a liveliness to a fish preparation that can otherwise be bland.  If your fish preparation doesn’t include lemon, it is likely to have some acidic ingredient such as capers, tomatoes, or even pickles mixed into mayonnaise and called tartar sauce.  As you know if you’ve read “The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing (see my posts from May 2011) acidity in a dish requires an equal acidic zing in the wine.  Most white wines are high in acid, which makes them a good match for the acidity in a fish dish.  Most red wines, on the other hand, are low acid.  That zing you get in a red wine is most likely from tannin or bitterness.  Acidity and bitterness may be feel the same on your palate but they interact with food in radically different ways. 

Thus, a cliché is born, and now we have what many people think is a food pairing rule.

So…it’s possible to pair red wine with fish…we just need to define a “fish-worthy red wine.”  Here goes: 

Low Tannin

Higher Acidity

Moderate Flavor Intensity

Light to Medium Body

Here is Miss Jane’s list of “Fish-Worthy Red Wines”.  Try one the next time you have salmon, monkfish or snapper, and let me know how it goes!

Pinot Noir…From Burgundy, Oregon, California or New Zealand

Beaujolais…Maybe your best bet!

Chianti and other wines made with Sangiovese

Cabernet Franc from California

Chinon – Cab Franc from the Loire

Barbera…Piedmont’s easy drinking red

Try it with a Beaujolais Cru!

Daring Pairing: Artichokes with Wine!

Psycho Wine Killer?

Daring Pairing:  Artichokes with Wine!

Psycho Wine Killer???

Artichokes have been called the “psycho wine killers” of the vegetable kingdom. At least they have been called that by me, and in some cases artichokes can be a tough plate to pair.  Here’s why:  artichoke leaves contain natural tannin, which is actually not bad for wine pairing.  They also contain a rare chemical called cynarin, a type of organic acid.  On some palates, anything eaten after a food that contains cynarin will taste sweet; on others the taste will be bitter.  Either way, we have a challenge.

In Artichokes and Wine, Preparation is Everything

When it comes to wine with artichokes, the trick just might be to tame the wine-killing aspects of the vegetable in the cooking process. Try these tips to tame your artichoke:

  • Serve with a garlicky or spicy sauce such as aioli, which seems to minimize the “sweetness” reaction.
  • Grill the artichokes. It seems to calm the cynarin.
  • Put them in their place:  Serve with tomato-based sauce in a complex dish or ragout.

Wines for Artichokes…If You Dare

Wine will stand a chance with artichokes if you choose very dry wines with high acidity and very little natural bitterness.  Try these ideas:

  • Extra Brut or Brut Champagne, Cava, or Sparkling Wine
  • Prosecco
  • Dry Chenin Blanc such as Vouvray
  • South African Sauvignon Blanc (something about those Grapefruit flavors)
  • High acid Italian white such as Arneis or Cortese (such as Gavi)
  • High acid, fruity Italian Red Wine such as a Barbera or Dolcetto 
  • Dry Rosé…and don’t forget dry Rosé bubbly…the sexiest wine in the world!

    It can work!

The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part Three

In the last two posts, we’ve learned that food and wine should be paired up with an eye to their tastes, flavors, and textures.  We’ve also discussed the three concepts most important to making that world-class match.  Today…we reveal the “real rules” -those flavor dynamics that occur when wine meets food – and how to make them work for us!

The Real Rules…Here they are!  

  1. Any level of acidity in food…whether it is a squeeze of lemon or a topping of tomatoes, will diminish your ability to taste acidity in wine.  Simply stated, acid in food makes acid in wine less apparent.  If you are starting with a tart, high-acid wine, acidic foods will make your wine taste smoother.  The flip-side of this rule is that acidic foods can wash out low-acid wines and make them taste flabby – beware!  Acidic foods require high-acid wines.
  2. Sweet food will make the sweetness of a wine less apparent and bring out the other characters of a wine, be it acid, tannin, or bitterness.  If a wine does not contain any discernible sweetness, sweet food will reduce the fruity flavors and bring out acidic, tannic, and earthy tastes and flavors.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is pairing a savory food with a sweet sauce…like roast pork with apples…with dry, tannic wines.  Such dishes require a slightly sweet wine – or a very, very fruity wine for a good match.
  3. Fatty foods will smooth out acidity, and sometimes the tannin in any style of wine.
  4. Salty food goes well with acidic wines – they “turbocharge” each other.
  5. Salty food goes well with slightly sweet wines – it’s the trail mix effect.
  6. Salty foods are a conundrum with bitter or tannic wines. In the case of mildly salty foods (prepared with good-quality salt), a bit of salt can help diminish the perception of bitterness and perhaps the tannin in a wine. However, iodized salt can emphasize bitter or tannic flavors in certain wines, as can too much salt—so be careful with ultra-salty foods and please tell the chef to ditch the can of cheap iodized salt!
  7. Bitter tastes in foods enhance bitter tastes in wines – beware!!
  8. Matching a flavor in the food with a similar flavor in the wine (such as “herbal”) is called a “flavor bridge” and will most likely be a great match.  Flavor matching is almost always successful and can be a very fun, creative way to pair up food and wine…but be sure the taste components are dealt with before you attempt any flavor match-ups!
  9. Flavor contrasts, will work very well when the flavors mesh together.  Experiment and have fun!  Fruit with Fish?  Herbs with Lamb?  If it works, we call this blend of flavors a “natural affinity” (meaning quite simply “they go well together!).  Happy note:  almost all flavors in food and wine go well together…it’s rare to find a real “clash”.
  10. Texture matches, such as light-bodied wines with light-bodied foods, and rich wines with rich food, are always a reliable match.  Also keep in mind that in the case of rich food (roast beef with cheddar mashed potatoes or apricot-white chocolate cheesecake), sometimes having a lighter wine as the pairing partner will provide a bit of welcome palate relief and refreshment. The rich food/lighter wine pair-up also allows the food the be the “star of the show” which is sometimes what you are looking for! Many somms consider the textural component to be the most important aspect in the wine-and-food equation, but don’t forget that it is the taste components in the food that really have the ability to change the way a wine is perceived.
  11. It’s all relative…these rules can help forecast the interactions between food and wine in simple (taste, flavor, texture) terms. However…whether or not a match is considered to be “good” is subjective, and dependent upon the personal tastes and preferences of the beholder. Folks vary quite a bit in their ability to perceive and appreciate the various forms of food and drink. So the bottom line is…if you like it, drink it!

Cheers and Bon Appetit!

The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part Two

In yesterday’s post we learned that food and wine pair up, for better or worse, based on their tastes, flavors, and textures.  Today, in installment number two, we Get to Know “The Three Concepts”  vital to a perfect pairing.

Step two on the path to becoming a food a wine genius:  Master the Three Key Concepts…repeat them like a mantra!

Key Concept #1:  You don’t pair to flavor, you pair to taste.

Lots and lots of well-meaning people think they know food and wine pairing because they heard – somewhere in wine and food cliché-land – that you can match or contrast flavors in food and wine.  That’s true, you can…but the result is virtually meaningless (and can be a disaster) if you haven’t first dealt with the major taste components in both the food and the wine.

It’s worth repeating…the most important component in any food and wine match-up is the taste components…sweet, acid, salt, bitter, oil, and tannin.  The presence of any of these in your food will change the way you perceive your wine…for better, or worse!

Key Concept #2:  You don’t pair to protein, you pair to preparation.   

If someone tells you they are serving up turkey, fish, or poultry for dinner, your food-and-wine pairing job has just begun.  About the only usable information we can get from this tidbit is a hint as to the overall texture of the dish.  Otherwise, we have nothing.  Let’s face it, protein is bland.  Fish, chicken, and pork have almost no taste components in them (save for varying levels of fat and a bit of umami – more on that later) before they are prepared.

What do you really need to know before making a match?   Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you know…you want to know what tastes are involved.  It all depends on preparation…is it broiled, fried, steamed, and even more importantly…how is it seasoned, served, or sauced?  That’s what you need to know!

Key Concept #3:  You pair to the “The Key Elements” in a dish. 

To be really, really good at pairing food and wine, you must develop an instinct for discerning the key elements in a food or wine….the tastes, the flavors, and the textures.  Most meals are a cacophony of tastes, flavors, and textures, and most wines contain at least two taste components and might carry dozens of flavors.  It would take hours to figure out a perfect pairing based on all the information available, even for the simplest meal!  So, we have to learn to cut through the clutter and figure out the one or two elements of a wine or a dish that will most impact the pairing.

A very good rule of thumb is that is the major taste components (acid, sweet, salt, bitter, oil, or tannin) are present in a discernible level in either the food or the wine, those taste components will be among the key elements.  After you have figured out the tastes, try to discern the key flavors.  Other components that might be one of your key elements include spiciness, heat as from chili peppers, or an extreme of texture such as the lightness of a lemon soufflé or the heaviness of roast prime rib accompanied by cheddar cheese mashed potatoes.

One word of caution in this step is not to rely too heavily on generalities.  Wine and food are all about creativity and subtlety so take each wine and dish on its own merits. In addition, people vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy all aspects of food and wine, including even the most carefully considered pairings. In other words, if you enjoy it – drink it!

Once you develop a knack for breaking a food or wine down into its key elements, and you can learn to apply a few simple rules (see tomorrow’s post) and have a great chance at a great pairing!

MAJOR CAVEAT: People vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy tastes, flavors, and textures as well as a range of food and wine (by themselves and in any combination). If it works for you…go for it!