Tips from Ally Chapman of The Femme Vine.
Cathy Corison, a well-regarded winemaker in California, once said to me, ‘If you never pop a cork on a bottle, was it even made?’
Winemakers are passionate about sharing their passion. They envision the wines they make being cracked open at annual celebrations and weekday dinners, not collecting dust in cellars- or for too long at least!.
I'm a big fan of opening whatever wine you want for whatever reason you have. Choosing the 'wrong' wine isn't possible as long as you enjoy it, but some wines show themselves off to better effect when paired with complementary foods.
I’m not a chef (ask my husband), so my main role in the kitchen is picking out which wine to enjoy with our food! I love having that job because it means I can elevate the meal with the different tastes and textures coming from the wine.
I’m sharing three pairing tips that helped me understand what drinks well with what foods so that you can begin to pair wines with confidence.
‘What grows together goes together.’
When I first heard this, it put everything in place. There’s a reason a Swiss white wine is fantastic with Gruyere cheese, or an Argentinian Malbec goes perfectly with steak. Local food goes well with local wine due to the concept of ‘terroir.'
Terroir is the idea that you are putting a part of the vineyard’s earthen energy directly into a bottle. It’s one of the most romantic ideals in wine, and it guides almost every winemaker I’ve interviewed. The earth or terroir of an area sustains livestock and foods in the area.
Think about it. Over centuries of winemaking, people were blending and developing wines while eating local foods. Pairing an Italian red with a beautiful bolognese or a Greek white wine with octopus, matches made in wine heaven.
‘Pairing is instinctive.’
This is my most recent discovery, and it came from the book Which Wine When, co-written by a sommelier and a chef. They write: “Many of the reasons that a certain wine goes brilliantly with a certain food are based on principles you probably already understand instinctively when it comes to food: the fact that fish tastes great with lemon, or that there’s nothing more moreish than a combination of salty and sweet.”
When I read it, something clicked in my brain. Acidity - that tart taste of lemon - is at the core of so many of the wines I love. Acidity in wine is about crispness and directness; it cuts through fat and refreshes your palate. All of those characteristics make an acidic white wine, like a Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc, an amazing partner to sea bass or halibut. As for salty/sweet? Imagine eating a slice of salted caramel chocolate cake with a sweet ruby port. Divine!
‘This is a food wine.’
Now, chances are you’ve heard this phrase come out of the mouth of a sommelier or wine merchant. Before I got ‘into’ wine, I would hear it and kind of nod and pretend to know exactly what that meant. It’s not until you try a ‘food’ wine without food that you really get it.
Think of an oaky Chardonnay (one of the most misunderstood grapes/wines, but that’s a story for another time). A super oaky Chardonnay will give you these wonderful notes of toasted bread, golden apples, and lots of butter. If you drink it on its own, it can be overwhelming. BUT, if you pair it with food like a fatty fish or a grilled chicken burger, the extra flavor, and body that comes from the oak allow it to hold up against the ‘heavier’ dish. Other ‘food’ wines would be full-bodied, developed red wines like a French Bordeaux, a GSM from Australia, or even a tannic Orange wine.
Enough theory - let’s put it into action. Here are a few of my favorite meals paired with female-produced wines. I’m a huge believer in experimenting with wine choices, so while I’ll offer a classic pairing, I’ll also throw in a ‘challenger’ example to add some spice to your wine pairing life.
Pairings for Appetizers like Mezze!
Classic Mezze Pairing
Sparkling wines. No one is mad at an aperitif of sparkling wine, and one of my favorite sparklers comes from Anne Malassagne at AR Lenoble in Champagne. The high acidity and bubbly fizz makes it a perfect way to cut through oily olives and creamy hummus for a perfect pairing.
Refreshingly acidic white wine (Aligoté, Vilana). Aligoté is the unsung grape of Burgundy, and Agnes Paquet makes an amazing one. Or why not try a Greek Vilana - one of the famous white grapes on the island of Crete? Myriam Ambouzer’s range for Lyrarakis is a treat.
Pairings for Main Meals like Spicy Curries
Classic Spicy Curry Pairing
Mineral or off-dry white wines cut through spicy foods. Riesling is queen in these types of pairings, so take a look at Eva Clusserath’s Ansgar-Clusserath wines from the Mosel. You can also go for a refreshing take on Pinot Gris from Bee Maloof at Maloof Wines.
Rosé. Rosé can be relegated to aperitif status because of the classic Provence style that favors light color and subtle fruit, but this type of wine has a lot more to it than you may think. Try an Italian Rosé from Maria Giannelli of Ficomontanino for a true foodie rosé with lovely fresh red fruit on the palate and you won’t be disappointed!
Pairings for Main Meals like Burgers (Meat-Free Alternatives or Beef)
The Classic Burger Pairings
I’m a burger girl, and I love powerful, fruity red wines, so that’s my go-to pairing. Think Spanish reds from Priorat where Paula Lopez-Ruiti makes amazing wines at Les Rampoines or a young Bordeaux blend from Daisy Sichel at Chateau Angludet.
Orange wines or Cidre. Orange wines tend to have perfumed aromas of flowers and dried herbs, but the skin contact responsible for the color and depth also means they can stand up to a juicy burger. Try the Italian Ageno wine from Elena Pantaleoni at La Stoppa, or go further afield and consider a Cidre from Sophie McGill at Abel wines in New Zealand.
Pairings for Desserts Like Brownies
Classic Dessert Pairings
While I don’t cook, I certainly bake, so pairing wines with desserts is something I take pride in. Sweet desserts work well with, you guessed it, sweet wines. I like having a Tawny Port with brownies (like one from Maria Manuel Poças Maia at Poças) because it brings in some caramelized, cooked fruits to the deep chocolate.
A vermouth-based cocktail! Vermouth is an aromatized fortified wine, so will have some sweetness alongside botanical savory notes. Why not whip up a Manhattan or Negroni, or even pour some vermouth directly onto vanilla ice cream and enjoy a brownie a la mode?! Alison Nightingale makes a wonderful vermouth for Albourne Estate in East Sussex, England.
If you want to learn more about pairing wines with food, check out the following resources:
I want you to bring Big Vine Energy into your next meal and pour with confidence!
Ally Champman is a wine lover and tourist, a fierce feminist, and the founder of The Femme Vine. Her weekly updates connect modern drinkers and female vintners together to create more conscious consumers and promote gender equity in the world of wine. Keep up to date with Ally and stories about incredible women of the vine on Instagram @thefemmevine.