Syrah: Pairing Wine with Food 101

Syrah, which is alternatively spelled “Shiraz” in English-speaking regions — is a red grape that generally yields a spicy, rich red wine.

Syrah

“Syrah” and “Shiraz” are exactly the same grape.  Yet because “Syrah” is the French spelling and “Shiraz” the Anglophone spelling, which way its spelled often says something about the region and thus the style – Syrah is usually produced in one of the French Rhône styles,  and Shiraz is usually produced more in the Australian or American style.

Syrahs display strong, smooth tannins, and are generally deep burgundy to purple in color.

Shiraz, the most popular winegrape produced in Australia, gets its name from the city of Shiraz in Persia known for its beauty.  The grape was believed to be brought to the northern Rhône valley in France during the middle ages (though some claim that is a myth).

In France, it’s known as “Syrah”, and to bear the special appellation “Cornas”, the wine must be 100% Syrah.  Elsewhere, it is often blended with Viognier, Marsanne, or Roussanne white grapes, or Cabernet Sauvignon (red), each of which typically smooths-out the finish.

Syrah’s Flavor Profile

Syrahs often carry flavors of black cherry, black pepper, blackberry, plum, bell pepper, clove, licorice, espresso and dark chocolate.  So, when wondering what pairs best with Syrah’s, consider these flavors, and whether they’d complement the meal.

Great Pairings with Syrah

As a general rule Syrah (Shiraz) pairs very well with grilled meats, vegetables, wild game and beef stew.

Pairings to Avoid

  • Seafood like sole, shrimp or lobster
  • Delicate dishes
  • Extremely sour dishes

Syrah makes a fantastic Beef Demiglaze Reduction

One of our favorite uses of Syrah is as a demiglaze reduction, and we’ve found no better description of the technique than this expertly-written recipe by sgrishka:

Pan-Seared Filet Mignon (Beef Tenderloin) with Shiraz Sauce Pan-Seared Filet Mignon (Beef Tenderloin) with Shiraz Sauce recipe

General differences between Syrah regions

In Australia, it’s “Shiraz”, and they produce a great of it – generally a little more delicate, with American and French Syrahs a little heavier and bolder.  Italy, northern France, California, Washington State and New Zealand are also producers of some great Syrahs.

One of our favorite new wineries in Washington State is Avennia, which makes a highly-regarded new Syrah blend (disclosure:  Avennia’s founder is a good friend of BigOven’s founder.)

There are four main blending compositions of Syrah:

  • “Varietal” Syrah or Shiraz. This is the style of Hermitage in northern Rhône or Australian Shiraz.
  • Syrah blended with a small amount of Viognier.  This is the Côte-Rôtie (northern Rhône) style.
  • Syrah, blended equally with Cabernet Sauvignon, becoming quite popular in the US.  In modern times, this blend originated in Australia, so it is often known as Shiraz-Cabernet.
  • Syrah, blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre. This is the traditional style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape of southern Rhône — this blend is often referred to as GSM in Australia.

Cellaring

Syrahs generally should be enjoyed while they’re young – 3 years or less is typically best for most labels.

This is part of our ongoing series introducing food and wine pairings.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.  We’ve created a Syrah wine “recipe” listing on BigOven – create your favorite menu and share it with friends.

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy cooking!

Riesling: Pairing Food with Wine 101

rieslingRiesling (pronounced “rees-ling” is the most popular varietal produced in Germany, and the twentieth-most-popular varietal consumed worldwide.  More than other varietals, the Riesling grape delivers wine with three very distinct flavor packages:  dry, semi-sweet and sweet, depending upon when the grape was harvested. 

All Rieslings have a very aromatic character, typically reminiscent of apples, peaches or pears.  Sometimes, there are delicate undertones of spice and honey. 

Rieslings have enjoyed a resurgence since 1995 due to their versatility and popularity of new trends like ice wines from Canada and Germany.  Here in the US, Washington State is producing some great new Rieslings in the Columbia Valley. 

Since Rieslings, more than many other varietals, show tremendous variety from label-to-label, you can find extremely sweet Riesling (e.g., Eiswein) all the way through extremely dry Rieslings (Kabinetts), and they will taste vastly different. 

If in doubt about whether the Riesling is dry, semi-sweet or sweet, be sure to ask your wine merchant, or look for the categorization (below) on the label. Such variety within the Riesling family makes it difficult to make blanket pairing suggestions, but here are a few that work across the spectrum.

Great flavor pairings with Riesling

Types of Riesling

You’ll find the most popular Rieslings from the northern climates — Germany, Austria, France, Canada, and some from the US.  As mentioned above, they vary considerably in dryness/sweetness, so we encourage you to ask your wine merchant for the one that best suits your occasion or interest. 

From dry to sweet, look for these categorizations:

Dry (“Trocken” in German)

  • “Kabinett” is the classification for dry Rieslings in Germany

Semi-Sweet (“Halbtrocken” in German)

  • “Spätlese” is the classification for semi-sweet/semi-dry Rieslings

Sweet (usually reserved for desserts or appetizers)

The majority of Rieslings from Germany are produced in the sweeter style.

  • “Auslese” is the classification for sweet.  If you do not see any of the classification keywords but know the Riesling is from Germany, it’s probably sweet.
  • “Beerenauslese” is the classification for very sweet.  These are white sweet dessert wine made from grapes shriveled on the vine.
  • “Eiswein” (Ice wine) – German or Canadian White Sweet Dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine.  Very, very sweet and delicious for dessert. 

Wine Tasting Suggestions: Pairings

  • Apples and blue cheese
  • Salmon
  • Thai or chinese dumplings
  • Baked ham slices and crostini

This is part of our ongoing series introducing food and wine pairings.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.  We’ve created  a Riesling recipe listing on BigOven – create your favorite menu and share it with friends.

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy cooking!

Pairing wine and food: 25 Great Champagne Pairings

While the term champagne is often used generically to mean a sparkling wine, a true champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France, and is produced under the very strict rules of that appellation.  The first champagne was produced accidentally; the characteristic bubbles were actually considered a mistake. These festive bubbles come from a second fermentation of wine – sugar is added after the first fermentation and the bottles are capped, causing the carbonation to build as the second fermentation runs its course.

A world-famous drink that marks the New Year, anniversaries, graduations, race-winning and other celebratory occasions, champagne has been elevated to a lofty perch by some – too high, we think.  It shouldn’t seem out-of-reach, or even feel inappropriate for pairing with the occasional dinner.  We believe champagne, as well as other sparkling wines, are a fantastic choice for more everyday occasions where they can be savored.

Try pairing champagne with lighter seafood like sole, oysters or halibut.  Many sommeliers even suggest champagne – perhaps the ultimate “highbrow” drink – is extremely well-paired with fried food.

Want to make a weekend even more special?  Invite over some friends for a champagne brunch.  Or grab a bottle of moderately priced sparkling wine and dress it up with the classic Champagne Cocktail or Kir Royale.

What are some great food pairings with champagne?

champagne-appetizer-pairings
The right appetizer pairings can soften and accentuate the crisp acidic bubbles of a good champagne

Suggested Pairings

Pairings to Avoid

  • Extremely sweet dishes (with dry champagne)
  • Grilled red meat
  • Lime
  • Basil

Varietals

Blanc de blancs champagne (“white from whites”) designates Champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay, while Blanc de noir (“white from black”) designates Champagnes made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Menieur.

  • Brut – Very dry and flexible for a range of dishes that do not require sweet infusion.
  • Extra Dry – Less dry and generally used as brut.
  • Dry – With some sugar; can be blended into recipes for a hint of sweetness.
  • Demi-sec – Sweet; most often used to pair with less-sugary fruits.
  • Doux – Very sweet, although not as much as true dessert wines.

What temperature?

We recommend serving Champagne at 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees C).

Tip:  Open a Champagne Bottle Without a Fuss

There are lots of ways to open a champagne bottle.  Here’s one method which keeps the overflow to a minimum:

  1. Stand over a sink or an area that won’t matter if the bottle overflows.
  2. Begin unwrapping the cork – take the foil or other paper over it.
  3. Put your hand or thumb over the cork, and slowly begin removing the wiring which holds the cork in place.
  4. Hold the cork in one hand and the bottle in the other.  Place a clean kitchen towel over the top of the bottle.
  5. Slowly twist the cork in one direction and the bottle in the other.  Continue to twist and unscrew the cork until it pops out.  It will pop out as the pressure releases, but not enough to fly out of your hand.

This is part of our ongoing series introducing food and wine pairings.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.  We’ve created  a Champagne recipe listing on BigOven – create your favorite menu and share it with friends.

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy cooking!

Pairing wine with food: Sauvignon Blanc

shutterstock_89145637Wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape are generally light to medium-bodied and acidic.  Adjectives often used to describe Sauvignon Blancs are “citrusy”, “grassy”, “tart” and “oaky”.  With a tendency toward grassy and green flavors, it’s an ideal pairing with springtime dishes, soups, fish, and even Mexican vegetable and poultry dishes.

Matching Food with Sauvignon Blanc

In our blog post on pairing food with Chardonnay, we offered up the following rule of thumb:

If it’s a dish you might consider putting butter on, Chardonnay might make a good pairing.

Similarly, we’d offer this advice for Sauvignon Blanc:

If it’s a dish you might squeeze a little lime on, or if the dish makes you think of springtime, Sauvignon Blanc might make a good pairing.

These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, of course, but they can be good flavor guidelines when stuck for ideas. 

Notable AOC’s of Sauvignon Blanc

shutterstock_60905947The Sauvignon Blanc vine often buds late, but has a quick ripening, which allows it to perform well in sunny climates that are not overwhelmingly hot.  As a result, great Sauvignon Blancs can be found in many temperate regions.  Some of the most notable ones are:

  • Bordeaux, France (its birthplace)
  • Pouilly-Fume (Loire region, France)
  • Sancerre (Loire region, France)
  • New Zealand
  • Italy
  • Chile
  • South Africa
  • California
  • Washington State
  • Oregon

Our Favorite Flavor Pairings with Sauvignon Blanc

Flavors to Avoid Pairing with Sauvignon Blanc

  • Red meat
  • Salty dishes and salty snacks

Nutrition Information

If you’re a calorie-counter, you might want to know that a 5-ounce serving of Sauvignon Blanc weighs in at 119 calories, according to the USDA.

This is part of our ongoing series introducing food and wine pairings.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.  We’ve created a Sauvignon Blanc recipe listing on BigOven – create your favorite menu and share it with friends.

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy cooking!

Pairing wine with food: Cabernet Sauvignon

shutterstock_110924498In terms of sheer popularity, Cabernet Sauvignon (often blended with rival Merlot) is the king of the red varietals.  Big and bold, and often rich with tannins, Cabernet Sauvignon makes its presence clearly known on the table, and is a classic pairing with beef, lamb and aromatic cheeses.

The rise of Cabernet Sauvignon is due in part to its adaptability to a variety of climates and conditions, making the vines easier to grow and maintain through the cultivation process than, say, Pinot Noir.  It is grown successfully at latitudes as high as 50 degrees north (Okanagan in Canada) and 20 degrees south (Northern Argentina.) 

It is a very common blending partner with Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere (the latter three being components classically found in a Bordeaux blend.)  In the United States, sometimes you’ll hear Cabernet Sauvignon shortened to just “Cab” or “Cab Sav”.

Cabernet Sauvignon has found a solid home in the hills of Napa Valley, California, but also France, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand and Spain.  Surprisingly, it’s a rather new varietal, the result of a chance marriage between Cabernet franc (red) and Sauvignon blanc (white) in the 17th century in southeastern France.  It has enjoyed widespread popularity.  On the flipside, it’s sometimes known as a “colonizer” that takes over wine regions at the expense of other grape varieties. 

What pairs particularly well with Cabernet Sauvignon?

Combinations to Avoid

  • Tangy, sour dishes
  • Fish
  • Sushi
  • Light seafood
  • Lemony dishes
  • Oysters
  • Extremely spicy dishes
  • Delicate dishes

This is part of our ongoing series on food & wine pairings here at BigOven.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.  We’ve created a Cabernet Sauvignon recipe listing on BigOven that you can simply add to menus. 

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy cooking!

Pairing Wine with Food: What wines pair best with Roast Turkey at Thanksgiving?

Oven Roasted Turkey Breast
Oven Roasted Turkey Breast

You’re the “visiting team” this year for Thanksgiving, and you’ve been asked to bring the wine.  A panic sets in.  With all the choices, how do you begin to choose?

Let’s assume you don’t know the specifics of the stuffing and side-dishes ahead of time, but you’re pretty sure roast turkey will be served.

You’re in luck:  here are a shy-dozen varietals that pair extremely well with nearly all roast turkey recipes.

We’d recommend:

1)  Pinot Noir, particularly from Oregon and California

As a northwesterner, an Oregon Pinot Noir is often my go-to choice at Thanksgiving, and I’m never disappointed with this choice.  At recent Thanksgivings, we’ve enjoyed the wines from Erath vineyard, Cloudline and Argyle at our table; they’re all in the moderate range of $14-28 per bottle.

“My Thanksgiving Pinot Noir recommendation?  Hendry Pinot Noir is delicate and is a wine with flavors of plum and wild cherries in it.” (About $33.) – Chef John Besh

2)  Sparkling Shiraz

Bring a couple bottles of sparkling shiraz for an unusual and delicious treat.  Joshua Wesson, wine director of Best Cellars thinks it’s the perfect accompaniment for your holiday dinner.  “Dry sparkling Shiraz is breathtakingly spectacular with Thanksgiving dinner.  It hits every note and has something for everyone.”  And the bubbles are sure to signal the start of the holiday season.

3)  Shiraz (non-sparkling, i.e., still)

“My specific bottle recommendation is the Fruit Machine Shiraz ($8). Turkey is actually quite wine friendly and will pair well with many white and red wines. The problem is all the side dishes- sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, etc. You need something abundantly fruit, rich and supple textured. Aussie Shiraz is just the ticket.” – Efrain Madrigal, Wine Director, Sam’s Wines & Spirits, Chicago.

4)  Syrah

A good friend of mine has just started a new winery called Avennia, and they’ve come out with a terrific Syrah blend that’s winning some accolades in the Northwest.  We don’t have enough bottles of this just yet, but I’d happily uncork what few bottles we have with our rather large gathering this year.

“When most people think of wine from Washington State they immediately go to their Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, and the various regions throughout the state do an amazing job with those varietals.  But don’t forget the powerful Syrah coming out of Washington, Walla Walla in particular.  Amavi Cellars 2009 Syrah combines both dark fruit, like black cherry, blackberry and figs with mineral notes and earthy undertones.  A well balanced wine that will compliment any dish on a Thanksgiving table.” – sidedish magazine

5 & 6)  White Burgundy or California Chardonnay

Both of these chardonnays will pair well with most Thanksgiving turkeys and are a very safe choice.

7)  Zinfandel, especially fruity

Fruity zinfandels will help accentuate the savory dishes traditionally served at Thanksgiving, and amplify the fruits and berries.  Pairs well with cranberry sauce.

8)  Merlot

Yes, Merlot.  It may be the bane of Miles, the dispirited protagonist in the movie Sideways, but you know, he’s wrong.  There are some fantastic and affordable Merlot choices out there, and they pair quite well with roast turkey and stuffing.

9)  Gewürztraminer

Looking for something a little different this year?  Step away to the Alsace region of France and choose a light but slightly spicy Gewürztraminer.  Be sure to confirm with your winemerchant first (or online) whether the wine of your choice is sweet or dry, as Gewürtsraminer can range from very dry to very, very sweet.

10 & 11)  Reisling dry and/or Kabinett (a riesling made from the earliest harvest)

Varietals to Avoid with Roast Turkey

Just to help narrow the field, generally, we feel that tart and lemony wines won’t work very well with the subtle and savory flavors of Thanksgiving, nor do harshly dry wines.  We’d avoid these (otherwise wonderful) varietals with a main course of roast turkey:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio
  • Madiera
  • Malbec (pure malbec, not in a blend)
  • Chianti (dry)
  • Viognier
  • Vouvray
  • Rioja
  • Sancerre

But who are we to tell you what you can and cannot drink?  If you enjoy it – enjoy it, and don’t let us stop you.  It’s the holidays.

It goes to Eleven:  Brine your Bird!

Cooking the turkey this year?  Our advice is to plan ahead and brine it overnight in a cooler, with ice to keep it cold all night.  [Health note – be sure it stays cold!]

You’ll be rewarded with a much juicier and succulent final product.

This is part of our ongoing series on food & wine pairings here at BigOven.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy Cooking!

Pairing Wine with Food: Chardonnay

shutterstock_44202322Chardonnay is one of the most popular and versatile wine varietals in the world.   Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape that originated in the Burgundy region of France and is still the most popular white varietal grown in that region. 

Most white Burgundies are therefore chardonnays, but open a white Burgundy next to a chadonnay from California, Washington State, Australia or New Zealand, and you’ll find each bring vastly different flavor profiles, depending upon which region of the world they’re from.

Chardonnay is also a very important component of many sparkling wines around the world, including champagne.  The sparkling wine “blanc de blanc” (white from white) denotes a sparkling wine made entirely from Chardonnay. 

Chardonnay’s Superpowers:  Survivability and Malleability

The grape is known to be highly “malleable”, in that it not only thrives in many climates, but it takes on the characteristics of the local “terroir” (micro-climate, land and region) more readily than some other varietals.  In this way, it is more of a blank canvas than, say, a cabernet sauvignon or even a sauvignon blanc.

One implication:  if you’ve only tried a few different brands or regions of Chardonnay, you’re missing out on a wide variety of options and flavors.  Be sure to try a white Burgundy, a California Chardonnay, an Italian Chardonnay, an Australian and a New Zealand one over time.

Common Tasting Notes You’ll Read About Chardonnay

By far, the word “butter” stands out when reading the many tasting notes on Chardonnay.  To many of us, the mouth-feel and flavor of a very good chardonnay is reminiscent of butter:  rich, delicious, and savory.  You’ll see how this dominant note of chardonnay plays into our “ideal pairings” list, below.

shutterstock_51330409What foods pair well with chardonnay?

Chardonnay wines are generally medium to full-bodied white wines that are rich and complex.  They can be big and buttery in mouth-feel, or crisp, somewhat tart and young.  In the United States, California chardonnays are extremely popular and widely available, though some experts consider the most popular brands to be too sweet and/or overly “oaky”.  Italian chardonnays are also quite popular and are great choices to serve with pasta dishes with cream sauce, or risotto dishes.

One rule of thumb we have for you is that in general, foods that you might put butter on often pair well with a medium to full-bodied chardonnay.  (That is, if instead your dish would be complemented by putting lime or lemon on it, let it signal to you a more tart wine, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.)

For instance, great pairings to consider with Chardonnay are:

Great Flavor Pairings

“Oakiness”

shutterstock_113894317When a wine is called “oaky”, it’s because it’s been infused with a flavor from its aging and storage.  Many chardonnays are aged in oak barrels, and depending upon how old they are, whether they are seasoned, smoked or not, the wine will take on an oaky characteristic on the palate. 

On this subject, Chef Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux has said “Wine is an art, and oak is a frame, and if you have too large a frame, it detracts from the painting.”  Oaky chardonnays can be good paired with salads, cheeses, and lighter dishes. 

Pairing Wine With Food:  Other Articles to Follow

As cooks, we know that some foods just go well together.  That’s why we’ve recently introduced Menus, which let you create and share your favorite pairings on BigOven.  These menus can then go right on your calendar, be emailed to others, or put straight to a grocery list.  Create and share your own favorite food and wine pairings today – in particular, try creating a menu that pairs this Chardonnay “recipe” with another few dishes or notes, and help inspire other cooks with your ideas!   Just click on the “Create a Menu” button on the right hand side of the Chardonnay recipe page.

This is the first in our series of articles on pairing wine with food.  Want to see more on this topic?  Please “Like” this post, below.  Got a comment or a great pairing to suggest?  Please add it below.  Happy cooking!