When choosing a beverage to complement a meal, there’s no reason to restrict yourself to wine. Although wine can be suave and elegant or simple and refreshing, when food is spicy or very robust it can overwhelm or compete with a wine unless you choose very carefully. What follows is all you need to know to get you started choosing, serving, and enjoying wine with ease.
Know Your Wines
There are two kinds of wine: red (which includes rose) and white. Wine is described primarily by its relative sweetness. A dry wine lacks natural sugars (but it still can be perceived as fruity), a semidry wine generally tastes sweet, and a sweet wine is very sweet. White wines range from very dry (Manzanilla sherry) to very sweet (Tokay), while red wines are usually dry (except for some kosher-type wines). In general, wines are named either for the predominant grape used in production (cabernet sauvignon) or for the region of production (Chianti). A wine is judged by three basic components: its color, aroma (bouquet), and taste. White wines range in color from pale yellowgreen to straw yellow to deep gold, whereas red wines range from purplish red to ruby red. What is a good wine? Any wine you enjoy drinking. Let your eyes, nose, and mouth be your guides.
One of the most popular wines, chardonnay is produced the world over. Most chardonnays are buttery, fruity, and fairly dry; they are often aged in oak. Chardonnays that have been aged in small oak barrels (sometimes new ones) are often characterized as being “oaky,” a quality that can mask a wine’s lovely fruity qualities. Serve with summer foods, such as grilled salmon or chicken, as well as with roasted chicken or fish.
A specialty of Alsace, France, although it’s produced in other countries as well. It is a spicy wine that can be dry or semisweet. If dry, serve with fish, poultry, or spicy foods. If sweet, serve with fruit desserts.
This wine has a floral fragrance with hints of honey. Late-harvest Riesling is produced from super-ripe grapes that are intensely sweet, making it one of the world’s most delicious wines. German Rieslings are much sweeter than Alsatian Rieslings. They are excellent with Chinese food, lightly spiced food, and roast chicken. Alsatian Rieslings are ideal summertime wines.
Wines from the Burgundy region of France are elegant, highly prized, and among the most expensive in the world. Burgundys, made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, are lighter in body and color than some other red wines. They bear no resemblance to the typical California Burgundy. Enjoy with salmon, red meat, pork, poultry, and game.
Cabernet Sauvignon
Produced in many countries, this well-known wine is full-bodied and can be complex, with hints of spice and ripe fruit. It complements hearty meats, poultry, and stews.
One of the most famous Italian wines, true Chianti is Tuscan. This sturdy, dry wine goes nicely with tomato-based pasta dishes, steaks, hamburgers, and pizza.
Rich, fragrant, and smooth bodied, this wine is easy to like. Serve with robust foods such as lamb, sausages, stews, braises, and Cornish hens.
Pinot Noir
This intensely flavored wine is now produced in Oregon and California—often with great success. The wine can be light or full bodied. It goes with almost any food but is especially good with salmon, poultry, pork, veal, ham, and cheese.
Originally grown in Europe, “zin” has become a uniquely California wine. It has a spicy, fruity, slight raspberry flavor. It can stand up to hearty foods, such as steaks, lamb, veal chops, game birds, and hamburgers.
Other Wines
Madeira, Sherry, and Port These are wines that have been fortified with a spirit (usually brandy) to increase their alcohol content. They are usually enjoyed after a meal, although dry sherry is often sipped before dinner as an apertif.
This light-bodied wine is made from red grapes: The grape skins are left on just long enough to produce the desired pink color. (Inexpensive roses are often tinted.) Serve well chilled, before dinner or with lighter foods.
Sparkling Wine
These bubbly wines range from slightly sweet to dry. Champagne is the most famous (even though we often use the term to mean any sparkling wine). True champagne is produced only in the Champagne region of France by the traditional methode champenoise, but other countries also make fine sparklers, too. Sparkling wines go with every food, including dessert.
Serving wine
Serving wine at the proper temperature helps to bring out all its flavor. Red wine is often served too warm, while white wine is often served too cold, which makes it difficult to fully appreciate them. Red wine should be served at cool room temperature. If it’s too warm, place it in a bucket of ice water for five minutes. Some young and fruity reds, such as Beaujolais, are best when slightly chilled. White wines and sparkling wines should be served well chilled but not so cold that their delicious flavors are hidden. To quick-chill white or sparkling wine, submerge the bottle in a bucket or pot filled with half ice and half water. Or wrap the bottle in several thicknesses of wet paper towels and place in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes or until chilled. (Check to make sure the wine doesn’t freeze.) Wine is traditionally served in stemmed glasses: The large flat base allows you to swirl the wine, which helps release its aroma and flavor. When drinking wine, hold the glass by the stem. This is especially important with chilled wines; it prevents the heat from your hand from warming the wine. Glasses should be filled one-half to two-thirds full to leave enough room for swirling. Exposing wine to air lets it “breathe” and release its flavor, but simply uncorking the bottle doesn’t do much—the wine needs to be poured. If you wish, decant it (pour it into a decanter) before serving. (If decanting an aged wine, leave any sediment in the bottle.)
Pairing Wine With Food
There really aren’t any strict rules when it comes to pairing wine with food, but try to match the intensity of the flavors. For example, serve a light wine with a delicate entree and a robust wine with a full-flavored dish. Gewurztraminer is a good match for gingery Asian dishes, while zinfandel can stand up to the spicy flavors of Mexican food. An easy way to pair wine with food is to serve a wine from the same region or country as the recipe you are preparing. For example, a paella is best enjoyed with a Spanish wine, while pasta with tomato sauce is ideally matched with an Italian red wine. Here are a few rules of thumb: Red wines go well with meats, roast chicken, salmon, tomato-based pasta dishes, and hard cheeses (like Parmesan). White wines are a good match for delicately flavored fish, skillet poultry dishes, vegetable dishes, cheese-based pasta dishes, and soft and semisoft cheeses.

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