Taste Washington, the state’s premier wine and food festival, has grown leaps and bounds over the years. However, one thing remains the same – the Taste Washington Seminars are my favorite part of the 4 day Washington wine extravaganza. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the seated events where I can take my time tasting. Undoubtedly, it has something to do with the quality of both the speakers and the wine poured at each seminar. Not to mention, what I’ve learned at the Taste Washington Seminars has made me appreciate wine more. That in turn has made me a better wine drinker. The seminars can do the same for you!
At a past seminar, Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil waxed poetic about Washington wine, vividly describing each pour as only she can. As the audience sipped on Syrah from cult producer Cayuse she uttered,
“This wine is primal scream. Wonderfully corrupt.”
Pairing Pinot Noir with food is one of the best ways I know of to up your dinner game. After all, this variety of red wine is generally lighter in body and lower in tannin than most red wines. Those qualities can make it quite food friendly. Think of Pinot Noir as a refined dinner date that offers engaging conversation while gradually revealing its sophisticated personality.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, incredible examples of Pinot Noir can be found in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. While attending the Wine Writers Educational Tour in August, I was taken on a far-reaching journey, exploring the diverse characteristics of the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) within this region.
The Dundee Hills AVA is generally known for producing Pinot Noir that is red fruit oriented. By contrast, the Yamhill-Carlton AVA can tend to produce wines with riper, blue fruit characteristics.
Wines from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA were explained by Shane Moore, Winemaker at Zena Crown, as depicting circular shapes.
“Elevation is a big dictator of the wine you’re going to get,” remarked Luisa Ponzi, second generation winemaker at Ponzi Vineyards.
Not only do different vineyard sources influence what’s in bottle, winemakers have different styles. For example, winemaker Erik Kramer of WillaKenzie is looking for “flavor town” when making picking decisions.
By contrast, Aaron Bell, winemaker at Domaine Drouhin, is “looking for liquid cashmere.”
What does this all boil down to when selecting a recipe to serve with a bottle of Pinot Noir? It means that those softer, circular wines can work with lighter fare. Alternately, those riper styles can make a nice counterpoint to a fattier, hearty dish. Below are some further guidelines to help pair Pinot Noir with dinner.
Flavors in Pinot Noir
Consider the flavors of the wine, and create a match by incorporating or complementing those flavors in the food: Cherry Raspberry Strawberry Vanilla Clove
Start with one of these proteins to pair with Pinot Noir: Chicken Duck Rabbit Quail Salmon Tuna (think Ahi/seared or grilled) Pork (to be clear, this includes bacon and sausages) Beef Lamb
And/or include ingredients that connect the wine with the food: Beets Berries Cherries Dijon Mustard Eggplant Lentils Mushrooms Truffles
Suggested Dishes for Pairing Pinot Noir
Consider Pinot Noir for a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
Following the classic “if it grows together it goes together” theory, Pinot Noir and salmon have long been a definitive Northwest pairing.
Chardonnay is one of the most popular wine varieties in the world. In fact, it is the most widely planted white grape variety here in Washington State. This food friendly white wine also happens to complement a number of my favorite dishes! To create the ultimate match, here are some easy tips to pair chardonnay with food.
Flavors in Chardonnay
Match Chardonnay with food using similar or contrasting flavors. ♦ Pear ♦ Lemon ♦ Apple ♦ Pineapple ♦ Vanilla ♦ Butter
Select a base ingredient that is likely to match with the variety. ♦ Crab ♦ Shrimp ♦ Scallops ♦ Mussels ♦ Halibut ♦ Salmon ♦ Chicken ♦ Turkey ♦ Quail ♦ Lobster
And/or use these bridge ingredients: Tip: select one or just a few. A dish that’s too busy competes with the wine rather than complements it. ♦ Apple ♦ Pear ♦ Fennel ♦ Citrus ♦ Corn ♦ Dijon Mustard ♦ Vanilla ♦ Dairy ♦ Roasted Garlic ♦ Parmesan ♦ Swiss Cheese
Suggested to Pair Chardonnay with Food
When we’re in a celebratory mood at our house, I make a batch of crab cakes and break out a lightly oaked chardonnay. This pairing is THE way to celebrate a special occasion! Buttered corn makes a terrific side.
Riff on risotto and drizzle it with truffle oil for a decadent pairing. Or, keep it classic and top that risotto with some shrimp. Either way, you can’t go wrong with Chablis. Chablis hails from the Bourgogne region in France where the Chardonnay is known for its bright acidity and minerality. Translation: it’s the opposite of buttery California Chardonnay.
One of my early experiences on Twitter involved participating in wine chats. Initially there was Taste Live. Then, Rick Bakas founded Chardonnay day in 2010. It gave us the perfect excuse to gather with friends over food and wine. Of course, it also meant posting impressions of the wines and pairings on Twitter.
Chardonnay Day still takes place annually on the Thursday before Memorial Day. Either Twitter or Instagram are great places to share your experience. If you’re celebrating on this day, be sure to use the #ChardDay hashtag and tag me so I can see how you choose to pair Chardonnay with food!
Ten years ago things really started to heat up in my kitchen! I was a student at the Northwest Wine Academy not only studying the craft of winemaking, but learning the art of pairing the finished product with food. In one of the classes Chef Lenny Rede challenged us with an assignment he titled, “Iron Chef: Malbec.” The goal was to create a dish to complement a Malbec of his choosing. Here are the principles we applied to pair Malbec with food.
Flavors in Malbec
Pair Malbec with food using similar or contrasting flavors. Blackberry ♦ Blueberry ♦ Cocoa ♦ Citrus ♦ Black Pepper ♦ Smokiness
Select a base ingredient that is likely to match with the variety. Beef ♦ Lamb ♦ Veal ♦ Pork ♦ Tuna ♦ Chicken ♦ Duck ♦ Sausage
And/or use these bridge ingredients: Tip: select one or just a few. A dish that’s too busy competes with the wine rather than complements it. Blackberries ♦ Blueberries ♦ Mushrooms ♦ Sun Dried Tomato ♦ Balsamic Vinegar ♦ Beets ♦ Bacon ♦ Aged Cheeses ♦ Mustard
Grilling ♦ Roasting ♦ Smoking ♦ Barbecuing
Of course, let’s not forget one of the great food and wine pairing principles that says, “If it grows together it goes together.” In other words, pair Malbec with a dish you would find in an area where the wine is widely produced, such as Argentina. You know, like grilled steak and chimichurri! Or empanadas.
Suggested Food Pairings for Malbec
Back in class, some roasted sweet potatoes that Chef had served us inspired me to consider preparing sweet potato gnocchi and topping it with a Chimichurri sauce rather than pesto. Then, my class partner tasted my gnocchi and very nicely suggested that we try something else. “It might take us a while to perfect the technique for making those light fluffy pillows,” she hinted. Let’s just say I’m still working on that!
Winning dishes presented in our Iron Chef: Malbec showdown included vegan chili, goulash, and a lovely cheese plate.
A good friend prepares a roast chicken by massaging baking spices under the skin. It’s a truly lovely match for Malbec.
Mole sauce is also fun to pair with Malbec. I like to go rogue and use it as a pasta sauce, pizza sauce, or a topping for turkey meatloaf. In Seattle, the French Grocery at Pike Place Market usually carries a mole paste that enables the home cook to whip up a batch of mole without spending days in the kitchen.
Also, if you’re a fan of the grape, be sure to mark your calendar – Malbec World Day is on April 17th each year. Join the celebration!
What do you do when you want to uncork a red wine with dinner, but red meat isn’t on the menu? The trick is to find a dish with the right bridge ingredients – those that connect the wine with the food. To do this, I recently turned to a recipe from the cookbook, Plenty, by Ottolenghi.
The response to my Instagram post of the pairing surprised me. People near and far chimed in about their appreciation for the cookbook, revealing how extensive a chef’s reach can be. Additionally, wine lovers revealed a thirst for Tempranillo. It served as a wonderful reminder that wine and food bring us closer together.
A Dish for Tempranillo
I began with the wine, because a friend was joining us for dinner. We had all visited The Walls tasting room together when we traveled to the Celebrate Walla Walla event. The wines we tasted, crafted by talented winemaker Ali Mayfield, were stunning. It was time to uncork one of the wines purchased that day to relive that OMG memory.
Tempranillo has a depth and intensity that pairs well with meat. However, I did not plan to serve meat on this occasion. The vegetarian dish I usually turn to for Tempranillo is Tabbouleh Salad. This time, I wanted something a little more robust. Paging through Plenty, Ottolenghi’s recipe for Farro and Roasted Red Pepper Salad caught my eye. It combines the earthiness of farro, the savoriness of black olives, and the smokiness of paprika to pair like a dream with Tempranillo.
If you like Tempranillo, I urge you to give this pairing a try!