The Wine Advisor

Several years ago, I wrote wine columns for a series of websites that sold wine. I would answer questions that the customers of these sites would send me. The California ABC ruled that sites that did not own wine could not resell them under someone else’s license, and the entire project was shut down.

I recently came across these columns (nothing ever dies on the Internet) and am republishing them here. It’s not as in-depth as many wine columns are today as so many people are getting into wine blogging, but I found them interesting.

Incidentally, my current view is that the most important thing when inviting friends and family over for dinner is not the wine or the food. It’s the people. If people enjoy a white wine to accompany a dish usually served with red wine, serve a white wine. And serve a red wine if people want that, despite what so-called “experts” say. While you want to serve the best food and wine you can, your friends have come to see you, not to have a wine tasting. Serve what they enjoy, and be glad to see them.

Which is why my wine tasting seminars and events are now called “Wine, Food, and People Pairing.”


Personal Wine Advisories

Q: What kinds of cheese would I pair with a Chateau de Rouillac Pessac Leognan Red Bordeaux Wine and why?

A: Many red Bordeaux wines work best with full-flavored hard cheeses. The cheese will, however, mute some of the characteristics of the wine, both the intensity of the fruit and any oakiness you might find. The Rouillac has full fruit (especially so in the great 2000 vintage), so slightly muting some of its flavors won’t detract, since there is enough to go around. You will also find the oaky quality of it is somewhat lessened, again, not detracting from the taste. Zamorano is a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, and is related to Manchego. It is nutty and rich, a bit gamy, and should work well with this wine.


Q: Throughout the years I’ve tried some red/white wines, and I haven’t enjoyed anything as much as I enjoyed Port. Do you have any recommendations for me (other than Ports) that may also be to my liking?

A: What is it you especially like about Port? The sweetness, the intensity, the flavor? For sweetness, you might try other dessert wines, perhaps a Sauternes, that delicious and unctuously sweet white Bordeaux wine made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. A late harvest wine, such as Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc from California or other varieties like Viognier that are superb. Germany’s and Austria’s fabulous (and expensive) Trockenbeerenauslese, where each at harvest time the grapes are picked berry by berry to ensure only the ripest and sweetest juice is made into wine.

Ice wine (or eiswein) is made by allowing certain grapes to freeze on the vine. The frozen water is removed and the remaining juice is ultra-sweet. Some producers in warmer areas who cannot make a true icewine will put grapes in the freezer and make wine from them. While usually not of the same quality as real icewine, it can be delicious and will be a lot more affordable.

There are port-style wines that taste different from traditional Port. You might enjoy a California Zinfandel port, while made in the same way as traditional port where the addition of brandy stops the fermentation, before all the sugar becomes alcohol. There are many different grapes that can make a port-style wine each with a different taste. There is Barbera Port, Cabernet Port, Syrah Port.

But if you truly love Port, keep enjoying it. There are many styles of Port, from older Tawny Ports, to fine Vintage Port, to Late Bottle Vintage (similar in style to Vintage port, but not as complex, intense, or expensive). Different Port houses produce different styles. There is a whole world of Port, it’s not just one taste. Different styles, different producers, different countries. You’ll never get tired of sampling true Port, and port-style wines from around the world.

And don’t forget the Stilton cheese or the chocolate to accompany the port!


Q: What should we serve with corned beef and cabbage?

A: If you must have wine with this traditional Irish (or Irish-American) dish, you really would want something fruity, perhaps a Beaujolais. A very tannic red (such as a young Cabernet Sauvignon, could give the beef some bitter tastes. But a Grenache or a Barbera would work well too. Lots of fruit in the wine. Oh, there is cabbage too. That works best with a refreshing Alsatian Pinot Gris. But it’s corned beef and cabbage. What’s wrong with a draught of Guinness?


Q: We are having a vertical wine tasting party. I have selected Viognier and Syrah. We just are wanting to have finger foods to keep this first club tasting on a low budget. Please advise. Thank you, Dennis.

A: It sounds like a great wine tasting party. Both wines are very well made examples of those varieties.

It’s good that you have chosen to limit the varieties to two. Many people have too many different types of wine and learning about a particular variety and wine gets lost in the myriad flavors and tastes with a too-wide assortment. Limiting a wine tasting to one or two varieties definitely will help you learn more and appreciate the qualities that each wine has to offer. (And it will give you an excuse to have many more of them, too!)

Viognier is a very fragrant, vibrant and exotic wine, filled with aromas and tastes of peaches, apricots, honeysuckle among other floral and fruity scents. Sometimes it is dry, othertimes a touch of sweetness can add to its appeal.

While Viognier is frequently best young, the best examples can evolve well over a few years. Taste the wines youngest first to give you a sense of how this varietal wine develops in the bottle. The vibrancy of the fruit may become more subtle, and perhaps a slight creaminess may unfold, though you will find out exactly what happens to the Viognier as it does age.

The Syrah (sometimes even blended with a bit of Viognier) is generally a very intense wine, with aromas and tastes of blackberries, dark cherries, plums, smoke, and sometimes a touch of chocolate and coffee, and a definite pepperiness. As Syrah ages, smoky aromas can begin to predominate, perhaps a touch of tobacco and earth can be detected.

Again, taste the younger ones first, and then proceed towards the oldest one.

As far as food, keep the food simple. Finger foods work, perhaps some cheeses. Cheese and other foods can subtly alter the taste of the wine, but will give you an insight into food and wine pairing.

Viogniers pair beautifully with slightly spicy Asian foods, and Syrahs work well with lamb if the Syrah is lighter in texture, and beef if it is a fuller-bodied Syrah.



Q: What wine is good for a pesto cheesecake appetizer? It’s not sweet or a dessert.

A: Good question. And a delicious dish too. The herbal attributes of the basil in a pesto seem to call for a Sauvignon Blanc, but it might be too much for the creaminess of the cheesecake. Viognier would fight with the basil, so that may be out. Chardonnay would work with the cheesecake portion, but not the pesto. However, an Italian or Italian-style Pinot Grigio should be just the thing. The acidity would balance with creaminess of the cheese, and the lemony aspect of the Pinot Grigio would work very well with the aromatics. While Pinot Gris is the same variety as Pinot Grigio (it’s really just another name for it), wines called Pinot Gris might be too full bodied for this dish. Though of course, experimentation with the wines will find one just perfect for this dish.


Q: Can you have pork with pinot grigio?

A: Of course you can. First of all, the only absolute rule of wine and food pairing is if you like something, then bon appetit! But in this specific instance, Pinot Grigio (or as it’s sometimes called, Pinot Gris) can work wonderfully with pork. There are different styles of this wine, from very light Italian versions to fairly full bodied Oregon and Alsatian ones.

But if the pork is prepared in a lighter style, perhaps with apples and aromatic spices, it would be ideal. A great dish for Pinot Grigio is pork with stir-fried vegetables and jasmine rice. It might not work if the pork has a heavier sauce, such as a plum or tomato sauce, since the main object of wine and food pairing is to match textures, light food with light wine, heavier food with heavier wine. But, as always, you’re eating the meal, you make the selection.


Q: A wine with pasta in a garlic tomato sauce?

A: Here’s something different. Instead of a red wine, like a Chianti (a wine made primarily from the Sangiovese grape), how about trying a Sauvignon Blanc? This wine, with its vibrant acidity will stand up to both the tomatoes and the garlic. Of course, if you want red, the traditional Chianti or perhaps a fruity Barbera, from Italy’s northern regions would make the meal outstanding.


Q: What wine would be appropriate with an Herb Crusted Venison Loin dish, Thank you

A: Some Pinot Noirs are earthy and aromatic. Santa Maria Valley is just one of the many regions in California that produce excellent Pinots. You would select a full-bodied Pinot as Venison is a very rich and gamy meat. Cabernets and Tuscan wines can also go well. Also see next query.


Q: What is a good pairing with venison and pears?

A: Venison is a very full-flavored (some say gamy) meat and that calls for a full-bodied red wine. The pears will add a touch of aromatics and sweetness, and what works well with that combination is a Merlot, which has a deep cherry-berry taste. The wine will give an impression of sweetness. If you like Syrah, perhaps one from Paso Robles, with its high alcohol and richly fruited aroma and taste, possibly with touch of pepperiness. By the way, the venison and pears might like to have an addition of cranberries to make a very exciting dish.


Q: Lamb red or white?

A: I assume you are asking if you should serve red or white wine with lamb. The answer is yes. Either. But traditionally, the wine served with lamb has been made from Syrah (or Shiraz, as our Australian friends put it). Since many Syrahs are made in a very full-bodied style these days, perhaps try a Pinot Noir whose lighter texture pairs well with lamb (in most cases). But if you are a white wine lover, a full-bodied white, such as a good California Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. But use your own taste as a guide. Many people like a good Cabernet Sauvignon with lamb or a Riesling.


Q: How is it possible to make a white wine from a red grape like Zinfandel? And can you also make a red wine from a white grape?

A: The juice of most wine grapes is white, despite the skin color. Even Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have white juice. The color comes from the skins, and winemakers will ferment the juice with the skins if they want the wine to be red, and without the skins if they want the wine to be white (as in White Zinfandel). And no, you cannot make a red wine from white grapes because both the skins and the juice of those grapes are white.


Q: What wine should I drink with a traditional English Christmas pudding, served with rum or brandy butter?

A: A sweet wine works best. Try a Tawny or Ruby Port, or enjoy a glass a very aromatic dessert wine, muscat being one of the most aromatic. Muscat wines can be citrusy and extremely floral. Muscat De Beaumes De Venise is a good one to look for.


Q: My friends tell me that I should drink red wine for my heart…is that true? How about white wine?

A: We are not doctors, and cannot dispense medical advice. However, what we have been seeing in the news is that a substance called “Resveratrol” is found in red wine and may be helpful if wine is consumed in moderation. It is unclear if white wine is equally assumed to be beneficial. Wine, however, is one of life’s great pleasures, and that alone is reason enough to enjoy a glass or two with your dinner. Perhaps it is the pleasure and feeling of well-being that wine consumption offers that contributes to a longer life.





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