10 Tips for Great Wine and Food Pairings

There used to be an easy mantra for food and wine pairing: white wine with white meat, red wine with red meat. Then, somewhere along the way, things got complicated. Nowadays it’s perfectly acceptable to have red wine with fish, or white wine with steak. Who’s judging? The truth is you should never be afraid to try something or be put off because the “rules” say it shouldn’t work. Rules are made to be broken! There are a few tips to remember which will make life – and your meal – that much better.

At Sequoia Grove, our wine and food philosophy focuses on making small adjustments to prepared dishes in order to preserve or enhance the flavors of the wine. Our wines are crafted to emphasize balance, structure, and finesse. To complement our wines, Sequoia Grove Chef Britny Maureze brings together textures, flavors, and aromas in perfect bites for our tasting room experiences and recipes. If you’re feeling a little lost or simply need a starting point for basic wine and food pairings, here are Chef Britny’s top ten tips for mastering your dinner time game: 

#1 Start with the wine:

There are two angles when it comes to mastering the art of food and wine pairing: starting with the wine and then matching the food to it or vice versa. At Sequoia Grove, we always start with the wine. This is because the wine is already made – you can’t add or change anything! It’s much easier to select a wine you’d like to enjoy and create a meal around it as you can always mix and match ingredients to suit the style. Chef Britny explains: “Before I begin writing a menu, I taste the wines and take note of all the flavors and aromas, then formulate a concept for a meal I think would fit with it. From there, it’s all a bit of trial and error, making little (but vital!) adjustments until I’ve curated the perfect dish for that particular wine.” 

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2016 Rutherford Bench Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Aromas of violets, candied red fruit, cherries, and subtle hints of graphite. On the palate, this wine is smooth with elegant notes of cherry and cola followed by dried meats, classic Rutherford wine expressions. Rated 92 Points by Wine Spectator and 90 Points by Wine Enthusiast . Winery Exclusive

#2 Tannins and fat: 

Tannins are the astringency or ‘dryness’ when drinking wine – particularly red wine. They come from the grape skins, seeds, stems, and wood barrels used during wine production. High tannin wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah need some richness in the food to feel softer and more expressive. “This is where fatty food comes in!” says Chef Britny. “Think of tasty fats like butter, oil, and cheese – they form a kind of barrier on the palate to “shield” the tongue from the tannic grip.” When in doubt, pair high fat food and high powered wines! One of Chef Britny’s favorite pairings is Slow-Roasted Crispy Pork Belly with Sequoia Cabernet. “The fat of the pork coats your palate beautifully in between sips of Cab!” she says.

#3 Balance the flavors and complexity:

According to Chef Britny, no one wants a one-note wine, just like no one wants one-note food. It’s important to include all the sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and umami flavors into your dish to ensure it matches the wine’s complexity and delivers the ultimate satisfying experience. As a rule, fruity dishes work well with fruity wines while salt and sweet pair naturally. Think about the flavors of melon and prosciutto, and you’ll know what we mean!

 #4 Cooking method:

Consider how the ingredients are cooked: grilling, poaching, roasting, braising, etc., all help you achieve different flavors and textures. Plus, it’s never solely about the core ingredient but about the seasoning and the sauces which accompany it. For Chef Britny, it always starts with the wine: “You need to use a cooking method that makes sense with that wine. For example, a delicate, lighter-bodied wine might pair better with something poached, whereas a bolder, weightier wine might require something grilled or roasted”.

For example, fish can be light, requiring appropriately light whites. But what if you prepare it as a bouillabaisse with saffron and a creamy fish stock? That’s going to need something entirely more robust.

Sequoia Grove Winery, Napa, California

#5 Acidity:
Acidity is the sour tartness we can immediately detect when biting into a lemon. It is present in wine and food and imparts good flavor, but it can sometimes be a little overpowering. That’s why it’s important to get the balance right! A wine with naturally high acidity like Sauvignon Blanc and a lemon vinaigrette dressing on a salad would result in a rather mouth-puckering pairing! That’s why you’re better off balancing a zesty Sauvignon Blanc with a honey and mustard dressing. Chef Britny believes acidity is just as important in food as it is in wine:

“Acid delivers vibrance and, like salt, serves as a flavor enhancer. You need to balance the acidity between the food and wine to ensure they don’t mute each other out.”

For a bold, tannic red wine, adding acid to the dish (like lemon or vinegar) can accomplish two goals:

  • If the food has high levels of sweetness, acid can bring that back into balance.
  • If the wine is very tannic, adding acid to the food can make the wine appear smoother and less astringent.

#6 Don’t shy away from salt: 

Salt is simply a flavor enhancer. When used correctly, it makes anything it touches more delicious. It’s often used in conjunction with sweetness and/or sourness to accentuate the flavors in a prepared dish. As a fan of bold flavor, Chef Britny loves salt – especially when pairing food with an assertive Californian Cabernet Sauvignon such as Sequoia Grove. “Under-salting a dish can make it taste a bit bland, and then you risk overpowering the food with the wine. As with everything, it’s important to strike the right balance!” she says.  

#7 Texture matters:
For Chef Britny, the texture is almost as important as taste for a pairing. “Incorporating varying textures into your food can make a pairing pop,” she says. With this in mind, focus on the body and weight of your wine and food. A heavy dish needs a powerful wine to stand up to it. So, light with light, heavy with heavy. A hearty casserole will require a richly flavored and structured wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a red blend. 

#8 ‘What grows together, goes together’:

It is an expression used by chefs and wine lovers alike, meaning that you should eat and drink things that come from the same place. This cultural philosophy reflects a time before global trade when early winemakers made wine that reflected the food of that area. That’s why beef bourguignon is best served with a light and earthy Burgundian Pinot Noir. Likewise, Napa Valley Cabernet and free-range sirloin steak is a must-try.

#9 Don’t be too sweet: 

The general rule of thumb is that your wine should always be sweeter than the dish. If you serve a dish with a high level of sweetness (such as sweet and sour chicken), the sugar will tend to make wine, especially red wine, appear stronger and more bitter. Typically, this is not a good thing and your pairing will be off-balance. The more sweetness a dish has, the less enjoyable most red wines will be. “Pair sweet with sweet. If you’re having a rich chocolate tart, this is where dessert wines come in. We love red wine, and we love chocolate – but we don’t love them together!” shares Chef Britny. 

#10 Experiment with Sequoia Grove: 

Trust your palate! And if you don’t, trust Sequoia Grove. For the past 40 years, we have established ourselves as a trusted name in Napa Valley, celebrated for crafting a diverse and thoughtfully curated collection of well-balanced wines that are easy-drinking and adapt to various dishes. 

Trends in food and wine are constantly changing, so don’t be afraid to take risks. Here’s Chef Britny’s final tip: “Be creative. Take chances. Challenge yourself.” 

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