Wine Tips & Meal Pairings

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 | Tags: ,

For an episode of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, we challenged ourselves to learn about all the nuances of wine and how they pair with different flavours in a variety of dishes. Then we had a top sommelier judge our efforts. Here's what we learned to create a harmony of flavours for a holiday menu.

Wine Tasting Tips

  • There are many ways to learn more about wine:
    • Some specialty stores have organized wine tastings, and also have wine available by the glass. What better way to know if you’ll like a wine before buying than to taste it?

    • Join a wine club. This is a great way to test drive new or uncommon wines as well as hone your tastes and preferences.

    • Some restaurants now serve wine tasting menus. It’s a great way to enjoy professionally-paired wines and meals.
  • Remember, price does not equal quality or taste. Wines today are increasingly priced according to start-up costs for the winery, instead of just quality or reputation.

  • Look for the 2nd labels of more established wineries. These are wines under a different label from a quality winery sold at a lower price, a practice quite common in Bordeaux and gaining steam in California.

  • Look for close-out specials or wines on sale. Because it is half-off doesn’t mean it’s terrible. These wines may be marked down before the next vintage arrives, and can offer significant savings to the consumer.

  • Remember the three “P”s of selecting wines: Price, Preference, and Pairing.
    • Price: The price you are willing to pay (or not) for a bottle of wine is a key determining factor in selecting a wine that is right for you. Gone are the days when you could only buy a “good” bottle of wine for over $30. In today’s market there are plenty of great wines available for $15 or even less, so rest assured that you won’t have to drop a bundle of money to experiment with various wines. A knowledgeable wine merchant will be able to give you plenty of suggestions in your stated price range.

    • Preference:We all have them, but remember what you will be drinking your wine with and who you will be sharing it with.
      • If you are hosting a happy hour get together, your preferences might lean towards “safe” reds and whites. For people who may not be accustomed to heavier-bodied, heartier wines, buy a softer Merlot or Pinot Noir (sometimes referred to as “starter reds”). A good starter white might be a refreshing Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

      • To experiment with wine flavours, ask your local specialty wine merchant about wines, styles and labels that they’ve enjoyed in the past, and don’t be afraid to ask for specific recommendations.

      • If sweeter wines suit your fancy, try a Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Muscat dessert wine.

      • If you prefer a dry white wine, look for a Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, or Sauvignon Blanc.

      • For reds, start with a Gamay, Pinot Noir, or Merlot if you don’t want anything too complex or full-bodied.

      • To turn up the complexity with reds, go with a great California Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (or Shiraz if its from Australia), or Zinfandel.

    • Pairing: If you’re looking for a wine to pair with a particular meal, take into account what the key ingredients will be. Will it be white or red meat, or fish? Will you be using fresh or dried herbs, and what types? Will the dish be spicy or fruity?

      • In general, white wines accent lighter flavored dishes, whereas red wines tend to compliment heartier meals better.

      • As a loose rule, think the richer the colour of food you’re consuming, the more full-bodied the wine can be.

      • Overall, have fun. Pairing food and wine is 99% personal preference and only 1% science.

  • Typically, you want to drink wines in a light-to-dark order, just as when you plan a meal you start with delicate tastes and work towards heavier tastes:

    • Champagnes and sparkling wines tends to go very well with appetizers, tapas, and opening courses.

    • White wines or rosés are a great match for salads and lighter dishes such as fish, while red wines (cabs, pinots, and syrahs) work beautifully with steaks, pasta, and heavier dishes.

    • A port or liqueur is often the perfect end to a meal, enjoyed with something sweet.

A&K’s Wine Pairing Challenge

For the Williams-Sonoma Christmas Entertaining episode of Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag, we challenged ourselves to choose wines for our “Christmas Eve in the City” menu, with the help of 2010 Sommelier of the Year, Kurtis Kolt. Kurtis chose 12 wines for us to blind taste, with a few ringers to throw us off.

Here’s what we chose for each course, and Kurtis’ comments on the results.

1st course:

  • Appetizer: Belgian Endive Tipped with Crème Fraiche, Capers, and Ahi Tuna

  • Soup: Shrimp Bisque

  • Wine: Martin Arndorfer Grüner Veltliner Die Leidenschaft

    • Fermented and aged in oak barrels, this 2005 Austrian white wine is complex, peppery, and dry. Serve chilled as a refreshing complement to seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes.

  • Kurtis’ comments: The appetizer is bland, so this strong wine overpowers any flavour it has. However, the Shrimp Bisque is so rich that this wine really punches through and complements it well.

2nd course:

  • Salad: Crab and Green Apple Salad with Grapefruit Coulis

  • Wine: Veuve Du Vernay Brut Rosé

    • This French sparkling wine is dry but refreshing and crisp, an ideal wine for holidays and special occasions. Rosé is generally a mix of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, offering a fruity yet spicy flavour that pairs nicely with hors d’oeuvres, tapas, or dessert.

  • Kurtis’ comments: This wine has a nice, peppery finish, which goes well with the tartness of the grapefruit and apple, and the saltiness of the crab.

3rd course:

  • Main: Beef Tenderloin with Shallot and Syrah Reduction

  • Side: Twice-cooked Potatoes

  • Wine: L’Ecole No 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

    • This full-bodied red wine hails from Washington State. Its blackberry scent, ripe plum, chocolate, and black cherry flavours, and earthy finish make it an excellent match for red meats and full-flavoured meals. Drink the 2006 release now through 2015 for optimal enjoyment.

  • Kurtis’ comments: This wine is a fantastic choice. It stands up quite well with the beef and the potatoes.

4th course:

  • Dessert: Almond and Apple Tart

  • Wine: Marnier-Lapostolle Pineau Des Charentes

    • A blend of Cognac and freshly pressed juice from very ripe grapes, this French apéritif is a rich, full-bodied, dessert wine. Serve it chilled in a tulip-shaped glass such as a sherry glass which enhances the aroma of the wine.

  • Kurtis’ comments: I like it. The wine is an elegant way to finish off.

   Our Results

Overall, Kurtis felt we chose an appropriate wine for every course and gave us a 9/10! If you enjoy wine with your meals, we highly recommend taking a course, doing a workshop, experimenting, and learning all you can about pairings in order to get the maximum enjoyment out of both your wines and your meals. Ultimately, it’s about what you like, but learning the basics gives you a great place to start.


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