Wine, Food and Friends

For the passionate, wine is a staple of any enjoyable dining experience. Unearthing the next hidden gem, finding a great value, a winery, wine region or grape can increase this enjoyment, but the most important choices occur at the table. It is vital to drink an assortment of wines in the proper order, pair it with the right food, and drink it with the right company. Even the finest wine can be undone by bad decisions in any of these categories.

Pairing food and wine can be complicated, and it’s easy to overlook the order in which wine is tasted or the company we keep while tasting it. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who like wine, but not all would understand or enjoy particular wines I might drink. It’s all about comfort level and palate education—only flawed wine is bad wine. So, even though Yellowtail Chardonnay is not a favorite of mine, it is still worthy of being consumed. That said, a person who only drinks Yellowtail Chardonnay would probably not appreciate a Puligny-Montrachet Champs Gain or the equivalent. Puligny-Montrachet is Chardonnay too, just from the vineyards surrounding the village of Puligny in France’s Burgundy region. Champs Gain is one of the village’s top vineyard sites. As they say, from Yellowtail Chardonnay to Puligny-Montrachet might be a bridge too far. Bringing someone such a long distance palate-wise only disappoints the host and makes the guest feel inadequate. So, a good wine host will take such a friend on a gentle incline. A slightly less oaky and fruity Chardonnay might be a good first step—perhaps a Napa Valley Chardonnay like Jax Y3 or Miner Family Wild Yeast.

That same good host may offer several wines along with the Jax or Miner Chardonnay. If so, the proper tasting order can highlight the best of each wine, while the wrong order can hurt the experience. Since Miner Family and Jax are pretty substantial Chards, I recommend starting with something lighter and more refreshing like Champagne, Prosecco or Sauvignon Blanc. From there, pour an un-oaked Chardonnay, like a Chablis or Macon, and then move on to reds. Start light with a Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or Tempranillo, then go bigger with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the like. The biggest and richest wines should always go last. Such wines come from warm regions and from grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Malbec. Keep in mind though that even Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Tempranillo can be pretty and aromatic from cooler regions and bold and rich from warmer regions. To get a real view of how important this is, take your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay drink in order of lightest to boldest then reverse. Or just have a big bold Mendoza Malbec and follow with the best Pinot Noir or Red Burgundy you can find.

Likewise, food will help your wine experience or hurt it. The more expensive and important the wine, the simpler the food should be to pair with it. There are hundreds of little nuances to pairing food and wine, but you really need just a handful of very helpful hints. Balanced foods should always be paired with balanced wine; high alcohol wines will fight with spicy food. And when all else fails, match the cuisine’s region with the same wine region. A perfect non-wine example would be pairing Mexican food with Mexican beer or tequila.

Whites Inclined by price:

2001 Yellowtail Chardonnay, Southwestern Australia $5
2001 Jax Y3 Chardonnay, Napa Valley $23
2010 Miner Family Chardonnay, Napa Valley $50
2009 Henri Darnat Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru les Champs Gain $75