May 6, 2004


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Continuing on, from my previous article on food and wine pairing with white wines (visit, is red wines. As discussed two weeks ago, the idea that red wines can only be paired with red meats is one that holds no truth at all. It is true that many red wines, specifically ones that are rich and full-bodied, are best with red meats such as fat-laden cuts of beef, lamb, venison, etc. However, this category of red wines is not all that the world of red wines has to offer. There are many red wines that are light and medium bodied, which pair very well with poultry, pork, and certain types of fish.

Some of the red varietals that fall into the light and medium bodied categories are Pinot Noir, Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Barbera. When choosing a red wine to be paired with fish, poultry, and “the other white meat” (pork), it is best to keep in mind the body of the wine, along the varietal. For example, some red Burgundy wine (made from Pinot Noir) may be too “big” of a wine for the halibut you are serving, but a lighter bodied Pinot Noir from Oregon or California may suit your needs better. On the note of fish with red wine, only a number of fish qualify to be paired with red wine. Light, white-fleshed fish such as sole, flounder and skate, along with most shellfish such as shrimp, oysters, and clams will be overpowered by almost any red wine. Scallops, halibut, monkfish, salmon, tuna, and snapper can be a nice complement to a light-medium bodied red wine. The idea here is that these types of fish are rich enough, as well as having enough fat content, to stand up to a red wine.

The same goes for poultry and pork. These meats are obviously lighter than red meats, but they still have enough complexity to stand up to a red wine. Fattier and darker types of poultry such as duck, goose, and thigh and leg meat from chicken are sometimes more suitable for a red wine than a red wine, depending on the preparation. For example, a roasted chicken would be equally good with a white Burgundy or a Washington State Merlot, but “Coq a Vin,” would pair much better with the Merlot, or any other medium bodied red wine for that matter.

The takeaway from this discussion is that no matter what you are eating, there is no “right or wrong” wine to have with your meal. With most food, you can probably pair either a red or white wine, and have an equally pleasurable experience. The one idea to keep in mind is to balance the food with the wine, in the flavors, as well as the complexity. So next time you’re having a meal, simply tell your local wine merchant what you are having, and what your are looking for, whether white or red wine, and you should leave with some sort of satisfaction.

As this is the last column of the year, I feel it might be in order to shed some light on my favorite style of wine, Champagne. Champagne as you know, is only Champagne if the wine is from the Champagne region of France. There is no such thing as “American Champagne”. These winemakers who put this on their label are just fooling themselves. The same is true for sparkling wine made in any other region outside of the Champagne region of France, which can only be called sparkling wine. Sparkling wine in Spain is called Cava in Spain, Prosecco in the Venato region of Italy, Sekt in Germany, and Cremant in French areas outside of Champagne.

On food and wine pairing, Champagne is the most versatile style of wine. With the many different Champagnes varieties of Champagne and sparkling wine, which are based on the level of residual sugar, these wines can be served with almost any food, whether red meat or raw oysters. For example, Blanc de Blancs Champagne is a superb pairing with shellfish and light bodied white fleshed fish, as is Blanc de Noirs with beef tenderloin, pork, and duck.

Lastly, the importance of Champagne and sparkling wine does not only serve the purpose of celebration; its serves the same purpose as any other wine, whether it be with food, or by itself. I drink Champagne and sparkling wine as much as economically possible. The craftsmanship and artistry that goes into these wines makes a product like none other. The “imposters,” by law, are still allowed to be sold. These chemically treated wines that sell for $5-$6 are some of the most unnatural beverages on the market. They go by the names of Tott’s, Andre, and J. Roget. There are economical alternatives to these wines. They include Cava, the sparkling wine from Spain, which ranges in price from $6 to $12, and Prosecco, sparkling wine from Veneto, which ranges in price from $9 to $15. In the future, consider these alternatives when contemplating whether an unbearable hangover from the “imposters” for $5 is really worth it. Spend a few extra dollars and enjoy the exceptional qualities of Champagne and sparkling wine. And to this year’s graduating class … salud!

Archived article by Stephen Asprinio