Local Chefs Give Pairings Advice

“White with fish, red with beef.” That has long been the go-to rule when choosing wine with your meal. However, Tim Vlahopoulos, General Manager and in-house wine expert for Axia Taverna in Tenafly, said there are so many wine varieties and so many potential food pairings, the red/white rule is now inadequate.

dreamstime_m_57441004“Each variety of wine has its own unique taste and quality,” Vlahopoulos said, adding that Axia’s extensive list boasts about 360 different wines. “To just say ‘red’ or ‘white’ would be to deny oneself of wonderful possibilities.”

Wines, both white and red, comprise several elements: acidity, tannins, alcohol content, fruitiness and sweetness. Likewise, foods also have their unique flavor components, such as salt, sugar, bitter, fat, etc. The ideal wine/food pairings complement the other’s flavors and enhance the richness and textures of every bite.

Beers and ales also are brewed with different flavor additives and seasonal ingredients, and are designed to appeal to a variety of tastes and food choices. North Bergen-based New Jersey Beer Company’s Ari Bildner, general manager, and Mike Miles, sales manager, said selecting the right beer to go with one’s meal also depends on unique factors, such as emphasis on hops, malt or yeast, which in turn determine color, alcohol content and texture.

“We have begun to do beer pairings with some of the finer dining establishments in New Jersey, so it’s a growing trend,” said Bildner, noting a recent pairing in Atlantic City that featured oysters, fondue and pretzels, pork chops and tiramisu. Currently, New Jersey Beer Company produces nine distinct beers, including five seasonal choices.

Of course, it ultimately comes down to personal preferences. However, our experts weighed in on just a few of their recommendations for best enhancing the dining experience.

Fatty foods

Many of our favorite foods have high levels of fat, such as meat, dairy and those popular fried morsels that we find on so many appetizer menus. When selecting a wine, remember that it should balance that fat with a variety higher in tannin, or polyphenol, the naturally occurring compound in grape skins, stems and seeds that give a wine its dryness or stringency. Note: The level of tannin is determined by the length of time those skins, stems and seeds soak in the juice after the grape is pressed. Red wines typically have stronger tannins but they are also found in white wines aged in wooden barrels.

Vlahopoulos: Agiorgitiko, or St. George’s Grape, a lush variety from the southern Peloponnesian Islands of Greece. “A very versatile grape that can be produced as a varietal or blended with a Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Bildner and Miles: Hudson Pale Ale, made with hops grown in the Pacific Northwest. “Has a solid hops kick that delivers for the casual ale drinker and die-hard ‘hop-head’ alike. Has bold flavor but not over the top. Perfect with a juicy steak.”

Acidic foods

Acid is an element in both food and wine. Fish with a lemon sauce, tomato-based dishes and green salads are a few examples of acid-rich foods. When choosing a wine or ale, opt for one whose acidity level is at least equal to that of the food or your meal will overpower whatever you’re drinking.

Vlahopoulos: Aidani or Assyrtiko, grown in the volcanic rich soil of the island of Santorini. “Reminds me of a burgundy white.”

Bildner and Miles: 1787 Abbey Single Ale, a crisp, light and refreshing ale. “It’s malty and light and very approachable with anything because it doesn’t wipe out the flavors. Perfect for salads, chicken or fish.”

Salty foods

Salty foods can be difficult to pair with wine. Your best bet is to choose a wine that’s on the sweet side, like a sauterne, or an effervescent, like champagne. A full-bodied stout also goes well with starters, such as cheese and salty or cheesy crackers.

Bildner and Miles: Garden State Stout, brewed with Belgian dark chocolate, malts and “just enough hop character for balance, and a touch of raisin.”

Sweet foods

Sweet desserts and other sugary foods seem like the logical choice to pair with a sweet wine. But too much of a sweet thing can cancel the other out and mix flavors for an unpleasant result.

Remember, there are degrees of sweetness in both wines and foods. Pork chops with a fruit sauce, for instance, is delicious with white wines such as Chardonnay which has a hint of sweetness that balances the sauce. When it comes to desserts, opt for a wine that is sweeter than the dessert or even the sweetest of grapes can end up tasting tart.

Vlahopoulos: Moscato, a sweet sometimes bubbly white wine that’s ideal with fruity desserts or poured right over fresh berries. Or Commandaria, an amber-colored sweet dessert wine that tastes “a bit like sherry.”

Bildner and Miles: Seasonal ales, such as New Jersey Beer Company’s “Chairman of the Gourd” offering, a pumpkin brew that is “not a full-on pumpkin pie but has the same aroma with a beer backdrop.” They also suggest their Bergenline Brown Ale to finish off a meal.

Classic pairings

Here are a few other suggested food and wine pairings:

Chardonnay: turkey, pork, veal, white fish, butter sauces, risotto
Pinot Noir: mushrooms, grain breads, legumes, ham
Dry Rosé: spicy seafood stew, prosciutto, sweet onions and peppers
Pinot Grigio: tuna, salmon, mild Asian dishes, lighter pasta dishes
Merlot: grilled foods, warm spices, milder cuts of beef such as tenderloin
Cabernet Sauvignon: well-marbled beef, stews, pot roasts, pasta with red sauces

How about with a big, juicy burger? “Can’t go wrong with a nice IPA,” said Bildner.

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