A night of food and wine pairing

Photo by Daniela Walter

Daniela Walter/Columnist

The wine selection, the food and the budget were the first thing that came to mind last Friday when I was hired to do my first wine selection for a birthday dinner.

When you have a menu preselected, it is easier to do the matching. If you are going to a restaurant and the party size is bigger than four, the wine selection can be challenging, so choosing the wine that the host likes the most might be the best solution.

If you are the host, and you know the taste of your guests, the proper thing to do would be for you to order what they like to drink. As a result, it would magically pair with the food they have chosen.

For this birthday party, I worked with a preselected menu and I knew both of the hosts, which made my job easier when selecting the wines. The only challenge I faced was the budget. I had to take into consideration how many people would be attending.

The math for serving it is easy. Usually a glass would be considered around five ounces. A bottle has 750 ml, which equals to 25 oz, or five servings. If you divide the number of guests by five, you will get the number of bottles needed. In my case, I had 10 people to pour, resulting in two bottles per course.

Matching food and wine is more than science. It is the understanding of the main components in food, which are sweet, sour, salty and bitter, and the main in wine: sweet, sour and bitter. The combination of these two create a synergistic match between them. Generally, one should not overwhelm the other, but rather compliment. As an example, food with high acidity and a heavy body should be paired with a wine with similar characteristics (like pasta al pomodoro with a Chianti) Food with light body and high acidity, such as a ceviche, should be paired with a wine that has similar characteristics, like a Sauvignon Blanc.

When matching food and wine, you should consider other components as well, such as texture, use of meat, particular flavor, spiciness, etc.

To find the ideal wine and create a perfect combination with the food it is a challenge as well as a pleasure.

In my case, the host was not a big fan of white, so to accommodate her taste I decided to only do reds. Because big and bold wines are not her favorite, I went to a medium-light body selection.

Here is the menu I had to work with:

Appetizer: Crostini of goat cheese and sundried tomato

The main course: Penne al Pesto

Dessert: Homemade blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream.

My wine selection for the first course was a Pinot Noir, very elegant and considered the lightest of the red category. It is usually a medium-light wine with subtle tannin and mild acidity.

Affordable: Kudos 2011 with an alcohol percentage of 13.8 from Willamette Valley, OR; $15.99.

My favorite: Peter Paul 2010 with an alcohol percentage of 14.3 from Russian River Valley, Mills Road, CA; $40.

My wine selection for the second course: Zinfandel.

It is little heavier than the previous one, but with an outstanding balance between acidity, tannin and sugar this wine was the best of the night. Its tones of raspberry and pepper made it very easy to drink, producing the perfect match for the second course.

Affordable: Alterra 2011 with an alcohol percentage of 13 from Sonoma County, CA; $14.99.

My favorite: Williams Selyem – Bacigalupi Vineyard 2009 with an alcohol percentage of 14.9 from Russian River Valley, CA; $80.

My wine selection for the third and last course: Moscato D’asti.

Affordable and one of my favorites: Beviamo 2011 with an alcohol percentage of 11 from Asti, Piedmont DOCG, Italy; $15. It is semi-sweet with lightly sparkling notes, golden pale with a crisp freshness, elegant floral aromas and delicate flavors of peaches and apricots. Always pick a wine that is less sweet than the dessert you will serve.

– Daniela Walter is a Teaching Assistant to professors Chip Cassidy and Bill Hebrank of the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.

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