The Essentials of Food, Wine Pairing as Taught by Chef Saad

Photo:Cuvee Corner Wine Blog

“If the pairing works, you’ll be in taste heaven.”

Who would like a glass of milk with their pizza? Blecch. Now you get the essence of food and wine pairing. This is the summer for you to experiment with opening your palate.

A few weeks ago, a keynote address given at the Wine Bloggers Conference featured Chef Jeffrey Saad. Chef Saad was the 2009 runner-up on season five of the TV show, “The Next Food Network Star.” He had a few tips about wine and food pairings, and then 300 bloggers converged on tables holding an assortment of new and old world style wines, each with a perfect pairing.

“Think of wine as an additional condiment,” said Chef Saad. French fries with ketchup – the condiment concept – helps you get the sense of what he means. “The whole idea of pairings is the balance of those tastes coming together.”

The ritual Chef Saad recommends to truly appreciate a wine and food pairing are: 1) sip the wine, 2) take a bite of the food, and 3) while the food is still on your tongue, take another sip of the wine. If the pairing works, you’ll be in taste heaven.

A few no-brainer pairing tips are these:

• The protein and fat in meats mean that the tannin in red wines always complement those foods.
• Pairing sweet with sweet always works, such as dessert with dessert wines.

• Aged cheeses go well with red wines, or try a soft creamy cheese with a Beaujolais.

• Red wines and chocolate, particularly dark chocolate. Try pairings with a Zinfandel, a wine from the southern Rhone area or a Grenache, syrah and mourvèdre blend.

• A brilliant pairing is an oloroso style of sherry with marcona almonds. You can find these almonds at Whole Foods. They are a bit pricy, but worth every penny.

• Artichokes and Grüner Veltliner.

• Roasted bell peppers with Cabernet.

• Whole roast pig, served perhaps with a tomatillo salsa? Try a Sangiovese or a Tempranillo.

If in doubt, go with geography. If you are in an Italian restaurant and uncertain, then order an Italian wine. “There’s a reason they grow up together,” Chef Saad says.

What wines can you look to for a palate-opening experience this summer?

Chef Saad gives this list below as an “all time safe no-brainer” list:

• Viognier. Wonderful with practically everything. But not steak.

• Dry Rosé . It has just enough acid, just enough fruit and a bit of a tannic nature.

• Champagne. Particularly off-dry champagne. Try a Prosecco with caviar. It’s a low alcohol wine, so it doesn’t get in the way of salt. And, it has a bit of sweetness.

• Barbera. This is one wine that is off the beaten track and surprising.

• Grüner Veltliner. It can pair with practically anything, so long as it is not a heavy food.

For more on Chef Saad’s food and wine pairings, visit

What do you serve to a discerning group like wine bloggers? Chef Bear of the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla, Wash., prepared some wonderful bites, matched with interesting wines suppliled by Winebow. The list:

Kris Pinot Grigio 2009, Tre Venezie, Italy, served with spot prawn salsa with white peach and peppercorn caramel.

Cousino Macul Sauvignon Grist 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile, paired with a chicken skewer with white balsamic vanilla marinade, on chayote slaw with micro cilantro.

Tilia Torrontes 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, paired with Phyllo bouchee with monteillet chevre, pistachio and chestnut honey.

Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand, served with gravlox on endive, garnished with crème fraiche, ikura and fried capers.

Clean Slate Riesling 2009, Mosel, Germany, paired with Ahi Poke, and white soy on an apricot namusu.

Rioja Vega Reserva 2004, La Rioja, Spain, served with pork belly and pea vines with saffron scented stock.

There were more. I could go on, but I’m still on the treadmill trying to work off the calories...

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© 2010 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of
The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: "Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.

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