Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Virginia Food and Wine Pairings You Should Try


By Matthew Fitzsimmons

Virginia Food and Wine Pairings You Should Try

Food and wine – two of our favorite subjects. The concept is the two react with one another, so finding the right pairings makes the overall experience more enjoyable. While you can enjoy either on its own, like any great team a good pairing is greater than the sum of its parts.

The most important rule of pairing is this; drink the wine you like with the food you like. If you enjoyed the two of them, you did it right.

That said, here are some tips for those who want to apply a more nuanced approach to food and wine pairings.

Rules of Wine Pairing

There are two approaches to food and wine pairing; congruent and contrasting. Congruent pairings create balance by amplifying shared flavor compounds (often found with red wine). Contrasting pairings create balance by contrasting tastes and flavors (usually white, rosé, or sparkling).

Regardless of which approach you take, remember these basic rules:

1. Acid needs acid. As a general rule acidic wines are food-friendly, as they intensify the meal’s flavor and cause a drying sensation which stimulates your appetite. This is why light seafood dishes go well with delicate white wines, such as Pinot Grigio or cool weather Chardonnay. Likewise, acid-rich Italian reds like Sangiovese pair well with acidic tomato dishes. Always ensure the wine is more acidic than the food it’s paired with.

2. Fat needs tannin (or acid). Fat will soften the tannins in wine for a smoother mouth feel. The fattier the food (like duck or steak) the more tannin you need. Acidic wines also pair well with fatty food; otherwise the wine may seem flabby. Sparkling wine is another great way to cut the fat. Actually, sparkling pairs with everything!

3. Sweet needs sweeter (not dry): You want the wine to be sweeter than the dessert it’s paired with, else the wine will taste dull by comparison. Another route is to try a contrasting pairing of a sweet wine with a savory dish, such as foie gras or blue cheese.

4. Pair with dominant flavor (not necessarily the meat): White wine pairs with less intense dishes, like fish or chicken, while red pairs with bold dishes, such as flavored meats. But sometimes it’s not the main ingredient that provides the dominant flavor, as is the case of a spicy curry dish or a creamy pasta sauce. And remember – food has a greater impact on wine than wine has on food, so plan accordingly.

5. Spicy needs sweet (not alcohol): Your perception of sweetness is altered with the introduction of spicy flavors. A sweeter, lower alcohol wine will balance a spicy dish, while higher alcohol wine intensifies spiciness. Serving a chilled wine is another way to alleviate the heat of highly spiced dish.

6. Salty needs sweet (or acid). Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness. If sweet wines aren’t your thing, then pair a salty dish with a low tannin, higher acid dry wine. It is easier to find these characteristics in white wines, but there are plenty of Virginia wineries that produce fruit-forward reds.

Suggested Virginia Pairings

2013 Vintner’s Reserve from Chateau O’Brien with prime rib. Chateau O’Brien in Delaplane is Virginia’s leader in Tannat wine. Unlike most Virginia wineries, their reds are aged at least 6 years before going on the tasting menu, allowing plenty of time for these high tannin wines to mellow out. I loved how this 50/50 Tannat & Petit Verdot blend cut through the fat, while the food simultaneously softened the wine’s tannins.

Royalty or Rosa Negra port-style wines from Fabbioli Cellars with chocolate. Fabbioli is famous as one of the few Virginia wineries that offer food and wine pairings, which range from pear wine with an apricot marmalade mix served on a cracker, to Tannat with a sopressata salami and spicy plumb chutney, to Chambourcin with prosciutto wrapped in asparagus.

While the pairings change monthly, one combo you can always depend upon is a port-style wine with chocolate from the Perfect Truffle. Milk chocolate is often a complementary pairing, while a more bitter dark chocolate provides an intense contrasting flavor.

2017 Bell Mount Reserve Chardonnay from Mount Ida Vineyards with oysters. Chardonnay and oysters is a classic combo, and cool climate style Chardonnays like Mount Ida’s work best. Mount Ida also has its own full service farm-to-table kitchen, making it a great place to sample any number of Virginia food and wine pairings.

2017 Viognier from Nicewonder Farm with duck pastrami. While congruent food and wine pairings are easier to make, Chef Travis Milton of Nicewonder Farm does an amazing job at creating contrasting flavors. Their Viognier has a hint of minerality which rounds out the fat of his duck pastrami. Not only did this full bodied Viognier tone down the pepper, the dish brought out tropical notes that made the wine lighter on the palate.

2019 Vidal Blanc from Rock Roadhouse Winery with brie and blue cheese. Vidal doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, which is a shame since its hardy grape that’s dependable regardless of the growing season. While often found as a semi-sweet wine, dry Vidal pairs well with savory cheese plates. Rock Roadhouse also stands out for its production of ‘natural wines’; made with minimal chemical intervention including little to no sulfites.

2017 Petit Verdot from Rogers Ford Farm Winery with lamb. Rogers Ford is the definition of a ‘hidden gem’ in the Virginia wine scene. Winemaker Johnny Puckett isn’t afraid to experiment, but my go-to wine is his Petit Verdot, which I found exceptionally fruit-forward for such a high-tannin grape. It was a great complimentary tasting to this spicy dish, although it would go equally well with salty Virginia ham.

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon from Shenandoah Vineyards with a meat lover’s pizza. I love this combo as Cabernet cancels out the fattiness of the meat toppings. Winemaker Michael Shaps is one of the best in the state, and Shenandoah has a great track record for its Cabernet.

2017 Walsh Family Wine Bethany Ridge with sushi. There are lots of great Virginia wine pairings for sushi, but this Sauvignon Blanc might be my favorite because it bright acidity goes well with fish-heavy dishes. If you want a more floral wine, try their 2019 Twin Notch Sauvignon Blanc and pair it with Thanksgiving turkey.

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