4 Essential Tips for Paring Food With Napa Valley Wines
Planning an upcoming Napa Wine Tasting Tour? Here are the most essential tips for pairing the best food with your Napa Valley wines. Let’s face it; the perfect companion wine can step up any meal, taking a good one to great and a great one completely off the charts. Some people look for an easy 1, 2, 3 formula for food and wine pairing, but unfortunately those have proven elusive. Often, the best wine is one that counterbalances a food, such as a lighter-bodied white with richer international fare. Even that isn’t a sure thing, though, because sometimes you need a fuller, richer wine to hold up to a strong tasting or textured dish.
As a general rule, you can go by:
- Higher-acidic wines, high-tannin wines, bitter or dry wines, and wines with higher levels of alcohol go nicely with fatty foods (duck or fried food) and sweet dishes (not just desserts, but also naturally sweet foods, like fruits and root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes).
- Lower-acidic wines pair better with salty and savory foods (the acidity and salty tend to fight flavor-wise).
- Typically, people tend to serve white wines with white meats (like poultry and seafood), and red wines with red meats (like beef and buffalo). But feel free to break this tradition! A nice dry Merlot is excellent with sweet and sour pork chops, while a crispy Sauvignon Blanc is the ideal companion to a delectable rare steak. You’re the food and wine boss, so your taste rules!
Honestly, if you have excellent food and great wine, you can’t actually go wrong. Most of the articles out there help you pair a food with the wine you already have. But maybe you’re just getting ready to go on a Napa Valley wine tour, and you’re looking for some great wines to go with the foods you already enjoy and serve regularly. This article helps you choose a great Napa Valley wine based on your own culinary appetite. Enjoy!
Strongly-Flavored Meats & Poultry Dishes
Perhaps you’re a master griller, or enjoy strongly flavored dishes like well-seasoned red meats, wild game, hearty stews, barbecue (beef, pork, or chicken), burgers, meatloaf, and other foods heavy on the seasoning and flavor. There are several options you can pick up on your Napa Valley wine tour, including:
- Cabernet Sauvignon provides a refreshing balance to the heavier flavors like red meat and hearty savory dishes. It’s a widely grown red, produced by the breeding of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and was actually discovered by French growers quite by mistake. But all’s well that ends well, and it’s now one of the world’s most popular varieties. It’s heavy on the tannins and dry in flavor, but you’ll find that the individual wines vary considerably from one Napa grower to the next, so sample several before deciding on your favorite.
- Petite Sirah also pairs well with strong flavors, but for a different reason. Its bold flavor holds up well among competing tastes and textures. Petite Sirah shouldn’t be confused with Syrah grape or the Napa wines produced from it. Petite Sirah is a grape produced by a combination of Syrah and Peloursin. Peloursin is extremely rare, only growing in a few spots in the French Alps. Northern California is actually among only a few places where Petite Sirah is grown widely. Balance peppery dishes with Petite Sirah, as well as stronger flavored cheeses and even roasted or grilled meats.
- Petit Verdot pairs well with the strong flavors of grilled meats, including wild game, and strongly flavored cheeses, like gouda and extra sharp cheddar. It’s noted for its heavy tannins, and is a cousin to Bordeaux, but isn’t grown much in the Bordeaux region of France because it’s notorious for maturing late, usually after other wine grapes have already been harvested. Petit Verdot is a heavy wine that holds up to heavy foods, tasting of the black-colored fruits like plumb, black cherry, blackberry, and blueberry. Be sure to include a Petit Verdot grower in your Napa Valley wine tour.
- Merlot is a red wine that’s often noted for its dark, fruity flavors. Its heartiness makes it a perfect pair to zesty steaks, savory burgers, hearty beef stews, and flavor-intensive casseroles (think Shepherd’s Pie). Some Merlots are sweeter, others are quite dry. You can use this variation to widen your wine and food pairings, balancing sweeter dishes with a dry Merlot and heartier dishes with a sweeter Merlot.
Mildly-Flavored Meats, Poultry & Seafood
Maybe you prefer roasting your meats, or enjoy lighter fare like white meats and poultry. If so, you don’t need the heavy reds to balance your fare. Vegetarians also need wines to pair well with foods that don’t lean on meats and meat fats for flavor. Try …
- Chardonnay is the world’s most popular wine, and is among the most widely grown and sold wines in Napa Valley. However, this versatile, silky white wine often gets a bad rap because it’s sometimes aged in oak barrels a bit too much. Many wine drinkers don’t like Chardonnay that’s “over-oaked,” so Napa growers have responded by offering unoaked Chardonnay. It pairs beautifully with both milder dishes, like vegetable soup, shrimp, and chicken salad, as well as heartier fare, such as curry, pasta dishes, fatty fish like salmon, and seafood dishes swimming in rich sauces, such as bisque. Chardonnay is also versatile enough to hold up to mustardy dishes, as well as hearty chowders. Try both the oaked and unoaked Chardonnay and see which you prefer. Most Napa growers that offer unoaked Chardonnay are sure to include it in their wine tastings.
- Sauvignon Blanc is a fruity, floral white, with high acidity and noted for its crisp freshness. It pairs marvelously with more delicate flavors like lighter fish, vegetables, dishes made using fresh herbs, and tangy dairy like sour cream, yogurt, and buttermilk. The fruitiness of Sauvignon Blanc also nicely balances out those tangier dishes, like sourdough bread and recipes made with sour cream, yogurt, or buttermilk.
- Cabernet Franc is a blended wine, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s medium-bodied and savory, often noted for its bell-peppery flavor. High in acidic content, it is an extraordinary match for roasted meats, poultry, fish and seafood, as well as many of the soft cheeses.
- Strongly-Flavored International Cuisine
Do you love to try brave international recipes that lean heavily on intense spices, strong peppers, or rich sauces?
- Many international dishes; including Mexican and Indian, and even those of the Southwestern U.S. (TexMex) call for a lower-acidity wine, such ad Douce Noir. Douce Nior is also known as Bonarda or Charboro, and features only a moderate alcoholic content (so it’s perfect for those who don’t drink so often). It’s an aromatic wine, though, so it provides that lovely “bouquet” to impress even your experienced wine drinking guests. It’s a late-ripening grape that isn’t widely grown around the world, so definitely grab a bottle on your Napa wine tour, because you can’t always get it just anywhere.
- A spicy red Petite Sirah also balances nicely with these powerful flavors, especially those found in Greek cuisine. Petite Sirah also features an impressively deep red color, and tannins galore. All this will impress your wine-loving foodie friends, we promise. It’s much less well-known than most of the wines on this list, so ask to visit a grower and producer when you book your Napa Valley wine tour.
- Zinfandel wines are available in both red and white. When you absolutely can’t decide on a perfect food pairing (or you’re trying an entirely new dish, and really aren’t sure what to prepare for), an excellent solution is to offer both a white and red Zinfandel. Zinfandel has a relatively low alcohol content (perfect when you’re trying to dissuade excessive drinking at your gathering), and provides a medium level of boldness — not too overpowering for your lighter dishes, nor too bland for your bolder cuisine. Red Zinfandel is noted for its fruitiness (a safe bet for less experienced drinkers) and white provides a refreshing crispiness that’s ideal for cleansing the palette when you’re serving strong, bold flavors. If you’re offering multiple entrees or are serving buffet style, a bottle each of red and white Zinfandel is the ideal solution.
Earthy Flavors Like Mushrooms, Lentils & Beets
Earthy flavors are like licorice: you either love ’em or hate ’em. If you adore earthy flavors like mushrooms, cumin, bay leaves, lentils, and beets, there’s a perfect wine pairing for your favorite foods …
- Pinot Noir, which is a lightly savory wine that pairs well with earthy flavors like mushrooms, lentils, and beets or beetroot. It’s a red wine, and it’s name is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black,” respectively.
Booking your first Napa wine tour? You’ve come to the right place! Allow the experts at Allure Wine Tours to help you plan and enjoy the perfect Napa limo wine tour for your taste in wine and your unique appetite for new experiences. We can help you learn more about the popular wines, like Chardonnay, or escort you to experience some of the hidden gems, like Douce Noir and Petit Sirah. Ready? Set? Call Allure today!