Pairings You Should Know

Several months ago, I wrote an article on guidelines for wine and food pairing and recently, one of my favorite readers (Joe, aka husband 😉 ) requested an article on specific pairings.

The “Classic” list below is pairings that most wine industry people agree on and is wine 101 knowledge. The “Mainstream” list is pairings many consider “no fails.” If you are beginning your journey in wine the lists will, at the very least, give you a jumping off point. I encourage you to branch out from the wines stated as many producers from around the globe are spinning similar takes on traditional wines.  When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to pair food and wine from the same region.


  1. Oysters & Chablis ~ Chablis: unoaked Chardonnay from the Chablis region, France (Champagne is also a great option with oysters)
  2. Foie Gras & Sauternes ~ Sauternes: made using Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes affected by Boytritis (Noble Rot) from the Graves region in Bordeaux, France
  3. Caviar & Champagne ~ Champagne: sparkling wine made using primarily Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes that have been produced following a strict set of rules (to include secondary fermentation) in the Champagne region, France
  4. Goat Cheese & Sancerre ~ Sancerre: Sauvignon Blanc from the eastern part of the Loire Valley, France
  5. Stilton Cheese & Port ~ Port: fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley, Portugal
  6. Steak & Big Reds ~ Big Reds: a mouthful of tannic deliciousness ex. Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, red Bordeaux



  1. Mushrooms & Red Burgundy ~ Red Burgundy: Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region, France often having mushroom notes
  2. BBQ (Pork or Beef) & California Zinfandel ~ Zinfandel: a full-bodied red wine from California known for it’s spicy character (Italian Primitivo is the same varietal)
  3. Lobster with drawn butter & oaked California Chardonnay ~ oaked CA Chardonnay: white wine of Chardonnay grapes that have spent time aging in oak barrels, often new French oak
  4. Osso Bucco & Barolo or Barbaresco ~ Barolo / Barbaresco: Nebbiolo wine from the Piedmont region, Italy; Barolo is heavier and is a region about 10km from Barbaresco, where the Nebbiolo grape is a bit more elegant

Secrets to Italian Wine

After living in Italy for 3 years and learning as much as I could about Italian wine I figured out a few keys that may be helpful for people trying to unlock the secrets to Italian wine and find something really good to drink.

It was an arduous task…tasting, traveling and conversing but I was able to work through it and set up a delectable nearly 500 bottle wine collection. So let me fill you in on a few important keys to consider when purchasing Italian wine.

Inexpensive Is Good

Now don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of delicious bottles of Brunello di Montalcinos, Amarones, Barolos and Barbarescos in the Italian wine market but if the recession is catching up with you do not despair – your days of craving complex, bold, beautiful Italian wine will not have to come to an end.  The wonderful thing about Italian wine is there are many that cost sub $20 and are really rather lovely.  For example, if you like the spice of Zinfandel – try a Primitivo from Puglia or if you prefer Sauvignon Blanc – try a Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino from Campania.

Don’t Let Classification Fool You

In the states American wine classification is not as widely prominent as for European wines which deem their classifications quite important.  The whole classification system could take pages to explain so let me just briefly give you the guidelines for the Italian classification system (which is designated on the wine bottle).

The system has a 4 tier structure which labels the lowest level as basic table wine (VdT or vino da tavola), the next higher level as wine having a specific geographic indication (IGT or indicazione geografica tipica), the third highest level being DOC (denominazione di originie controllata) meaning it not only grows vineyards in a specific geographical area but follows several other quality control guidelines and the final and highest level DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) means the wine is not only controlled it is also guaranteed.  This designation is usually set for the historical wines of the country.

For you visual folks out there it looks like this:

I’m giving you the wine pyramid basically to tell you to toss it out the window when buying Italian wine.  Why?  Have you ever heard of Super Tuscan wines?  These are highly regarded wines yet they are not DOCG or even DOC wines – they dwell on the second to the lowest level of the wine pyramid as IGT wines.  So don’t be fooled there are many excellent Italian wines with the IGT or even the VdT classification that could blow your socks off.

Plan A Trip

I am sure many of you would kill for a trip to Italy and let me encourage you to try to make that become a reality but not just because of it’s historical claim or the great food.  The real key to finding great Italian wine is in visiting the country.  Not only because there are hundreds of small family run wineries that don’t import any of their fabulous wine but also because if you go over there and drive up to one of these small wineries, you take with you not only some fabulous wine but probably a full belly, a new friend and a memory that can’t be beat!



The Best Stocking Stuffer Ever!

I received the best stocking stuffer ever this year for Christmas…..a bottle of 2005 *Gaja Barbaresco!  Who would do that?  Who would put such a pretigious gift in with miscellaneous crackers, m&m’s and magazines?  I tell you who… awesome husband, that’s who!

Christmas dinner was quiet at our house this year. We had an intimate family setting of just me, my husband and our daughter (i.e. only 2 drinking age adults! 😉 ). It was as if I had planned for this gift well in advance. The menu was simple – grilled filet mignon, sauteed green beans and oven roasted potatoes.  My husband is a grill master so the steaks were cooked to carnivorous perfection.  And somehow, the garlic splashed, sauteed green beans and roasted potatoes seemed to turn out perfectly as well.

About an hour before dinner, we opened and decanted this lovely red.  Of course, I probably should admit that we couldn’t help but have a teeny taste right away.  When we sat down to dinner, we thanked God for our many blessings, poured, looked, swished, smelled and sipped.  This barbaresco was young when we drank it but it lived up to the Gaja name as usual with a beautiful ruby red color. I can see where more aging would greatly enhance it. It had medium body with berry, licorice and spicy notes. The tannins delicately sliced through the steak and the finish was long.

As I write this, I believe I’ve come down with a case of the flu.  Regrettably, that means I won’t be having any gourmet food or wine for a little while.  In the meantime, I’ll have to live vicariously through the memory of our great Christmas dinner and the best stocking stuffer ever!

*If you’d like to know more about Gaja wines, click on the June 2009 archives.


Oh The Opportunities! – GAJA Winery

Oh the opportunities that have come my way since coming to Italy in April 2007. I have been taking them all in with utter amazement. The experiences and adventures have been just incredible.

One such experience took place in May while traveling through the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. My husband, me and some of our favorite wine-crazed friends, the Stockermans, were on our way to Burgundy. We stopped over in the famous town of Barbaresco just to have a look around (by the way, the expanse of vineyards flowing over the land enroute was absolutely beautiful). It was a rainy day but the town was still welcoming with its quaint shops and picturesque streets. We spotted an Enoteca opened and excitedly parked our cars across the street. Upon exiting our car, we became even more excited when we spotted the GAJA winery right next door to the Enoteca! Oh my goodness! I can’t even begin to tell you the adrenaline rush to literally stumble on such a prestigious find! We went into the Enoteca and my friend, Cathy (who thankfully speaks fluent Italian), asked if GAJA was open for tours. The lady behind the counter graciously offered to call and ask. She said they usually do not give public tours but by nothing short of a miracle, we were given the opportunity for one.

Let me take a moment to give you a little history – Four generations of GAJAs have been producing wine in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy’s Langhe hills since 1859. That is the year Giovanni GAJA founded GAJA Winery in Barbaresco. Today, the winery is owned by Angelo GAJA. Besides combining respect for traditions with bold innovations in the vineyards and cellars, Angelo also introduced GAJA wines to the foreign markets. In addition, he recently started introducing wines, spirits, and accessories such as wine coolers, decanters & wine glasses to Italy through “GAJA Distribuzione.” Angelo’s wife, Lucia, and 3 children, Gaia, Rossana & Giovanni also work with him. In fact, Gaia GAJA officially joined the winery in 2005 making her the fifth generation of GAJAs to work at the winery. Besides the 250 acres of vineyards GAJA has in Barbaresco and Barolo, they have added 40 acres of vineyards in the Tuscan town of Montalcino and 250 acres in Tuscany’s Bolgheri district. Guido Rivella is the very talented winemaker for all three of these estates (a busy man no doubt).

So there we went. We arrived at a large, ominous door which began to creak open and expose the vast, beautiful business structures with views of the vineyards beyond. We walked in and were showed a room to wait in until someone came for us. We were sitting there so giddy with glee, it was hard to actually take in the whole gamut of where we were, what we were doing, etc.

As if we were at the end of the rainbow, luck was continuing to overwhelm us. Our tour guide showed up and introduced herself as Sonia, Angelo GAJA’s personal assistant! Sonia was a delight and spent a generous amount of her time taking us all over this lovely winery. And I do mean lovely, the building where the press, tanks, and barrels, etc. dwell were decorated as if on the pages of “Architectural Digest.” Beautiful sculptures, lighting, wall hangings – even the floors were shiny, black and uniquely exquisite. We were shown an art gallery on the premises that displayed several wonderful pieces (there was a painting I would’ve loved to have in my home 🙂 ).

As our tour came to an end, we were taken into yet another beautiful room where a tasting was set up for us. Ok, I know I keep going on with ridiculous adjectives to describe this whole experience, but the wines we were able to taste were absolutely divine. We tasted 5 wines:

Sori Tildin 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Costa Russi 1997 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Sori San Lorenzo 1997 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Conteisa 1997 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Rennina 2001 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

It would take a whole other post to describe this tasting so let me just say – SPECTACULAR!!!

As you can tell, I was awestruck by this day in the life of living in Italy. I can hardly wait to see what adventure awaits us around the next corner…..just not sure if it can top this one!

If you ever have the opportunity to pick up a bottle of GAJA wine, you must! This is the time to splurge (prices range from $40-$350+). Here’s a great source that carries some of the exact wines I tasted (or similar vintages) –  Also, you can click on my “snooth” search window.  Buy a bottle for a special occasion or to open for a time you want to remember for years to come -the wine will actually help make your special occasion even more memorable. I would be remiss if I didn’t inform you that your life will not be complete without it. 🙂