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

Recognizing Wine Attributes

One of my favorite wine-centric websites is by Madeline Puckette.  You may be familiar with Wine Folly for it’s creative visual education.

Over a year ago had a post on recognizing attributes in wine.  I did the suggested exercise and wrote about it for a wine column I had when I lived in Washington.  Recently I thought, “Why haven’t I shared this with my DeepRedCellar audience!”  So here you go, step-by-step directions to easily learn the basics of knowing what you taste in wine.

Start by purchasing a mid-range ($10-$15) bottle of dry red wine, a blend would be nice.  Pour five 3 oz. glasses of wine, using the same style glass.  Keep one glass of wine as your untouched dry red wine.  In one glass, soak one black tea bag for 10 minutes, remove the bag and stir to incorporate.  In one glass, squeeze the juice from half of lemon and stir to incorporate.  In one glass, pour 1 tsp. sugar, stir to incorporate.  In one glass, pour 1 tsp. vodka, stir to incorporate.  TO START EACH OF THE BELOW SECTIONS, TASTE YOUR UNTOUCHED WINE BY SWISHING IT AROUND IN YOUR MOUTH THEN SWALLOWING.

TANNIN:  Taste your tea infused wine by swishing it around in your mouth then swallowing.  You will immediately feel bitterness, followed by astringency on the front portion of your tongue, possibly like fine-grained sand paper.

ACIDITY:  Taste your lemon infused wine by swishing then swallowing.  Your mouth will pucker and water.  The wine will taste more astringent and tart, maybe more bitter.

SWEETNESS:  Taste your sugar infused wine by swishing then swallowing.  Pay attention here, the wine will not taste sweeter, but fruitier.  The wine will also have an oily sensation; this may take a second sip to feel.

ALCOHOL:  Taste your vodka infused wine by swishing then swallowing.  The wine will have a thicker mouth feel and may feel spicier and warm in your throat.  The warm feeling will linger.



How To Order Wine At A Restaurant

A restaurant wine list can be overwhelming, sometimes looking more like a catalog. Even worse is the swanky restaurant that has a wine list delivered by a sommelier…intimidating to say the least. But take a breath.  If a restaurant has a sommelier, thank them! The sommelier is there to help you! That should make you happy not intimidated. Talk with them on whatever level you are, and they will gladly meet you there.

Whether working with a sommelier or not, extensive wine lists should not be overwhelming. If you find yourself weaving through the pages of a wine list, here are a few tips to give you the upper hand.  You can use just one of the tips or use them all to narrow down your decision:

Choose a grape variety – a helpful website to learn about grapes is It will teach you information like, Merlot is pronounced “mur-lo,” it is a medium bodied, ruby colored wine tasting like cherry, plum and chocolate and pairs with pasta, grilled meat and chicken.  No internet? Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette is an excellent source (you should buy this book anyway, it’s a great reference).

Choose your style of wine – 

Sparkling (examples – Champagne, Cava, Prosecco)

Aromatic White (examples -Riesling, Gewurztraminer)

Light Bodied White (examples – unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio)

Full Bodied White (examples – oaked Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne)

Rosé (made with many varieties of grapes, think of style – fruity, dry)

Light Bodied Red (examples – Pinot Noir, Gamay)

Medium Bodied Red (Merlot, Grenache, Sangiovese)

Full Bodied Red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah)

Choose by pairing the wine with your food – this is personal but there are general rules, if you would like more information, I wrote a post about a year ago on the subject:

Choose by price point – if a sommelier or wait staff is involved, pointing to a general price on the menu is a tactful way to give the sommelier an idea of your price range.  This is especially helpful if you are on a first date or treating a group of people to wine and want to be incognito about how much you would like to spend.

Bottom line, it is your dining experience and your dollar, so take the time to make a decision that will make the occasion an enjoyable one.


Crazy Wine Descriptors

You have probably been around someone who uses crazy words to describe their wine. If you drink enough wine, you may be one of those people. So why do we use these terms? Wine descriptors help us put words to our wine. Imagine if someone were to ask you to describe what an apple tastes like. What would you say? It taste like an apple! The only way to describe the apple would be to come up with similarities or comparisons. When someone says a glass of wine tastes like black cherry, plum, dark chocolate and spice you can hear the words and know what they mean when you drink the wine.

So let’s break down some of those crazy descriptors:

Chewy/Furry – the wine has a ton of tannin and dries out your mouth so much that you almost feel like chewing; your mouth is dry to the point of being completely void of moisture and feels furry

Cigar/Cigar Box – usually found in refined red wines and is the presence of the smell/flavor of tobacco or tobacco leaves like a cigar; when it is slightly sweeter and has cedar wood and smoke, this is cigar box

Creamy – white wine or sparkling wine fermented or aged in oak that takes on a creamy feel in your mouth – the term buttery is also used (can be due to Malolactic Fermentation)

Grassy – it is actually legitimate when a person puts their nose in a glass of sauvignon blanc smells freshly mowed grass – that aroma in the wine shares the same chemical compound found in the smell of mowed grass

Green Pepper – some grapes carry the same savory aroma compound (pyrazines) as a bell pepper, especially Bordeaux origin grapes like sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc; the smell and taste will be similar to a cut bell pepper

Jammy – thick, cooked berry taste, smell and sometimes feel in the mouth often used to describe grenache, shiraz, and zinfandel

Leather – found in quality red wine because of tannin present in grape skins, seeds and oak barrels; tannins are also used to tan leather; smell and/or lick your belt or purse, you’ll get the idea

Toast – aroma due to wine being aged in toasted oak barrels; not bread toast, more like barely burnt caramel


The Nose Knows Wine!

Many people sniff wine before sipping. If you don’t, you may be perplexed by this seemingly improper behavior.

There is good reason for sniffing wine and it’s even considered proper. Think about when you wake to fresh brewed coffee…the aroma is so alluring! Even non-coffee drinkers appreciate the smell. That’s because our sense of smell is highly sensitive and impressively vast. Humans can detect thousands; some say trillions, of different scents. The sensory organ for the sense of smell is called the olfactory epithelium and contains millions of nerve cells that give the ability to enjoy aromas in coffee, food, wine, etc.

Our sense of taste is strikingly limited compared to our sense of smell. There are only five sensory properties associated with taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory, protein taste found in foods like aged cheeses or ketchup).   You may think you’re “tasting” flavors but it’s your nose flooding you with those aromas. To prove this, do a quick experiment with a raisin. Eat a raisin as you normally would then eat a second raisin while plugging your nose. You will notice the raisin you eat while plugging your nose taste only sweet (sensation associated with taste). It is not until you release your nose (even after swallowing) that the aromas come rushing through. That’s because the flavors you taste are due to the scents reaching the nose when the raisin is in your mouth.

The same is true for wine. Wine contains around 200 aromatic compounds and by sniffing into your glass, you can direct all those scents to the olfactory epithelium giving you enjoyment. This sense of smell will continue as you taste then swallow the wine. So don’t be shy, get your nose in the glass and sniff!


Understanding Wine Vintage


You know wine vintage is a year but exactly what year is it referring to? The year the wine grapes were picked? The year the wine was bottled? The year the wine was put on the retail shelves?

Big reveal: the vintage of a wine refers to the year the grapes for the wine were harvested. For example, grapes harvested this year, 2016, will have a vintage of 2016 even though the wine may require 3 years of aging and you will not see it on the retail shelves until 2019. The vintage date is not required by law to be on the label; however, most wineries include it either on the front or back of the label. Still wines almost always come from a single vintage.

Fortified and sparkling wines, like Champagne, usually tend to be non-vintage meaning the grapes are blended from more than one vintage to keep the wine a consistent “house style.” There are exceptions to this however, on the rare occasion when there is an extraordinary year, and the wine is bottled as a single vintage. This happens maybe three to five times a decade.

Besides knowing the meaning of vintage, why is it important to pay attention to wine vintage? The answer lies in the weather. The weather plays an important role from one vintage to another. What the weather condition is during the year will greatly affect the outcome of a wine – how much rain, cloud coverage, sunlight, fog, etc.   Poor weather conditions are not ideal for a vintage but a good winemaker can take those grapes and turn them into great wine. Excellent weather is a winemaker’s dream and can produce outstanding wine vintages (you will notice this in the price). By paying attention to very good vintages, you can reap the benefit by enjoying very good wine.


The Dish On Decanting

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetWhat does it mean to decant wine? Simply put, it means to transfer wine from the bottle to another container to make it taste better. Not all wine needs decanted, in fact, most doesn’t but the reasons for decanting are worth considering.

Inexpensive wine can have an off smell due to sulphur dioxide when you first open the bottle. Decanting will take away the smell.

Expensive wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, or Syrah may need tamed. Decanting the wine and letting it rest in the decanter for an hour or more will smooth tannins and round out the wine.

Young wine can benefit from decanting by exposing it to air and coaxing out aromas. Quickly splash the wine into the decanter to move it around. You will immediately notice the wine opening up. Letting it rest in the decanter for an hour or more will release even more aromas and flavors.

Aged wine can benefit from decanting due to the sediment inevitably found in the bottle. Decanting allows the sediment to be separated from the wine. Set the bottle upright for several hours to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom. Completely remove the foil capsule to make sure you can see through the neck of the bottle. Carefully remove the cork. With the decanter in one hand and the bottle in the other, slowly pour the wine from the bottle into the decanter. It is important not to splash the wine while pouring so you do not loose the delicate aromas and flavors that have developed with the age of the wine. Once you start to see the sediment in the neck of the bottle, stop pouring. Those delicate aromas and flavors tend to dissipate quickly with older vintages so enjoy your aged beauty immediately after decanting.


I’m Back!


I have taken quite the hiatus (only 3+ years!) but decided it’s time to get this website back up and running again.  I’ve dusted off the cobwebs, given it a new look, one that should be easy to read whether on your phone or computer and plan to fill it with life again.  I hope you enjoy!


Jesus & Wine

pouring red wine in glasses

In case you’ve ever doubted your (responsible) wine consumption…

The two beverages Jesus drank were water…….. and wine, red wine specifically.

A small amount of red wine was customarily consumed after dinner to kill bacteria, parasites, etc.

Doesn’t that just make your passion for the red stuff all that more compelling!