About UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us

ZD Wines, California (United States) Chardonnay 2019 ($42)
 For half a century, ZD has produced Chardonnays that combine the opulence of fruit with a rich texture and maintain a refreshing character.  The 2019 ZD California Chardonnay continues this successful tradition.  Because it is drawn from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, Arroyo Seco and Carneros, it has only a California designation.  Its quality, however, far exceeds most examples from appellations within California.  The bouquet is rich and forward, with ripe apple, pineapple, guava and citrus fruits underlain by intriguing floral and baking spice hints.  The flavors are live up to the promise of the nose.  Lovely tropical fruit, apple and pear flavors are backed by hints of rich lemon, vanilla and nutmeg.  It has a buttery and creamy texture that is enhanced by the lemon and subtle spice nuances that linger at the finish.  When you want a buttery, rich, classic California Chardonnay, the 2019 ZD Chardonnay will fill the bill.              
94 Wayne Belding


Posted by Michael Franz on November 27, 2022 at 11:59 AM

Dining Season Tips for Pairing Wines with Foods

With December just around the corner, along with lots of entertaining and office parties and end-of-year holidays, you might benefit from some wine pairing principles that will greatly ensure your odds for success.  Getting good pairings is really not difficult if you keep a few key ideas in mind, and the ideas that are most helpful are neither difficult to remember nor confining when you're buying in a retail shop or choosing from a restaurant wine list:

1)  Get Robustness in Balance:  This is by far the single most important point.  A good marriage between wine and food entails an equal partnership in which neither participant dominates the other.  If the wine overwhelms the food (as Cabernet overwhelms oysters, for example), the result is a failure.  If the wine cannot hold its own with the food (as Sauvignon Blanc cannot hold up to steak), it cannot contribute to an enjoyable match.  Balance is our goal, but what exactly are we trying to balance?  In a word, the robustness of the food and the wine.  Drawn out a bit, this means that the sheer "size" and flavor impact of the two must be roughly proportional for a good match to result.

This is not so hard to achieve.  Anybody who eats can distinguish the differing robustness levels of different foods, and even a novice taster needs just a sip to learn that certain grapes and growing regions produce "bigger" or "smaller" wines that can be sized appropriately to any dish.

2)  Forget Color:  The old rule of pairing white wines with fish and red with meat will, if you think about it, often run afoul of the rule of getting robustness in balance.  The fact is that a thick, grilled tuna steak is more robust than thin, sautéed slices of veal tenderloin.  Many people will find that a light red like Pinot Noir works much better than a white with that tuna steak, just as a substantial white may be a better choice than a red for the veal.

3)  Tend to Texture:  Wines differ from one another in texture, and the texture of a wine isn't quite the same as its sheer "size."  For example, a Shiraz or Zinfandel can be just as "big" as a Cabernet Sauvignon while nevertheless being much "softer" or "rounder" in texture.  Foods also differ quite importantly in texture, and this variable really makes a difference in getting great results from pairings.  Interesting textural matches can be either complementary or contrasting.  For example, a rich dish like lobster with drawn butter can be matched successfully with a soft, "buttery" Chardonnay that complements its texture, or with a leaner, more "edgy" dry Riesling that offers a textural contrast.

4)  Use Fat to Buffer Tannin:  We can use certain properties in foods or wines to counterbalance potentially problematic elements in one another.  High levels of tannin in wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo can make them seem astringent or bitter to most tasters, but foods with dietary fat (such a cheese or steak) can greatly reduce these sensations.  Similarly, dishes that might seem too softly fatty for some people (such as a stew or a prime rib steak) will benefit from the structure lent by a tannic wine.  Tannic wines don't work well with spicy foods (more on this below), but they love fatty ones.

5)  Use Acidity to Neutralize Acidity:  You might guess that pairing an acidic wine with a food loaded with vinegar or citrus juice would produce an overload of acid, but often the reverse is true.  A zesty Sauvignon Blanc will actually make a bright vinaigrette dressing seem less tart than a lower-acid Chardonnay would.  Likewise, a bright Albariño that would seem sour to some tasters will seem less tart if paired with a dish incorporating some lemon juice.  Counter-intuitive though this principle may be, tasting is believing.

6)  Use Sweetness to Counterbalance Hot Spice:  If a lethally hot pepper flies in under your radar when you are eating in a Thai restaurant, your natural inclination will be to grab for your water.  However, experience shows that you'd actually be better off reaching for the sugar bowl.  Sweetness takes the edge off of hot spice, whether from curry or pepper.  This is the principle that underlies the nearly universal recommendation of pairing spicy Asian foods with sweetish renditions of Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris.

7)  To Soothe Spicy Meats, Use Fruit in Reds to Substitute for Sweetness in Whites:  Over time I’ve forsaken the simple cooked meats of my Chicago upbringing in favor of spicy preparations inspired by the cuisines of China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, North Africa, Turkey, Mexico, the Carribean…and beyond.  These preparations are much more interesting to my taste, but also a little more challenging for wine pairing purposes.

Sweet whites are sometimes surprisingly workable, but only in a limited number of cases (e.g., if the meat is thinly sliced and there’s a sweet marinade involved along with the heat in the finished dish, as in certain Vietnamese or Korean foods).  If the meat is more substantial and there’s no sweetness in the preparation, you’re likely to find red wines much more satisfying than whites.  Reds with overt sweetness are rare and, when found, often foul, so the solution lies elsewhere:  Not in sweetness itself, but rather the impression of sweetness left behind after fermentation by ripe fruit.  Look to a sunny, New World source like California or Australia and a fruity grape variety like Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah or Zinfandel.  The last trick is to buy bottles that don’t cost a lot of money, which will help you avoid wines that are seriously tannic or oaky.  Tannin and oak obscure fruit and fail to harmonize with hot spice, so if you really care about how your red wine will taste with your spicy meat, keep the wine simple and fruity and forget the bells and whistles.

8)  Don't Forget Bubbles:  Many novices don't really think of sparkling wines as wines--much less as great food wines.  However, Champagnes and high-quality sparklers can be stars at the table.  Almost all have a bit of sweetness, and though this tends to be masked by effervescence, it can sometimes counterbalance a bit of spice or flatter a bit of salt in certain dishes in a more subtle and effective way than any table wine.  Moreover, bubbles provide a unique texture that plays into principle #3 above.  As a consequence, bubbly wines can provide a marvelous textural counterpoint to soft, smooth soups.

9)  Keep It Simple for Dessert:  Whether made from grapes that are harvested very late, freeze concentrated, or botrytis affected, sweet dessert wines are among the most wonderful treasures of the vine.  However, it is very difficult to get the sweetness of desserts and dessert wines into a balance that doesn't make one or the other seem awkward.  Another problem is that complex desserts often produce a cacophony when paired with high-end dessert wines, which are themselves among the most complex wines you can buy.

A solution to these problems that flatters the wine while also proving less heavy at the end of a meal is to order (or prepare) the simplest possible desserts.  Yes, ports can work with chocolate desserts, but the pairings fail as often as they work, whereas a few walnuts and a little Stilton is always a delicious match.  Similarly, a top Sauternes or Auslese will sometimes hit the mark with a fruit tart, but it will never miss with some simple shortbread cookies.  And if anyone around your table claims to have a still-unsatisfied sweet tooth, you could always uncork another bottle. 

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Rediscover Cava This Celebration Season
Miranda Franco

Nov. 30, 2022: Cava was established as an official Denominación de Origen (D.O.) in 1986, shortly after Spain joined the European Union. The D.O. was created to protect all Spanish sparkling wine rather than one specific region. However, this approach, while well-intentioned, had no sub-regions and no category system to recognize quality level, thus lacking the ability to provide consumers the guarantee of quality and origin. Unfortunately, as a result, Cava's reputation has been weighed down over the years by loose regulations and production of mass quantities. Few consumers know how fine Cava can be, or how reflective it can be of its place of origin. Many see it as merely a cheap alternative to Champagne. Cava has always deserved better, and there are indications that Cava's fate is changing largely due to several high-end producers seeking to distinguish themselves outside the Cava D.O. over the last decade. They believed they could more effectively market the prestige and quality of their sparkling wine brands by distancing themselves from Cava's mass-produced image. These estates, including Gramona, Llopart, and Recaredo, to name a few, broke ties and left the D.O. to bottle their wines under the brand name Corpinnat (roughly meaning 'heart of Penedès' in Latin).
The Lieux-Dits of Seneca Lake
Roger Morris

Nov. 30, 2022: Looking west from the Seneca Lake's eastern shore and across the placid waters far below, on the opposite side a few miles distant, a mid-afternoon thunderstorm, more of a local squall, really, plays peek-a-boo with the bright sun that has been encouraging the fattening grapes over here to add a bit more sugar and forget about losing acidity. In between, the lake is deep, and not just the water - although the average plunge to the bottom is the length of a football field - but the setting of the lake itself. Most of the vineyards are spread out well above lake level, just below the hilltop and the high plain beyond, beneath its protective brow. 'This area is called 'the Banana Belt' because of its warmth, as opposed to further down the lake,' Kelby Russell, winemaker at Red Newt Cellars located outside the village of Hector, told me during my recent visit. 'The temperature can be 20 degrees warmer down by the lake' he says. 'The red wines from the east side of Seneca tend to be darker with more berry fruitiness. But we've found the soil makes more of a difference in growing, especially with Riesling, than does the exposure. The soils were dropped in quilt-like, sometimes in bands.'
Wine With
WINE WITH…Steak on a Bed of Buttered Corn

July 20, 2022: Most of us have a pretty clear idea of what we consider the perfect steak. In general, Americans tend to like their steak big, and they tend to like it grilled over charcoal. I am usually happy with a smaller steak, and I like it somewhat thinner. My ideal steak is usually seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper, and it is quickly seared in a very hot and heavy cast iron skillet. If the wine you're going to pour with that steak is special that might be even more reason to let the steak's natural flavors shine through.
On My Table
Riding the Lingering Waves of Summer
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Sept. 7, 2022: Labor Day is history. In some parts of the country, early morning temps have dipped into the mid 40°s. But just as daytime drinkers might remark that 'It's 5:00pm somewhere!' summer persists for many of us, in our hearts. These very good renditions of rosé and Sauvignon Blanc are for those who share that persuasion. You might have caught past columns of mine reviewing red wines by MacRostie - Pinot Noir and Syrah. MacRostie is a fine, reliable winery whose wines I have enjoyed for years. The 2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir is a wine that I particularly like. It carries the appellation 'Sonoma Coast' because its grapes come from both Russian River Valley and the Petaluma Gap. The former source is a special block of MacRostie's Thale's Estate Vineyard; the latter is the winery's newest property, Nightwing Vineyard. While I was savoring the rosé, my tasting partner became excited by the Sauvignon Blanc for its true varietal expression. 'Clockwise" is a small-lot wine from MacRostie's winery-within-a winery.