If you thought Autumn was the perfect time to transition from white to red wines, you’d be wrong.
Here’s the story: Last week, Chef Danielle Fragala – a friend and colleague – presented me with the above menu for her fall-themed party and asked for wine pairing suggestions. No problem, I said, assuming it would be easy to find an array of red and white wines to present. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As I considered the list of ingredients – chock full of fall’s gourd vegetables highlighted with notes of maple, apple and sausage – it became evident that my list wouldn’t include many reds.
In fact, looking at the array of delicious hors d’oeurves – which includes goodies like butternut squash shooters, sweet potato-sausage skewers, penne with pumpkin cream sauce and parmesan crusted pigs in blankets – it became obvious that only one wine could carry this meal: Riesling.
Before you stop reading, let me clarify one thing. I am not suggesting a cloyingly sweet riesling that tastes like a glass full of sugar. That would be a huge mistake.
Instead, this meal requires a riesling that is dry or off-dry, both of which offer a combination of minerality and, more importantly, acidity, to cut through the sweet, rich flavors of Chef Danielle’s meal.
You want to look for a fuller-style wine, so your best bets will be from Alsace, Washington state, or Germany, the latter labeled spatlese or auslese – classifications of the wine’s sweetness.
Anther great choice is neither red nor white, but rose. In its dry form, this pink wine also has the acidity to create a balanced pairing. France’s Provence and Languedoc regions are the ancestral home of these wines, but feel free to explore dry rose from other regions as well. (But, please, no white zinfandel!)
There are several other wines that, though somewhat less versatile, will still be tasty with this meal.
Viognier, for example, tastes delicious with the penne with pumpkin cream sauce and pumpkin fondue as well as the sweet potato-sausage skewers. A rich, California chardonnay is another great match for the skewers and will also go with the butternut squash shooters and cranberry maple baked brie. Skip across the pond and try a French chardonnay (specifically a white Burgundy) with the baked brie as well as the kale Asiago dip.
Finding good reds is trickier, since with many of these foods, a too-tannic or not-fruity-enough red wine can completely dampen their flavors, leaving both the hors d’oeurve and wine tasting flat.
(If you want an exercise in why the current vogue of “drink what you want with whatever food you want” is a bad idea, try a red wine with the kale dip. There is a reason food and wine paring matters, though the rules are much more flexible than they used to be. Stepping down from the soapbox now…)
So, there are two excellent go-to wines that are among the most versatile reds for food pairing. First is zinfandel. Look for one crafted in a light- to medium-bodied style with lots of fruity character; California is a great source for these wines.
The second is Beaujolais, another light-bodied wine with lots of fruit but with the aforementioned minerality that offsets the menu’s sweeter flavors. But beware: don’t buy Beaujolais Nouveau. Instead, seek out one of the ten cru Beaujolais wines, considered the best from this region.
Shiraz is another choice that will go with several foods on the menu, most notably the pumpkin dishes and the pigs-in-blankets. While a still Australian shiraz will be lovely, seek out a sparkling shiraz for a choice both offbeat and more versatile.
When it comes to desserts, Chef Danielle again puts the season’s ingredients to good use, creating an array of sweets ranging from pumpkin bread pudding to Danish apple bars to mini-spiced donuts with cinnamon icing.
No surprise – there is one wine – a white one – that will be a beautiful match for all these delicious treats: a muscat Beaumes-de-Venise.
Yes, this is a ridiculously specific recommendation, but this dessert wine from France’s Rhone Valley has a honeyed texture and (say it with me!) enough acidity to keep it from being cloying and cut through the sweetness of the desserts.
Another great choice is the wines of Sauternes, another rich yet acidic dessert wine, this one from France’s Bordeaux region.
And, as you might expect, there aren’t so many red dessert wines that will match the entire menu. So in this case, your best bet is a nice Port.
Try to go a step above the basic ruby or tawny versions, and pick one with just a little age. You’ll be rewarded with a drink that tastes amazing with the pumpkin bread pudding.
And if you’re not a dessert person? The Port in particular makes a lovely ending to the evening all on its own…and perhaps wets the palate for fall after all!