Which wine goes best with poultry, beef, or fish? There’s no easy answer for that, says UNLV certified wine expert Murray Mackenzie.
“It depends on how the meat is cooked. Different wines have certain characteristics that pair best with certain meat, fish, and vegetable textures,” he says. “And even the wine region — topography, climate, soil, and winemaking traditions — play an important part in flavor, aroma, and texture of the wine. You don’t want the wine to overpower the food, or vice versa.”
Murray Mackenzie, a UNLV hospitality professor who leads the annual UNLVino wine experience scholarship fundraiser, has tips on which wines pair best with your favorite holiday meat, vegetable, or dessert.
Roasted turkey — with its typically dry breast meat and moist thigh meat — calls for a Sauvignon Blanc from France that has a creamy texture and “a wee bit of sweetness and residual sugar that adds a bit more complexity to the dish,” says Mackenzie.
He also recommends a Pinot Grigio or Gris from a New World region, which tends to have a bit more fruit character and some body in the mouth. “It’s got a freshness about it that wouldn’t overpower the meat.”
Baked Ham with Sweet Glaze
“This is very interesting because with the sweetness you’ve got in the ham glaze, you need a bit of sweetness in the wine,” Mackenzie says.
If you go the white wine route, his pick is a Riesling. But if you want to go bold with a red, he recommends a lighter style of red wine such as a Pinot Noir. “Because the ham is baked, it has a meatier texture. So you need a Pinot Noir, which has more earthy tannins and acidity.”
Usually braised, this holiday meal staple is considered a very heavy and meaty dish. To prevent the meat from overpowering the taste of the wine, Mackenzie suggests a similarly heavy and full-bodied red such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. These bold wines also pair well with roasted meats, such as prime rib. But be mindful, he warns: “Red wines usually have a higher alcohol content but the winemakers disguise it so well you don’t realize it.”
If you prefer to boil your brisket and serve it with potatoes and cabbage, Mackenzie says, choose a lighter wine like a Pinot or Chianti Classico.
And another pairing tip on the prime rib: Malbec, a wine from Argentina, is an additionally good choice that packs a punch with its big, bold fruity characteristics.
No meat? No problem! Mackenzie pegs Chardonnay as the perfect blend for your holiday quiche — but the wine region is important.
“You’ve got this creamier texture and eggy mix of cheese that goes into your quiche, so you need a Chardonnay from New World rather than Old World,” he says. “The reason is New World tends to be fruitier because of the warmer climate in which the grapes were grown. Therefore, you find it’ll be a little more buttery in the mouth and riper — unlike Chardonnay from places like Italy and France, where the latitude and acidity are higher. A Chardonnay from New World, like California, can have a little less acidity and it’s rounder in the mouth and fuller in the body and goes well with the quiche.”
Italian Seven Fishes
When it comes to underwater fare, a lighter flavor means a lighter style wine, Mackenzie says. “To cut down on oils that are found in fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna, you need something with high acidity, something that really washes your mouth out and refreshes it so you can get ready for the next piece of seafood.”
If you prefer reds, he recommends a light Pinot Noir. If you like white wines, he suggests going with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, which also pair well with the acidity of lemon or an acid-based dressing such as vinegar and makes the wine taste a little sweeter.
If you’ve decided to take a gander at this darker, usually roasted meat for your holiday meal, you’ll find that Gewurztraminer — whose floral aroma, and hints of ginger and rosewater, tends to pair well with spicy foods like chili — might add a bit of fun to your dish, says Mackenzie. This particular wine is also a winning option for duck or curry dishes, he adds.
Once known for its strong flavor, the lamb produced today is considered a little more delicate of a meat, says Mackenzie. “It’s a red meat, but it’s not rich and powerful like beef. It’s a bit more subdued like someone sitting in the corner waiting for tea. If the meat is grilled, like lamb chops, a nice light-styled wine like Chianti Classico would go well because that’s got a great character about it with a red fruit, sour cherry flavor.”
The appropriate wine pairing depends on the maturity and texture of the cheese. Most people prefer a platter with soft or semi-soft cheese like brie, camembert, or blue cheese.
For strong, salty, powerful blues like stilton and roquefort, Mackenzie recommends fortified wines such as ports. He says sherry — dry with its nuttier, oxidized flavor and sweetness — pairs well with sheep’s milk or goat’s milk cheese.
Sweet treats call for sweet wines. Mackenzie’s usual go-to is a light harvest Riesling or Gewurtztraminer to capitalize on those aromatic grapes’ floral components and ripe peach and pineapple flavors.
But if the dessert is very sweet, he says, you’ll find that the wine is lost completely and you’ll only taste the rich chocolate or sugars in the dessert. The key? “Put a bit of food and wine in your mouth and mix it together. If you can still taste both, you know it’s a good pairing. If you only taste the dessert’s chocolate or sugar or don’t taste the wine/dessert at all it’s not a good pairing.”
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