Letter-Perfect Wine Pairings
An irreverent, irresistible, alphabetical guide to matching food and wine.
The first thing schoolchildren learn is their ABC's. But the ABC's on these pages are definitely for grown-ups. Marcia Kiesel, our test kitchen supervisor and one of the most talented cooks we know, loves matching wine with food, and she's anything but conventional in her thinking about what goes together. When presented with the challenge of creating an alphabetical pairing primer, she stretched her imagination to find one brilliant wine-and-food combination for every letter from A to Z...and even found a sneaky way to master X! Read on for her unlikely matches and 11 inspired recipes.
aligoté and appetizers
The golden Aligoté grape, from the Bouzeron region of Burgundy, produces a tart, refreshing and slightly fruity wine that's the perfect aperitif. Try it with almost any hors d'oeuvres you can imagine, but hold the tomatoes, please--they're too acidic.
beaujolais and basil
A Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais Nouveau, grapey and full of youthful exuberance, pairs beautifully with all kinds of bistro food. Its fruit and fragrance bring out the best in chicken stuffed with a mixture of aromatic basil and crisp bacon.
chianti and country ham
A Chianti's generous fruit and light tannins cut the saltiness and enhance the gaminess of country ham. It's great paired with ham that's been cut into slivers, simmered in a creamy tomato sauce and served over soft polenta. Such down-to-earth food doesn't demand a serious riserva; a lighter (and less expensive) classico from a recent vintage will do just fine.
duckhorn sauvignon blanc and deviled shrimp
Napa Valley's Duckhorn Vineyards creates wines that always deliver, but its crisp, clean Sauvignon Blanc is a standout. Start a fall dinner with a glass or two of this citrusy white wine along with a plate of grilled shrimp spiced with cayenne and garlic.
eyrie chardonnay and eggplant soufflé
Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon's Willamette Valley produces exceptional, Burgundian-style Chardonnays--especially the 1995 and 1996 Vintage Reserves. The wines' rich scent, balanced acidity and long finish make them lovely complements to a roasted eggplant-and-Fontina soufflé--one of my favorite alternatives to a cheese course.
fino and foie gras
Fino is a nutty, dry sherry that's marvelous at cutting the richness of foie gras. In Spain, Lustau produces an ultrarefined version that's a great match with goose liver terrine. Chill it, pour a glass and then take sips between bites to wake up your palate.
graves and goat cheese
White Graves, from warm southern Bordeaux, is a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc: the more Sémillon, the more body. Château Carbonnieux uses Sémillon gingerly, so the tart, fresh Sauvignon Blanc in the blend shines through. It's dry but floral, with a touch of oak that brings out the voluptuousness of a creamy goat cheese.
hermitage and hanger steak
This intense red wine, made with Syrah grapes, can stand up to most cuts of beef. With a well-marbled hanger steak flavored with herbs, try either an older, more substantial vintage (such as the 1986 Jean-Louis Chave) or a younger, lighter one (such as the 1994 Guigal), and the experience will linger in your memory.
iron horse sparkling wine and indian-spiced ribs
Since 1979, Iron Horse has been perfecting its méthode champenoise sparklers, which are now among California's best. The Brut Rosé, with a faint appley finish, adds a tingle to ribs rubbed with a mixture of coriander, cumin and cinnamon.
jurançon sec and jalapeño fritters
Though the windswept, mountainous French region of Jura has generally been associated with sweet wines, its dry whites and rosés are gaining the renown they deserve. These wines are especially refreshing with batter-fried chiles and other spicy foods.
karakuchi sake and korean pancakes
Karakuchi (extra-dry) sake has an appealing light floweriness. When served chilled, it's a fine contrast to crisp, spicy seafood-and-vegetable pancakes.
lugana and lake fish
From Italy's Lombardy region, Lugana is a lovely old-style white wine traditionally paired with the mild white fish from the area's Lake Garda. Look for bottles from such top producers as Visconti and Villa Girardi, and drink them while they're young.
mâcon-viré and méli-mélo de mer
The secret to this French Chardonnay from the stony soil of Mâcon: its mineral flavor. Pleasantly acidic, this wine is marvelous with the colorful assortment of fish known as méli-mélo de mer, "a jumble of this and that from the sea."
nebbiolo and navajo fry bread
Nebbiolo grapes from Italy's foggy Piedmont produce strong-bodied wines, including the muscular Barolo and the softer Gattinara. To match, go for bold dishes such as puffy, crisp Navajo fry bread made in a skillet and topped with chili con carne.
ollauri and olives
Ollauri isn't a wine, it's a place--specifically, an area in the Rioja Alta, Spain's premier red wine region. Beronia of Ollauri and Olarra of Logroño make plummy red Riojas that cry out for rich, tangy foods like olives, in a chicken stew, in focaccia or on their own.
provençal rosé and pistou
In Provence, Tempier and Ott both produce great, if expensive, rosés. Those from Mas de Gourgonnier are more reasonably priced. Any of these wines would brighten a bowl of pistou, a vegetable soup with basil and olive oil.
quinta da aveleda and quail
Young, vibrant Vinho Verdes (green wines) from Portugal's Quinta da Aveleda winery pair well with so many foods. But what could be better with this easygoing wine than a rustic Portuguese-inspired dish of pan-fried quail with garlic, mint and almonds?
rhône and roquefort
Wines of the southern Rhône (the complex Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the black-red, rousing Cornas, for example) have the power and structure to hold court with a gutsy blue such as Roquefort, known as the King of Cheese. Better to wait the eight years these wines need to mature than to drink them young and settle for half their glory.
sémillon and saffron
Sémillon, a blending grape, creates a distinctive white wine on its own. Sour Puss Sémillon from New Zealand's Cooper's Creek is delightful. And Australia's Tim Adams winery makes a lush Sémillon that's spectacular with oysters in a rich saffron sauce.
tokaj and tropical fruit
This Hungarian dessert wine is sweet and rare. Take a bottle of Tokaji Aszú or Essencia (the most precious kind) to the Caribbean. The wine is so rich in mango, pineapple and even ginger flavors that drinking it with those foods is a thrill.
urzig and udon
Who can understand long-winded German labels? Just know that a Riesling wine called Urziger-Würzgarten (from the Würzgarten vineyards in the village of Urzig) is a great buy. Pairing this spicy wine with chewy Japanese noodles is an amusing contrast in textures; the ancho in the dressing adds a mild heat.
vouvray and vietnamese food
The Chenin Blanc grape produces Vouvrays in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet, but all have an acidity and fruitiness that makes them versatile food partners. A sec or demi-sec is especially good with the vibrant flavors of Vietnamese cuisine.
wachau and white asparagus
In the spring, Austrians uncork their Rieslings to celebrate the arrival of white asparagus. The exceptional Rieslings from the beautiful Wachau region along the Danube are just the thing to drink to round out the asparagus's slight bitterness.
xérès and extra-virgin olive oil
The delicate sweetness and long, dry finish of amontillado and manzanilla xérès (that's the French word for sherry) are great with the fabulous assortments of tapas that are served throughout Spain. The leanness of the sherry makes it a dramatic foil to foods cooked with generous amounts of extra-virgin olive oil, including shrimp, peppers and even artichokes--a vegetable that is notoriously unfriendly to wine.
d'yquem and yellowfin
Calling d'Yquem a Sauternes is like calling foie gras terrine chopped liver. This wine is complicated and profound--an intricate weave of nectars, fruits, rich florals and strong acidity. How to do justice to a drink of such magnitude? With a substantial main course. When d'Yquem is served with thick slabs of rare tuna in an intense soy, ginger and scallion sauce, the result is decadence piled upon decadence.
zinfandel and zuppa
Zuppa is a spicy Italian stew made of clams, garlic, tomatoes and zucchini. Do as many Italian-Americans do and dunk some fresh bread into the bowl to soak up the juices, then wash the stew down with a glass of spicy Zin--a unique American grape.