Posts Tagged ‘Food and wine pairings’

A Crash Course in Port Wine

May 22, 2010

Port wine is like the nectar of the gods.

With its full bodied mouth-feel and sweet, rich flavors, it is the perfect after-dinner drink.  I recently uncorked a bottle of Tawny Port from Orfila Winery in Escondido, California and was highly impressed with their take on this lovely dessert wine.


Stories of Port wine go back as far as the late 16th century in the Duoro Valley of Portugal, where Port is still grown and produced today.  Port is named after the coastal city of “Porto” where the wine was originally exported.  Laws today protect the origin of this wine so that only the product from Portugal can be labeled as Port.  Wines that undergo the same process as Port wines are often be labeled “dessert wine” instead.

How It’s Made:

Orfila Winery’s Tawny Port is extremely aromatic with unmistakable scents of raisin and spice taking center-stage while hints of caramel and orange linger on the palette as an after-thought.  A friend of mine referred to it as “raisin-flavored cough syrup,” which isn’t entirely off base!

Because Port is a fortified wine it’s extremely sweet and syrupy.  Fortified wines undergo a different process than most where grape-derived spirits like brandy are added to the partially-fermented grape juice to kill off the yeast and halt fermentation before all of the sugar converts to alcohol.  This creates a wine that is sugary and several times higher in alcohol content than most at 19.5-20% abv.

Unlike other single varietal wines, Port is made with a blend of different red and black grape varietals.  Not all Port is made alike, however—there are also dry and semi-dry versions, and occasionally you may run across a white Port.

Styles of Port:

Orfila's Tawny Port

Ruby Port—Named for its deep red color, Ruby Port is young, fruity and undergoes two to three years of aging before it’s bottled.

Reserve Ruby Port—This is a higher quality Port with more intense fruit flavors and a longer period of aging before bottling, generally five years.

Late Bottled Vintage Port—Similar to a Reserve Ruby Port, LBV Ports are made from grapes harvested in a single year and undergo four to six years of aging before bottling.  It’s best enjoyed while it’s young.

Traditional Style LBV—This traditional style is made much the same way as LBV, except that the wine is not filtered before bottling, leaving behind a deposit that requires decanting.

Vintage Port—Vintage Port is the crème de la crème when it comes to Port.  It uses grapes from the very best vineyards during years when harvest is exceptional.  With a short period in oak, this wine benefits from several years of bottle aging and requires decanting.

Tawny Port—An inexpensive Port made from a blend of light-colored ruby and white Port, it brings to mind flavors of toffee nut, caramel, and dried fruit.

Reserve Tawny Port—Light brown in color with flavors of nut, coffee, chocolate, and caramel, these wines require a minimum of seven years in oak.

Aged Tawny Port—A high quality blend of wines labeled with 10, 20, 30, or 40+ years of aging, Aged Tawny Port does not require decanting and is best enjoyed slightly chilled.

Food and Wine Pairings:

It’s important to consider what foods pair best with Port wine. You can drink Port solo, but it’s particularly refreshing when served alongside chocolate desserts, fresh fruits, puddings, and cheeses.

Stilton cheese is to Port wine what jelly is to peanut butter: a classic pairing that should not be missed out on.  Stilton cheese comes from the blue cheese family.   I decided to go with Trader Joe’s White Stilton With Apricots because I thought the sweetness of the fruit would pair nicely with the sweetness of wine, and I was right!

Brix Chocolate

I also used some Brix Chocolate, a special type of dark chocolate made especially for wine.  Both the cheese and the chocolate paired nicely with the Port and helped mellow out the tannins, making it more drinkable.  For only $18 Orfila’s Tawny Port is definitely worth every penny.

Armed with your newfound knowledge of Port wine, now you’re ready to impress friends and family at your next dinner party!  They may thank you for the wine 101 lesson, but more importantly you’ll enjoy wine’s ability to bring people together for an evening of fun and great conversation. And, on that note, I’ll leave you with the wise words of wine connoisseur Percy Croft, “Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time.”




Malbec. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out.

March 29, 2010

Last night I uncorked a Malbec Rosé from Argentina.  Half a year ago, if you asked me what Malbec was, I wouldn’t have had any clue what you were talking about!

You see, when I first moved to California, I was very eager to get out and meet people with similar interests.  I immediately joined a women’s wine group and we met one night at the Wine Cabana, a wine bar in San Diego’s Old Town.  One of the girls recommended trying the Malbec, which I had never even heard of at the time.  I tried it for the first time and fell in love!  I began primarily as a red wine drinker and love dry, tannic red wines like a Shiraz or Norton.  Malbec is both dry and tannic, so it definitely fit the bill.

Argentina is where this varietal has gained it’s fame, but it is a little-known fact that Malbec is originally from France and was brought over to Argentina in 1868.  In France, Malbec is primarily known for being one of six grapes blended together to create red Bordeaux wines, whereas in Argentina the grape takes center-stage as a stand-alone varietal.

A purple grape variety, it’s black fruit character translates into jammy flavors such as blackberry and plum, with a hint of spice on the finish.  Malbec is full-bodied with either medium or high tannins.  The different climates in each region account for the differences in taste and wine-making techniques.  For instance, the Malbec of France is a high tannic wine, whereas an Argentinean Malbec is softer with less tannins and is more suitable for aging in oak barrels.

Because of it’s tannins, Malbec and red meat centered dishes make wonderful companions!  It also pairs well with spicy ethnic foods such as Mexican, Cajun, Indian, or Italian.  I paired mine with spaghetti and meat sauce.  See?  Food and wine pairing is easy, and you don’t even have to make anything fancy!

The interesting thing about this particular bottle of Malbec was that it was a Malbec Rosé.  So for those who enjoy a sweeter, more fruit forward wine such as a White Zinfindel or any kind of blush wine, you definitely would enjoy the Malbec Rosé.

Next time you’re in the market for a bottle wine, why not pick up a bottle of Argentinean Malbec?  Your taste buds will thank you.

Bottle Stats:

  • Company: Melipal
  • Vintage: 2009
  • Varietal: Malbec Rosé
  • Region: Mendoza, Argentina
  • Price: $10.99 at BevMo!



Strange Food & Wine Pairings

March 22, 2010

Today I was making myself a quickie lunch of tomato and rice soup.  As I was eating my soup with crackers, I realized something was missing.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on craving until suddenly I thought—peanut butter sandwich!  I remember one evening back in Bloomington when I went over to a friend’s house for a chili supper and they were serving peanut butter sandwiches on the side.  My family didn’t grow up eating chili this way, so the pairing struck me as odd.  Peanut butter and chili?!?  But I gave it a try and you know what?  It was GOOD! 🙂

My experimentation with tomato soup and a peanut butter sandwich made me start to think about wine and what kind of wine would go best with a peanut butter sandwich.  Food and wine pairings are similar because opposite taste sensations can make the best pairings!  Take salty and sweet for instance.  A classic food and wine pairing would be brie and Champagne (salty + sweet).

But what about even stranger food combos?

In a recent article in Imbibe magazine, “Pair & Share: From takeout to home-cooked, how to choose wines for the way you really eat,” they explore fun and interesting food and wine combinations.

  • Chips and salsa with an off-dry German Riesling.
  • Sparkling wine with French fries.
  • Fried chicken and Sauternes.
  • Burgers and a Spanish Tempranillo.
  • Pizza and a Chianti classico.

And the perfect match for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?  Well, I had to do my research to come up with the answer, but one sommelier suggests an Argentine Torrontes.  A dry, spicy white wine, Torrontes has the perfect amount of acidity to wash down the peanut butter.  Or try pairing sweet with sweet by choosing a white wine like Riesling or Chenin Blanc.

The best way to find a perfect pairing is to play around with flavors until you find something you like, however there are a few rules of thumb to follow when doing food and wine pairings:

  • Match the weight/richness of the food and the body of the wine. Ex) Red meats with full-bodied, tannic red wines and white meat or fish with white wines or light-bodied, delicate reds.
  • Match the flavor intensity of the food and wine. Delicate wines and powerfully flavored foods don’t pair well together.
  • Match acidic foods with high-acid wines. Ex) Italian food and Italian wines go together well because both are dominated by acidic flavors—think tomatoes, olive oil, lemons and vinegar.
  • Match sweet foods with sweet wines. Late-harvest wines and Muscat-based wines are called dessert wines for a reason!
  • Avoid combining oily or salty foods with high-tannin red wines. Salty foods are best when enhanced with a touch of sweetness.  Ex) Prosciutto and figs, Fino Sherry and salted nuts, etc.

Now it’s your turn to experiment and discover your perfect food and wine pairing!