We’re back with our second wine and food pairing blog. Last time we covered the reds, now we are moving on to the whites. If you are a lover of white wine, I hope this blog provides you with some helpful food pairing tips.
Acidity is the backbone of white wine, much like tannins are to red wines. What this means is a well-balanced, acidic white wine paired with the right food can dramatically elevate the meal to a level of excellence – even something as simple as an oyster.
The “big three” white wine grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. We will also mention other notable whites and how they can be paired with food.
Pinot Grigio is a white wine that will not fight or compete with any food. This Italian grape produces wine that is light on taste and flavor, offering a safe choice when pairing white wine with food. It is best with a simple salad, but can work with steak if red wine is not an option. Pinot Grigio is light and crisp (acidic) with no overwhelming flavors, and can be a good choice when serving people who are not serious wine drinkers – its easy drinking and not overwhelming. Pinot Gris, which is wine made from the same grape, tends to be richer and more exciting, and I think most regular wine drinkers will find it more interesting. Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a particular favorite of mine. It tends to have honey notes, greater depth, richer mouthfeel and a longer finish than Pinot Grigio, making it good to pair with chicken or pork.
California Chardonnays are known for their strong, oaky, buttery flavors, which can make food pairing a challenge. French Chardonnay (Bourgogne Blanc, or White Burgundy – the “King” of true Chardonnay) is mildly oaky, less buttery, has great minerality, and goes well with rich food or anything with lots of cream or butter. Pouilly-Fuisse and Macon Villages are among my favorites from France. Chablis is a French Chardonnay with zero oak and intense minerality and acidity that pairs very well with most anything, especially shellfish (oysters!). Another good option is un-oaked American Chardonnay, which has a full body but with crisp acidity and green apple flavor making it easy to pair with just about anything. Although oaky California chards have long enjoyed solid popularity, the un-oaked French and American versions are rising in popularity. Personally, too much oak tastes to me like sucking on a pencil, and I prefer the un-oaked choices. Check the label for information on oak barrel aging.
The Sauvignon Blanc grape produces a variety of wines with very different flavors. All Sauvignon Blancs have strong citrus characteristics, tropical fruit flavors, and an herbaceous quality. New Zealand styles are bold, over-extracted versions of this French-born grape, with flavors of grapefruit, passion fruit, and grass; best without food, or simple foods that it is less likely to overtake. Sauvignon Blanc from France has aromas of lemon and a powerful minerality, much like wet stone or chalk; it pairs well with shellfish or salad. Sauvignon Blanc can be a good choice to pair with cheese – it balances the creaminess and bold flavors of goat cheeses like Humboldt Fog, and cows’ milk cheeses like brie or camembert, particularly when ripe and runny.
A relatively easy-drinking white is Viognier. It’s a French grape and the state grape of Virginia. Viognier is known for strong floral notes and tends to be off-dry with a small amount of residual sugar. Floral notes can make food pairings difficult, but appetizers are usually a safe bet. Pair it with salads, soups, finger foods, or drink on its own.
From Spain, Albarino is a slightly sweet wine known for notes of pear, peach or pineapple. Albarino’s acidity and minerality often offers a sense of effervescence, as if it’s dancing on your tongue a little bit. It comes from a coastal region and picks up some of that salinity from the air and pairs amazingly with seafood, including anything spicy, and is perfect with tapas or Spanish food. Albarino is a very complex and interesting wine, making most food taste awesome. I find it a bit difficult to drink alone, but paired with food it can amazing, elevating both the food and the wine.
Arguably the most versatile white wine for pairing with food is Riesling. Generally thought of as a very sweet wine, the Riesling grape is a cold climate varietal from Germany. Rieslings range from off-dry to sweet, are lightly floral with strong acidity, and pair well with poultry, pork, and seafood. The higher sugar content compliments any sort of spicy food, particularly Thai. Riesling also works well for crossover situations where multiple food types are being served. Dry Rieslings from Washington State’s Columbia Valley are my favorites.
Unlike red wines, most white wines are produced for immediate drinking, while they are young and fresh. Some might say that they lack the complexity of red wine, but crisp white wines provide you something altogether different. Much like the squeeze of lemon over fried calamari or a lime over your favorite Mexican dish, white wine can bring balance and enhance the flavors of food. Still, white wine is rarely intended to be paired with red meat – you’ll find better choices on our red wine pairings post.
That’s all for now! Happy eating and happy drinking!