When dinner has many options on the table go with wines that will pair well with as many foods as possible. My recommendations are to serve selections across different wine styles that go with whatever is served.
Sparkling wines and rosés pair well across a range of food styles. Stick to white wines that are not overpowering, bright and have a good balance between fruit notes and acidity. Finally, keep your red wine picks medium in body as they are the best options for pairing across a wide selection of dishes. No matter if you pick natural or classic wines, stick with selections that need food to be complete. This will ensure that your picks will complement any dish.
Sparkling From Start to Finish
Sparkling wine is nearly a universal wine pairing. Cava, Cap Classique and Pét- Nat sparkling wines are lively and amazingly food friendly. It’s such a versatile wine style and pair great with fried foods, cheese, starchy dishes, creamy or spiced sauces, umami flavors, and a range of meats, fish, as well as fruits.
Sweeter sparkling wines, like demi-sec or dry productions, also pair perfectly with desserts. Their soft sweet notes of fruits, cream and nuttiness bring out sweetness and add complementing flavors to confectionary delights.
Rivaling Champagne is Cava. Made just south of Barcelona in Catalunya, Spain; Cava is made in the same method as Champagne and can be found in both white and rosé styles. The blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo makes a wine with a bright acidity and bold minerality. Filled with aromas and flavors of zesty citrus flavours, baked yellow apples, fresh bread notes, white chocolate and almond marzipan.
Cap Classique is a pretty niche sparkling from the Cape region of South Africa and is a truly hidden gem. Although niche Cap Classique can be found at the LCBO, and this unique production is often made in low intervention and sustainable practises. Comprised of a blend of mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with more region grapes commonly in the mix, Cap Classique is a fresh and lively sparkling with notes of orange blossoms, lemon zest, fresh citrus, lemon custard and soft toasted notes.
Pétillant Naturel sparkling wines, or Pét- Nats, have become a popular production in Ontario wine country. Pét- Nats are made in an ancestral method, which creates a sparkling that is more frizzante than spumante style with bigger bubbles than a champagne style sparkling. Made from a blend of grapes that is indicative of the area of production, Pet- Nats are considered natural wines that vary in flavour from wine to wine. Although different in flavour, Pét-Nats are light with earthy stone fruit notes and complex minerality. They are very food driven and pair great across a range of selections.
Whether you start the night with a glass or enjoy some bubbles the whole evening long, sparkling wine is a complement to nearly any dish.
Rosé, Rosé and More Rosé
Rosés, like sparkling wines, pair with many different dishes. Made in a variety of styles, from the recognizably classic pale pink productions to bolder coloured Rosatos, rosés that have a good structure and are not overly fruit forward pair great with many different flavors and preparations. They are so versatile, pairing with citrus notes, tomatoes, root and green vegetables, pasta dishes, spicy foods, every kind of cheese and meats like pork, chicken, and seafood.
Beaujolais rosé and the bold Tavel rosé from Southern France, are ideal wine picks with their good structure and inviting aromatics. These wines are a perfect complement to many cooking styles and cuisines.
Beaujolais rosé has been making a comeback in the last couple of years, and it couldn’t be better!
With the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, every November, some of the region’s winemakers have been putting forward phenomenal rosés made from 100% Gamay Noir. Like their red wine counter parts Beaujolais rosé is beautifully structured and an inviting drink. With aromas of pink hibiscus and violets complemented by flavours of tart red fruits, watermelon rind, touches of dried herbs and a soft minerality – these wines have great balance and a dry finish.
Tavel rosé, made in southern France, are a brilliant ruby red hue; more roasto than rosé, these wines were a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. Tavel has been known for centuries as the ‘Rosé of the Kings, King of Rosés, they are bold and not to be underestimated. Made from a blend of Cinsault and Grenache, these wines are dry and savoury with notes of ripe strawberries, orange rinds, and hibiscus with a hint of allspice. It is a bold rosé that will make you question the bounds of this wine style.
Bright and Balanced White Wines
Picking the right style of white wine is key. Stick with options that are easy drinking, light to medium bodied, that also have good balance between fruit notes, acidity and minerality. A balanced wine is one where no component of the wine awkwardly stands out.
Serving a white wine that tastes sweet, is off-dry or with too much fruit notes will limit the styles of dishes that the wine will pair well with. I recommend avoiding oak aged white wines as the flavors from oak aging can often be divisive. Flavours of oak are frequently loved or hated and there is very seldom a mild ground. Serving a bright and lifted white wine will pair well with light meats like chicken, fish and seafood, as well as a range of vegetables, nutty flavours, hard cheese and green herbs.
Consider wines like Gavi di Gavi, South African Chenin Blanc and Albariño. Light, easy drinking, bright and well balanced these wines are top potluck choices.
There is more than just Barolo made in Piemonte, Italy. Of the few white wines in the region, Gavi di Gavi is a standout choice that is light and inviting. Made of a native grape to the area Cortese, although called Gavi, this wine has a similar structure to Pinot Grigio. Gavi’s are a dry white wine with intense floral aromatics, accompanied by flavors of lemon, melon, and stone fruits. These wines are low in spice notes but balanced with a soft minerality and tingling acidity.
Chenin Blanc is a multi talented grape, it takes on different flavours depending on where it grows and how it’s made into wine. Chenin Blanc wines from France have a bold sweetness to them, but productions from South Africa drive in a completely different direction. A fresh and lively wine, South African Chenin Blancs are bright and burst with aromas of tropical fruits, plum and green apple. On the palate, this wine shows notes of melon, tart orchard fruits, and herbaceous notes of saffron and wild brush. Made in a dry style, Chenin Blancs are refreshing, approachable and bright.
Spanish Albariño and its Portuguese counterpart, Alvarinho, are intensely aromatic wines bursting with fruit notes and balanced by a mouth-watering acidity. These wines have dramatic aromas of lemon, lime zest, pear, grapefruit, honeysuckle, nectarine and subtle notes of Thai basil. They are bold from the first taste, with citrus notes, green herbs and a seaside minerality. Although the flavor and structure characteristics of Albariño seem to clash, the extremes push each other into balance creating a light and easy drinking white wine.
Medium Bodied Reds are the Way to Go
Medium bodied red wines are characterised by 3 things, they are dominated by red fruit flavours, have a bright and present acidity, and an easy structure with approachable tannins that are not mouth drying. Unlike fuller red wines, the lower tannins and acidity of medium red wines make them the perfect pairing for meats, including fish and seafood in a range of preparations. The lifted finish of these wines also pair well with most vegetables, herbs and spices.
Medium bodied reds are just as easy to find as fuller bodied favourites and pair better across a variety of dishes, try picking up a bottle of Nero D’Avola, Grenache or Cabernet Franc.
Nero D’Avola is a classic Sicilian red, bolder than Chianti and marching closer to the fuller side of medium, Nero D’Avolas are food friendly wines that can capture the palette of full-bodied wine drinkers. They are bold in the glass and filled with notes of cherry, plum, dried strawberries and complemented by spices like licorice, tobacco and leather. The well-structured tannins of Nero D’Avolas are lifted by the wine’s bright acidity, making it a wine that is persistent and phenomenally food forward.
Grenache, although popularized in southern France, has made it the world over with notable productions emerging in Spain, Australia, Italy and the United States. Grenache is a warm and medium bodied wine that packs a punch and filled with spice notes. When drinking Grenache, you will find a wine with notes of strawberry, cherry, and wild raspberry, as well as bold spices of citrus rind, green herbs, cinnamon, toasted tobacco and anise. Grenache’s approachable tannins and lifted finish make it a familiar nuance for Merlot lovers.
Most famously known in the blends of Bordeaux’s right bank, Cabernet Franc is a standout grape all on its own. Productions of Cabernet Franc from Lorie Valley, Chinon, and across Canadian wine regions show what this grape can do when it is the star of the show. Cabernet Franc makes a savoury and medium-bodied wine that can be larger than life in the glass. Characterized by notes of wild blackberry, red plum, roasted red pepper and a dark rocky minerality, these wines are dry and beg to be paired with something good to eat.