Ordering the right wine for yourself in a restaurant is tough, but choosing wine for a group is often near impossible. Dealing with different palettes and tastes and matching the wine to your menu can leave even the most accomplished hostess a little nervous. Thus, we called in a serious expert, award-winning viticulturist and winemaker Paula Moulton, to break down the best in wine dining for us.
It’s more than just having the perfect Olivia Pope glasses, or the most expensive bottle of bubbly. Pairing the right wine with your at-home menu takes delving into taste profiles, the time of year, and maybe even mixing up a cocktail. Moulton gives us the scoop!
WHAT IS A GOOD RED AND WHITE WINE TO HAVE READY ON THE TABLE, REGARDLESS OF THE MENU?
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are my “go to” red and white wine for any soirée. Both wines pair well with just about anything and even nothing at all.
Pinot Noir is filled with dazzling passion and voluptuous perfumes exuding complex flavors that are edgy and hot like a lover’s crush. […] It can escort dark or light meat, fish and even hearty pasta dishes without either overpowering or underachieving.
Chardonnay, a versatile white, can be “unoaked” and aged in stainless steel barrels or “oaked” and aged in oak barrels. The two ageing processes produce totally different flavors. The former being slightly more acidic with hints of soft fruit and the latter being smooth and less fruity.
HOW SHOULD OUR WINE CHOICES CHANGE WITH THE SEASON?
Do you feel like drinking a hearty red wine on a sweaty summer day or a cool crisp white on a snowy winter day? No thanks. Follow the seasons when it comes to pairing and you certainly can’t go wrong no matter what winey you are trying to impress.
Winter dishes are traditionally higher in fat and much heavier, and the tannins from the red wines break down the heaviness of a hearty fall or winter meal by smoothing out the intensity of both the fat and the tannin.
On the flipside, spring and summer dishes are lighter due to weather and the accessibility of fresh vegetables and fruits. The crisp acidity of a white wine does not weigh down a meal with heavy red tannins but instead wakes up the sweet and complex flavors of fresh fruits and vegetables of the warmer seasons.
WHAT DO THESE WINE VARIETALS MEAN TO YOU?
Pinot Grigio: You Made My Day
Chardonnay: I Love You
Merlot: Wish You Were Here
Cabernet: Read Between the Lines
Champagne: Best Friends Forever
HOW CAN WE INTEGRATE SPARKLING WINES INTO OUR MENUS?
Sparkling wines are user-friendly and can be integrated with just about any meal whether you’re entertaining or not.
Sip it after a long day of work before dinner
Sip it with potato chips and your best buddy
Sip it before or after a romantic date
Sip it with your popcorn during a movie
Sip it with your birthday cake
Sip it in your bubble bath
Sip it all the way through your meal
Sip it just to sip it
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE WINE TOOLS
I have two personal favorite wine tools: shoe and blender
SHOE: My shoe, your shoe, and even your neighbor’s shoe will work (please, no heels). The shoe is your greatest wine tool since it will allow you to open a bottle of wine when you DO NOT have a wine opener. Simply remove the foil from the neck of the bottle and place the bottle in your shoe. Hold the neck of the bottle with one hand and gently place your other hand on the top of the shoe. Begin by lightly tapping the bottom of the shoe against a wall (place a book between the wall and shoe…if you have one), tree or even the floor. The cork will slowly emerge and voilà your wine is free.
BLENDER: While studying for my Wine Management degree in France, I learned that creativity is a virtue when it comes to the how-tos of wine. What do you do when your friends are coming to dinner and you forgot to decant and aerate that sure to impress bold and young tannic red wine? The blender becomes your best tool when it comes to a young red wine. Pour the wine into the blender and turn it on for 3-5 minutes. Don’t worry about the froth as that will soon dissipate. Taste the wine once the froth settles and if you like how it tastes then stop blending and if you don’t like how it tastes then blend again!
HOW SHOULD WINE COCKTAILS BE USED FOR DINNER PARTIES?
As a general rule, I tend to be a traditionalist when it comes to wine. My training in France taught me to view wine as a food used primarily as an enhancer to my meal.
Here is my one and only exception when it comes to breaking the rules with a wine cocktail:
Sparkling wine or Champagne (don’t use your best)
Chilled Citrus Juice (Preferably Orange but Grapefruit juice works)
I mix 2/3 chilled Sparkling wine or Champagne with 1/3 chilled citrus juice. Add a splash of triple sec and serve.