Remember in middle school when you loved that band that no one knew about? And then they blew up and you had to tell all your friends how you knew them before they were cool? That’s the Douro Valley in Portugal right now.Even though it's been making wine for 1,000's of years - thanks to major infrastructure investments in the region and a growing reputation for red and white table wines - it's on the verge of a major breakout.Here's why you should be drinking it now...This ain’t just about your grandma’s port.When you hear "Douro", you may be savvy enough to be thinking about Port wine–and you are spot on, our dear friend. However, did you know that the Douro Valley also produces some of the best table wines in the world? Reds, whites, even roses? These are some of the most interesting and unique wines we’ve tried – ranging from light and refreshing whites to intense, velvety, complex reds.The incredible range of varietals will keep you guessing.There are literally 122 different grape varietals grown in just the Douro Valley. Not 12. 122. And they’re not growing your typical Cabs and Chardonnays. All the varietals are local – from Toriga Nacional and Toriga Franca to the spicy Tinto Rodiz. Most interestingly, all the wines from the Douro are blends. Different grapes bring different qualities to the party, which means you're going to find something unique with each wine you try from here.How many other regions literally dynamited mountains to grow their grapes?Beyond making the region one of the most breathtaking places you can visit in the world, the Douro's terraced vineyards are also part of what makes their wines so interesting. Not only are you dealing with 122 different varietals, but you’ve also got different levels of sun exposure on the North and South banks of the Douro river, a crazy wide range of topography, and varying altitudes. In typical wine regions, the difference in your wines really comes from the winemaker her or himself. Here, winemaking is an art form of a different degree based on the wildly unique terroir.Cheatsheet on what qualities you can expect from different areas of the Douro:South Bank: More elegantNorth Bank: More intenseCloser to the river: More intenseHigher altitude: More refreshingThe highest quality wines typically come from Clima Corgo (upper Corgo)These grapes know a good struggle.When you go through something tough in life, you come out on the other side even stronger and wiser than before because you are a badass human being. The same goes for grapes. The Douro bakes in what locals call "three months of hell." In a fact that was surprising to us, the Douro is a Mediterranean climate. That means lots and lots of heat in the summer. Additionally, the vines sit in and on shale, which holds that heat at a constant temperature, resulting in rich, intense red wines.When phylloxera hit the Douro in the 1800's, it wiped out +90% of production. Yes, 9-0. Winemakers across the Douro planted their vines closer together to try to increase their odds. This actually made it harder on the grapes. Think of when you and your sibling were put in a room together–you guys probably fought a bit. The grapes do, too. This ups the complexity of wines from the Douro and is part of the reason why you get an explosion of flavors with each sip.As required by law, winemakers are not allowed to irrigate the vines. This means all of the water on these vines is natural, even in those three months of hell.You can age the sh*t out of some of this stuff.Getting back into our Ports. The Douro was the first demarcated (i.e. has rules) wine region in the world. Ever. One of the strange rules that is required of all producers is that they keep one third of their production, every single year. In other words, they cannot sell you that wine. This is why you can drink a 100 year old port wine that was born before your grandma. It’s a good wine to be selfish with.Locals call tawny port "selfish port." Wine producers will tell you that once you open a fine tawny port, you should drink it all within a couple of months. Apparently, you can actually keep this stuff for a couple of years. This is because it’s already adapted to oxygen. Tawny ports are aged in small wooden casks that are porous, to age the wine quicker. That oxygen breaks down the fruit flavors (and turns it that brownish tawny color) and brings in notes of nuts, toffee, and caramel, along with upping its aging potential. All this means is you can hide it in a dark, deep corner of your fridge and pop it out every now to enjoy a couple of sips to yourself. Okay, okay, they're also good to share.For those of you who are nicer and like to share, they’ve got you covered, too. Even though the aging potential is killer on a lot of the reds and ports from the Douro, a lot of the wines produced here are meant to be drank young, once bottled. And because this region is still becoming really known internationally (beyond ports), you can also find them for pretty killer price points.So the next time your favorite middle school band comes on the radio, remember the Douro. Head to your local wine shop. And pop uma garrafa open.
We're now well into the new year, which means everyone has been seeing resolutions blowing up social media feeds. The gym is packed, and we're all reconsidering our diet choices after the rich-and-sweet-holiday-super-funtime-food-bonanza. But what does that mean for your wine?Let’s consider the nutritional facts behind your wines to, at least, knock one worry off your plate and help you plan accordingly for the goals you’re setting. While wines (and other alcoholic beverages) are not required by the FDA to have nutritional labels, there are still some basic facts around calories, carbs, sugars, and dietary sensitivities we know that can help you make the best decision for you.What is a standard serving of wine?First things first: Though I’ve always been a liberal pour-er myself, a standard serving of wine is technically 5 oz (150 ml) and a standard bottle contains 25 oz (750 ml). So, in theory, you should be getting 5 glasses out of that standard bottle of wine you bought. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 glasses of alcohol a day for men, and 1 a day for women (::sob::). Stepping over those bounds on the occasion will not mean any guaranteed and/or severe health issues for you; but like in all things, moderation is key to ensuring you stay as healthy as possible. Does wine have calories?Oh, you mean “delicious points?” Yes, it certainly and unfortunately does. Wine Folly has an awesome article that sums all of the details behind wine calories for you, but the gist is this: a glass can have anywhere from 80 to 200 calories per 5 oz serving, depending on the wine’s alcohol content and sweetness level. The higher you go in either of those two categories, the higher the calorie count. In general, dry wines with lower alcohol content will have the fewest calories. Your sweet, fortified wines at 20% alcohol-by-volume (ABV, listed on the label) will be your most caloric at almost 200 calories for a 5 oz pour. If you’re sticking to a 1500 calorie/day (women) or 2000 calorie/day diet (men) to drop some pounds, sacrificing 10-13% of your precious calories on one glass can feel like a lot! But be not deterred, wine lovers - if you’re watching the calories, seek out a dry wine produced in a cooler wine region* as cooler wine regions typically produce lower alcohol wines. In general, keep the ABV below 12%. Then (hydrate, then) consider 30 minutes of a physical activity to put you back on track. *Some cool wine regions to shop from can include the Loire Valley, France; Marlborough, NZ; Rheingau, Germany; Oregon and Washington states, USA; and Northern Italy. Does wine have carbs?Good news: wine is typically low carb to begin with! Dry wines, in fact, have negligible carbs as “dry” means an absence of sugar. Carbs in wine come from unfermented sugars, so apologies again to my sweet wine lovers: the presence of sugars in your wines will mean more carbs. If you’re concerned about carbs (Keto dieters, I’m looking at you) but can’t do without that occasion wine sip, search for still (non-sparkling) wines labeled as bone-dry and sparkling wines labeled as brut nature.Does wine have sugar? This is a resounding yes, and in fact sugar is how the alcohol is produced from the grapes in the first place. As already mentioned, sugar plays a major role in defining the calorie count as well as carbohydrate presence in a wine. Unless you are drinking bone-dry wine, your wine is apt to contain sugar. However, consider this: Is the sugar-free diet you’re on letting you drink milk? Milk contains about 50 grams per liter (g/L) a.k.a. 12 grams per cup of sugar. To stay under that amount of sugar per glass of wine, dry and off-dry still wines and extra brut, brut, extra dry, and dry sparkling wines are now all available to you. However, to play it safest: stick to bone-dry and brut nature.Is wine vegan? Even though wine is made from grapes, most wines cannot be officially labeled as “vegan” or even “vegetarian". Wine naturally clarifies during the fermentation process, but that can take a long time. To meet demand, wineries may use animal-sourced byproducts like egg whites as “processing aids” during the fining process. If a vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle is important to you, you can find a list of vegan wines HERE.Is wine gluten-free? Generally, YES! However, if you suffer from celiac disease it is still important to consult your doctor and perhaps consider contacting the winery directly to be super sure you can consume their wine.Summary: in general, stick to dry wines from cooler regions with lower ABV to have the least amount of impact on your dietary regime. But rest assured, matter how you’re choosing to get and stay healthy for 2019’s “New You” know that there’s a wine waiting for you!
There are many reasons why I love Spanish wine. I won’t bore you with every single one of them but instead focus on one specific character of the wine production that makes Spain such a dominant force in the industry: diversity.Whilst Spanish wine may be synonymous with grapes like Tempranillo, Albariño, Verdejo and Garnacha there are countless other grapes grown in the country, some of which you might not expect to see either. Riesling. Chenin Blanc. Trousseau. Pinot Noir. Yes, these are all grown in Spain and many of which are produced into pretty epic varietal wines.Given the fact that Spain has the highest volume of land devoted to the cultivation of grapes in the world, the breadth of diversity should hardly be surprising. Add to this a wide array of climatic and geographical differences both on the mainland and on the islands and you have a country with the ability to produce very different and very unique wines.Whilst the staple varietal favourites will always provide the bread and butter in Spanish wine consumption, the increase in quality of non-traditional varietals should give the average wine drinker something to think about. I’ve always been a firm believer that grapes show their truest expression when grown in their indigenous home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find an alternative expression elsewhere.I’ve picked 4 of my favourite International grapes and tried to find a quality Spanish wine made from each. I realise this ‘experiment’ had the potential to blow up in my face but, bear with me, the results may surprise you.A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on AmazonRiesling Alsace. Mosel. Clare Valley. Riesling is an iconic grape grown is some fairly iconic vineyard destinations. Loved by sommeliers and wine geeks around the world and famed for its aromatic complexities, its ability to age for decades and its exceptional ability to express terroir.This has enabled the grape to travel so well and find additional expressions in areas such as New Zealand, Austria, Canada, The Finger Lakes as well as the Catalan Pyrenees in Spain with winery Castell d’Encus.It is here that winemaker Raul Bobet harvests his Riesling grapes at around 1,000 metres in the vineyards hidden within the Pyrenees forests. Farming is completed organically with complete respect to the environment and constant research is carried out by the team into factors such as planting density, cover crop, pruning types, in order to enhance the quality of grapes.The grapes are hand-harvested in small 10kg baskets from the small vineyard plots. The soils are clay limestone and due to the altitude and high diurnal range, the climate is cool, particularly for Catalunya and allows for a slow grape ripening which enhances the complexities. The site is surrounded by mountains and often prone to snow and frost which makes the vines suffer and therefore enhancing the quality of the grapes. This creates a unique micro-climate and a unique expression of Riesling that could most likely not be made in any other location in Spain.Their Riesling is named Ekam and has developed a cult following despite being fairly unknown in the wine world. The vines are young at around 15 years and fermentation is carried out naturally in small 25HL tanks before being bottled and held for 6 months before being released. A pinch of Albarino is added to the wine which adds some aromatics and mineral freshness.The result is a persistent and intense wine with mutli-layers and aromas of lime, grapefruit, white flower and a touch of smokiness that is all overarched with a wonderful acidity and mineral back-bone. It has the potential to age for a very long time.Chenin BlancFamed for its world class quality wines produced in its viticultural home in the Loire Valley, it is also found in small plantings around Catalunya, Aragon and Navarra. Whilst the planting sizes are relatively modest, there are a few producers creating world class Chenin wines with their own Spanish personalities. One of these very producers is the acclaimed Escoda Sanahuja with their bottle of Els Bassots made up primarily from Chenin with small percentages of Sumoll Blanc, Garnacha Blanca and Macabeu. Based in the relatively unknown DO of Conca de Barbera within Catalunya they are committed to producing “natural wines of biodynamic agriculture”. This involves the use of native yeasts for fermentation and with no filtration, clarification, stabilization nor sulphites.At Escoda Sanahuja the grape is the only protagonist. The grapes for this wine are handpicked and undergo a maceration on the skins for around 10 days which gives the wine an amazing amber tinge. Fermentation is carried out in stainless steel using natural yeasts before the wine is aged for at least one year in neutral French oak.The result is a unique and expressive wine with a funky nose and bucket loads of flavour with ripe pear, dried apricot, honey and lychee. The tannins from the skin maceration create body and there’s a slight effervescence to the wine that ends with a long and citrus sweet finish.A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on AmazonTrousseauOriginally from France and most planted nowadays in Portugal as Bastardo and used as part of the blend for Port wine, it is also found in North West Spain under the name of Merenzao.There are various mutations of the grape and enough synonyms to ensure the average wine-buff would have come across the grape in some shape or form.It is a dark skinned grape typically producing deep cherry-red wines with dark berry and forest fruit nuances. The high natural sugars in the grape generally produce wines with high potential alcohol content.We’re sticking with North West Spain, Ribiera Sacra to be exact, and small winery Adega Algueira where their small plot of Merenzao is located on the steep, schist slopes of the River Sil.It is a family run winery in the midst of development, growth and ambition - and I was lucky enough to visit them in 2018. The winery building itself has been expanded from the original structure into a large, modern, clean and organised operation. The wide array of barrels, foudres, amphoras, all different shapes and sizes show commitment to artisanal winemaking. Elaborations are carried out based on what is best for the grape rather than the winery.Their Merenzao wine named Risco is ultra-low production and it’s sensational. Named after the previous owner of this special plot of vines and made from 100% Merenzao, the vines are 80 years old and the wine is whole-cluster fermented, foot-pressed and aged in old oak. The end result is unique and exquisite. Beautiful texture and inky dark colour with flavours of perfumed blackcurrant, fleshy plum, lavender and balsamic. I didn’t bring many wines home from my trip due to luggage restrictions but this one made the cut.Pinot NoirWhat is there to say about Pinot Noir? It's grown all over the world in various styles but firmly rooted as the darling grape of Burgundy. It has the ability to produce bland $5 wines but at the same time those life-affirming bottles from the Cote d’Or where you’d need a 6 figure bank balance, an extremely rich friend or a highly technical robbery plan in order to taste one.You only have to listen to Paul Giamatti in the film Sideways to understand the passion and obsession many feel towards the grape. It’s “thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early…it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world…only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”Quite the high maintenance grape but if there’s one winemaker in Spain who would be up for the challenge it’s Raul Perez.Affectionately known as the Wine Wizard, Raul has been working magic with the indigenous Spanish grape Mencia for decades. Considering the grape is known as the Pinot Noir of Spain, it makes sense that Raul would branch out and experiment with Spanish Pinot Noir.Planted as an experiment by Raul himself, his tiny single-vineyard in the Bierzo region in North West Spain produces the grapes for his wine ‘La Tentacion’, often considered as the finest Pinot in Spain.Whole bunch fermented in open-top 5,000 litre foudres and aged for 12 months in French oak barriques and made entirely by hand.The production is miniscule but the quality can rival many in Burgundy.It is elegant, precise and complex and shows fresh red fruit character with wonderful acidity, a subtle earthiness and a long and opulent finish.A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on Amazon
Spring is the most pleasant time of the year. Days start to get longer and warmer, and spending time outside suddenly feels very inviting. The green gets greener, the blue sky turns brighter and flowers blooming everywhere it all seems magical. Well, and it is, at least in Portugal!Did you know that Portugal is the European country with more sun hours? Yes, it is true. And is also under the radar so it is the Europe’s hidden-gem, traditional yet modern and innovative. Its wine tradition is older than its borders and in 1758 was established the first wine-producing region of the world.It´s great to be outdoors during the Spring months. To take a walk along the lavish green Douro's landscape taking your time to relax or to sail the Douro river and breathe for a while. And if you are thinking that the perfect setting would include wine tasting, maybe you would enjoy a Port wine tasting paired with delicious food, Wine Tourism in Portugal is going to make that happen.1 – Sleep in a Barrel This is the perfectly quirky accommodation option for all the wine lovers out there. You may now spend the night in a giant wine barrel, which offers all the comforts granted by modern-day standards. Each of these wine barrels - there are 10 of them - are about 270 square feet (25 square meters) in size and come with a double bed, fully equipped bathroom, and air conditioning. On the outside, there is a deck from where you can enjoy a rolling as-far-as-the-eye-can-see-view of the valley.In addition to the round glass door, there's also a skylight through which the sun shines and you can enjoy the star-filled nights, all the more visible away from the city lights.You can also take a winery tour here, enjoy a wine tasting session paired with cheese and jam, have a picnic in the vineyards, a wine course or - best yet - a cooking class where you will learn traditional techniques while preparing your very own meal. 2 - Picnic in the VineyardsPicnics are a fun thing to do. But when do you have the opportunity to do it right in middle of secular vineyards sightseeing the snake like river Douro in the background?Some wine estates in Portugal are able to provide that unique experience perfect for everyone. Enjoy it with your family, friends or even in a romantic getaway. Go ahead choose your spot in the vineyard and make that the moment when you reveal your feelings to your love ones and then unveil what is inside your basket to celebrate the moment. Everything you are about to taste was carefully selected and the wine will be the perfect pairing. Only the best regional wine and delicacies (or in Portuguese: Petiscos) combined with some charming and distinctive details selected for you will be inside your basket. Immerse yourself in the magnificent scenery and enjoy each flavor and each minute.3 - Cruising 2019 in Portugal Wine cruises can be relaxing, fun, romantic, you set the tone we provide all you need on board for the smoothest sailing either for a short escape of one or two hours or to spend the night on board.The view is stunning and the wine, by the moment you already know how it is, unique and produced in the man made slopes along the Douro river as far as the eyes can see. A truly delight for those who need a moment out of the real world, a moment of indescribable beauty.To set sail in Douro river you will be able to go on board of modern sailing boats or boats with a vintage feel. Also if you are visiting Algarve in the south of Portugal a Yacht cruise will take you along the immense bright blue of the Atlantic ocean and you will be able to spot the secret beaches hidden between the rocks.Wine Tourism in Portugal has cruises that are able to suit your particular taste. Everything for the perfect spring day!4 - Cultural Tours - The Locals ChoicesYes, cultural tours can be exhausting, if the only thing you do is to walk around a town and visit platitudinous churches or museums. But what if this tour takes you only to the most beautiful european historic sites and shows you the true cultural heritage? A cultural richness that adds up some top quality wines and delicious petiscos. Yes, your cultural tour magically turns into a once in a lifetime experience. What about now? A Wine Tour in Porto with a River Cruise and Tour to The Port Wine Cellars, or a Full-day Wine Tour in Alentejo? Maybe you are more into a city feel, and if that is so: Wine and History Tour in Lisbon.5 - Adventure and sustainable toursAs a wine lover you know wine goes with any activity, mostly if you are on your Spring vacations. So, why not to mix it up with some adventure and nature experiences? OK, as long as the only thing you are driving is a Bike or a Kayak! And since spring is also the last chance you have to stay fit before summer, we have some excellent suggestions for you, that goes from an unique Wine and Golf Tour to Health and Wellness stays. In fact you can mix them and do it all during you stay. What about Bicycle Tours and Bird Watching, Kayak and Bike Tours or get the adrenaline running in the 4x4 Wine Tour?Probably many other experiences could be on this top as Portugal have so many incredible experiences waiting for you all year long. So now, it is time for you to see, taste, and feel for yourself. Create your own unforgettable memories of 2019 in Portugal.For more information visit http://www.winetourismportugal.com
While the new year technically marks the end of the holiday season, it also means the start of a whole new year of hashtag wine holidays.To help you ring them all in in 2019, we've compiled a 12-month calendar that includes a comprehensive list of each and every wine holiday, from legit ones like Beaujolais Nouveau Day to those that are just for fun (#DrinkWineDay). You'll also find some bonus holidays that we think will pair well – here's to looking at you National Chocolate Day. Download the calendarIf you find this helpful, please share it and make sure to tag us on Instagram at @millennialsdrinkwine!
Just imagine the mouth-coating richness of a fatty Wagyu steak being cut by the grippy tannins of a powerful Barolo. It sets the stage for a contrasted dance between savory red meat and elegant cherries, coupled with dried roses. Similarly, picture a contrast between the brambly berry flavors of a Dry Creek Zinfandel and the aggressive gaminess of venison. Or perhaps the intensity of a strawberry-laden Willamette Pinot Noir against the acrid smokiness of cedar-planked salmon. Sometimes the dance is more compliment than contrast, like the harmony of fruit flavors between duck a l’orange and Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Or even the simple brininess of oysters and the chalky minerality of Chablis.In the best cases, the relationship between wine and food is a happy mix of both. But the stage doesn’t always have to be a ballroom, and the dance doesn’t always have to be a waltz - or in our case, the pairings not as fancy-shmancy. Sometimes the venue is little less classy...saaaay a Taco Bell, KFC, or maybe an In-N-Out (for those of you readers lucky enough to have one around). Rest assured, the pairings can be just as stellar, and that date night you have planned can still go off without a hitch, at least in the department of gastronomy. It is in this article that I hope to arm you with the knowledge I believe can make everyday meals outstanding. There’s enough information to flood pages, but I’ll keep it simple with this metaphor. Picture two salsa partners on the dance floor or perhaps two boxing opponents in a ring. Think of a scenario where these partners have similar builds, and another in which they have dramatically different ones. It’s safe to assume that the first scenario would yield a harmonious, thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing, coordinated interplay while the second results in an undesired black eye. That’s what pairing wine & food is like. The better the match, the better the interaction. Another thing to consider is a wine’s structure (I’ll spare you the metaphor for this one). Fat in any dish is quite an amazing thing. However, it takes up lots of space on our palates, and blocks the way for other things that SHOULD be making an appearance - most notably flavors. Luckily, wine’s answer to this is acidity & tannin, as both precipitate fat, thus clearing the path for all the other cool stuff to make their way to our taste buds (and for all the beer lovers out there, carbonation acts similarly). Using this as context, let’s dive into the delectable, guilt-ridden world of fast food and search for some stellar wine pairings. For the sake of practicality, I will discuss wines that you can find at your local grocery, rather than having to go to a specialty wine store (although if you have one within proximity, then by all means go).With the biggest, heaviest redsUsually the stuff that first comes to our minds. Cabs, Zins, Malbecs, Syrahs, Blends, and the like. They have the most flavor, the most body, the most tannin, and the most of a whole lot more. But just because they’re the most obvious doesn’t mean they should always be first choice. Remember that metaphor from earlier? Keep in mind that these reds represent the far end of the spectrum – the Schwarzeneggers of wine selections. More specifically, the tannins in these wines are extremely abundant, and their weights are all at the top of the (fast) food chain. To keep the interaction balanced & engaging, we must make sure we partner with take-out that’s just as substantial. The most obvious partners to these are heavy duty hamburgers. However, since were discussing the biggest reds available, think BIG like Carl’s Jr (Hardees) Six Dollar 1/3lb Burgers, the Five Guys Double Grilled Cheeseburger, and certainly In-N-Out’s Double-Doubles and 4x4s. Other drive-thru contenders, again, remembering to think big, would be chili cheese fries, Philly cheesesteaks, & fattier iterations of Mexican dishes like barbacoa or beef burritos with gratuitous cheese. In any of these cases, do be careful with anything spicy (jalapenos, red pepper flakes, etc) as tannins in wine, as well as alcohol, tend to exacerbate them for the worse. In the realm of barbeque sauce-slathered red meats, Syrahs (especially Australian Shiraz) & Zinfandels get a notable mention as they have inherent peppery/savory flavors that compliment meat, and fruit intensities that match the sweetness of the sauce. Regardless of which guilty pleasure you may choose, keep in mind that the interaction at play remains the same – your palate will be covered in fats from cheese, fats from meat, fats from rich sauces, you get the idea. When your tongue is coated in so much richness that you can no longer taste the nuances of other flavors, it’s actually those same rough, burly tannins (culprits of the bitterness we so vehemently avoid) that cleanse the palate and restore order to your taste buds - the best partners will bleed grease through the wrapper, clog the arteries, and most importantly give the wine’s structure something more substantial to spar with (although it wouldn’t hurt to schedule that checkup with your cardiologist).With reds that aren’t as bigThink Grenache, Gamays, Pinot Noirs, Sangioveses, and more. When going lighter we naturally become more flexible with our pairings as our drinks are less demanding & aggressive (in the best cases, with no sacrifice to flavor). We no longer need look for entrees that coat our palates in fats & protein, as these reds will be less substantial. Lighter items like deli sandwiches and protein + rice (or other grain) plates can find their way back to our passenger seats. First, Pinot Noir can indeed work with fast foods but a good number (often domestically made) are oaky, bearing notes of vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, and more. While that does sound fantastic, flavors reminiscent of Grandma’s kitchen aren’t the most flexible for pairing. Sweet spices can tend to clash with the saltier, more savory tones of cured meat, or the lively flavors of condiments like ketchup or mustard, or the raw flavors of vegetables, and even peppery spices like cayenne and paprika. However, this same acrid character makes a perfect partner to the deeply charred flavors from grilling, searing, roasting, and so on. Thus, if your meal is just roasted chicken or pork, without excessive salt, spice, or vegetal tones Pinot works great, so long as there aren’t any of the aforementioned flavors to oppose. If you’re a devout Pinot follower, than opt for versions that don’t stress the usage of oak, and are therefore more flexible (“excuse me, I’m looking for a Pinot that isn’t oaky”). A bit more obscure, but a fantastic alternative, is to reach for a bottle of French Beaujolais, which is based from the Gamay varietal. This red has a structure and berry-tinged character like Pinot Noir, but is unencumbered by a copious amount of oak flavorings. With the primary flavors being red berry fruits, Beaujolais makes a great contrast to cured meats such as ham, roast beef, and pastrami, as well as a match for livelier sauces like mustards, ketchups, and spicy mayos. The applications of Beaujolais extend far beyond conventional sandwiches, as its vivacious fruit tones serve as a great match to strongly flavored and/or spicy foods like Cajun and Middle Eastern – just think of how notes of fresh strawberry & cherry would wonderfully contrast against a savory mouthful gyros from Halal Guys. Another French alternative for pairing would be a bottle of Cotes Du Rhone (based from Grenache) which is delivers loads of baked/dried red fruit flavors alongside secondary notes of herbs and spice, and a fuller body when compared to the former reds. Just like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone does well when matched with menu items that put the savory flavors of meat at the forefront, such as those deeply charred chicken & steak bowls from Chipotle or mixed piece meals from El Pollo Loco. Whether it’s Beaujolais or Cotes du Rhone, you have wines that are not very tannic and have livelier red fruit flavors. With this in mind, Mexican dishes that dabble with red pepper flakes, cayenne, chilis, and the like become outstanding partners to either wine as their piquancy will not be offset by an excessively tannic structure (the structure of wines from the former category would make your palate feel like a flamethrower). I will also quickly note that Indian cuisines work with these reds by virtue of the same principle. From another part of the world, Italian Sangiovese, often in the form of a bottle of Tuscan “Chianti”, works great with tomato themed dishes, whose inherent flavors are often hard to pair with. Sangiovese’s own flavors of tart cherry and tomato make it a natural partner to anything that dabbles in marinara sauces – think of your favorite pizza place, or perhaps Subway’s flagship Meatball Marinara. Regardless of the choices in wine or food, lets remember to take the bird’s eye view and repeat our mantra of matching the overall weights & characters of both participants. After conceptually scaling both partners mentioned above, can we see how they make fine dance partners?With Whites & RoseAlthough not often our first thought to accompany fast food, the opportunity for a home-run pairing very much does exist in the realm of whites, and in many more ways than you think. For a good number of these wines, the dynamic is simple – the acidity in whites contrasts with the lighter flavors of white meats & seafood, emphasizing their simplistic character. As MS Evan Goldstein put it in his fantastic book “Perfect Pairings”, the acid in these wines act as “gastronomic highlighter”. Obvious examples of this are Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Albarino, and lighter iterations of Pinot Gris/Grigio, which prominently feature a lively acidity as well as vibrant fruit tones. When pairing with lighter whites, Tex-Mex-themed joints like Baja Fresh, Rubio's, Wahoo's, and El Pollo Loco are perfect as much of their menu revolves around simply prepared poultry and/or seafood, with minimal intervention from spices or sauce. Again, simple with simple right? However, be advised that when entrees include grilled vegetables or tossed greens, Sauv Blanc usually takes the edge as it has an intrinsic vegetal/herbaceous character that is complimentary. For those of you making New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, yes you should certainly pair Sauv Blanc with your salads. Beyond said varietals, there are a few that have a modest amount of sweetness to them – what is known as “off-dry”. While sugar isn’t always desired in our whites, and a lot of us prefer dry (supposedly), sugar does have its niche in the world of pairing – a prime example being German Riesling (look for “kabinett” or ‘spatlese” on the label when available). Its sugar nullifies heat, thus calming the palate and allowing us to enjoy the other wonderful flavors of a dish without breaking a sweat. Ethnic items that emphasize exotic flavors, like Tikka Masala and Chicken Curry, work great with Riesling as it has plenty of its own perfumed aromas to match the flavor intensity, as well as ample sugar to tame the heat. Another example of this dynamic would be a partnership with Szechuan entrees like Kung Pao Chicken or Mapo Tofu – for those of you who don’t have a local authentic Szechuan joint nearby, much of Panda Express’s menu offers items that dabble in both spice & sugar to dance perfectly with Riesling. Another fast food/wine niche that you might not have thought of (unless you’re German) would be pairing Riesling with hot dogs as the interaction becomes a playful contrast of salty against sweet. The ubiquitous Chardonnay, contrary to its popularity, is actually not as flexible as the other whites mentioned – at least not the oaky, butter-laden iterations from California that we all know and love. Just as in the case of Pinot Noir from earlier, Chard’s hedonistic character of oak driven spices cause it to clash with the saltier and/or vegetal tones often found in drive-thrus (although it should be noted that the case is quite the opposite when discussing dishes in the arena of fine dining). When Chardonnay in unoaked however, it can be treated just like drier whites mentioned before; with simple recipes that put protein at the forefront. Lastly we have Rose to consider. While it is indeed lighter, it's sort of an “in between” style – from its assertiveness & intensity of flavors, to its fullness in texture, and even having a small presence of tannin. The style is characteristically a vino middle ground, never fully committing to either side, and therefore yielding implications in pairing that are synonymously “in between”. Any meal that hearkens to one color of wine, but flirts with another makes a perfect candidate - lighter variations of the items in the earlier sections work swimmingly such as single patty cheeseburgers, sandwiches with chicken or charcuterie, and most ethnic cuisines when the proteins are leaner cuts (like white meat & seafood). Even BBQ sauce items match well against Rose’s sweeter impressions of fruit, again so long as the proteins aren’t big slabs of red meat. More contemporarily, many of the vegetarian themed fast-casual spots that have rightly gained much popularity (like Veggie Grill & Native Foods) are also very much “in between” as they are based on vegetables, grains, and alternative proteins, but aslo have a ramped-up weight & flavor profile, due to their often generous, additions of sauce & seasonings. As we exit the drive-thru As a parting note, the knowledge presented above represents a foundational approach to pairing food and wine - much of these theories are long honored and time tested. However, the world of wine (and food of course) is dizziyingly immense. When attempting to pair our meals & beverages remember that, like a game of chess, there are many moving pieces, and our logical minds may often oversee exactly how intertwined even one piece may be in relation to the rest of the board, leading to minor, and even monumental blunders (last metaphor, I promise!). What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the pairing may not always work out, despite our best calculations. Inevitably our food will be much fattier than we anticipated, or the wine not structured enough, or the flavors just won’t play well together. Regardless of the hiccup, asking why a pairing failed to work teaches us just as much (if not more) than why something did – with the often-crippling amount of choice available, this approach will serve you well (it certainly has for me). Lastly, remember wine should always be, above all else, the fun part of our day, and we mustn’t let the ever-expanding abundance of information impede our enjoyment - or inebriation. Much like tone of this article, keep in mind to approach the subject of vino - and gastronomy for that matter - with a healthy degree of merriment. Don't forget to check out Drive Through Napa, a modern primer on Napa Valley. The quickest and coolest way to learn about Napa Valley. Bonus content from 16 of Napa's top wineries + industry's first Price to Value charts powered by Vinvo.