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Recently, at a Mexican restaurant in Chicago with three fellow wine enthusiasts, I was tasked with selecting the wines for dinner. The wine list was immense, filled with amazing wines from all over the world.
This is every wine lover's dream, navigating through a great wine list looking for hidden gems or memorable wines that will enhance the evening. My strategy was to select two wines to pair perfectly with the first course and the entree, knowing that all of us would be ordering differently. No pressure, right?
Given the many bright, intense flavors and spice that the cuisine possesses, especially the first course, I wanted this wine to not only match these attributes but also condition our palates (not weigh them down) for the many flavors it would experience throughout the evening. My inner voice was emphatically exclaiming an aromatic, intensely flavored, high-acid white wine. My choice was a Riesling from Alsace from the 2005 vintage. Not only did it match and enhance our dishes, which ranged from ceviche to grilled shrimp to crab cake, it had just enough texture (whites from Alsace have a slight oiliness) to satisfy someone who prefers a richer white wine. One for one.
Then came the entree wine. I wanted a red wine that was medium bodied (think 2 percent milk) with enough richness and concentration to pair with duck breast and a filet and the elegance and acidity to make those who were having halibut happy. Very few red wines have these attributes. One that does is Pinot Noir. I selected a single vineyard Pinot from the Willamette Valley in Oregon from 2006. It had beautiful depth of flavor, a silky texture and enough acidity to bring out the flavor in our dishes without overpowering. Two for two.
Key things to remember about selecting a wine for multiple dishes:
- Avoid wines that are very light and very full in body.
- Wines with good acidity (found in cooler climates) always enhance food.
- Don’t hesitate to ask the assistance of the sommelier or wine steward for guidance.
A 25-year veteran of the wine and hospitality industry, George Staikos is known for his role as an educator, sharing his passion for wine appreciation. He is the founder and president of the Educated Grape, a company specializing in interactive education programs and in-home wine entertaining for wine enthusiasts and companies. He is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality Management, where he teaches “Introduction to the Study of Wine.” He is also Vice Echanson or regional wine director for the mid-Atlantic region for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a worldwide food-and-wine organization.
Staikos is a graduate of Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. He is married with three children and lives in Flemington.