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Better Together: Learning to Pair Wines

Wine and food pairing

Impress Your Friends—or Your Date—the Next Time You Visit a Wine Bar in Ottawa

We all have that friend that fancies themselves a wine expert. They can always tell you which kind of wine to pair with a dish, and their selections often help bring out the best of both. But you can’t take them with you every time you go out to a wine bar in Ottawa, so what do you do when they aren’t there to help you find that perfect pair? It turns out that there are basics of wine pairing that anyone can learn—and once you know the basics, you can continue to learn and explore as you refine your palate! Here are some good starting points:

The Reds

Red wines fall into three major varieties: full-bodied, medium, and light, all of which are typically served at room temperature. Full-bodied reds are the boldest-tasting, meaning they can keep up with bold dishes. Steaks, dishes rich in mushrooms, and food seasoned with black pepper all call for a full-bodied red like a Malbec or a Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium reds like Merlot or Zinfandel come in a wide range of rich flavours, making them perfect for dishes with plenty of tomatoes or vegetables, gourmet hamburgers, and rich spices like fennel and cumin. Pinot noir is an example of a light red, with more subtle and aromatic flavours than its cousins. Light reds are great with garlic, pastas, and even white meats like poultry.

The Whites

Like with red wines, you can find three major varieties of white at an Ottawa wine bar: rich, sweet, and zesty. Unlike the reds, all three whites are served chilled. Rich whites like Sémillon can have creamy flavours, making them perfect for creamy dishes, shellfish, cheese, and poultry like chicken or duck. Riesling and Gewürztraminer are deliciously sweet white wines with fruity aromas (a good wine satisfies more than just one sense) that can playfully balance out tart or sour flavours, and even work nicely with dessert—though there’s another choice for that further down. Zesty whites are often described as dry and crisp, and have fruity flavours that make them perfect for seafood. A salmon dish paired with a cold glass of Pinot Grigio is a match made in heaven.

Dessert Wines

Yes, you read that correctly. We’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor… okay, shall we continue? Dessert wines, also called fortified wines, have richly sweet flavours and high alcohol contents, and should be enjoyed in small portions—after all, that sugar is more likely to give you a hangover than the actual alcohol content! Port and Sherry are two famous examples, which go well with everything from cheese platters to cakes, ice cream, and pies. Some people even like to sip a small glass on its own after a good meal!

Now that you’ve got a starting point for perfect wine pairings, the best thing you can do is get out there and try some of these for yourself. The most important thing is how it tastes to you, so remember to trust your own senses—they won’t lead you astray. And if you’re ever not sure, don’t be afraid to ask a server at your local Ottawa wine bar for a recommendation.