Today picking out a new restaurant to try can be quite a process. You can visit the restaurant’s website, see if any of your mutual friends have visited their social media page, and read reviews before even sitting down at your table. Once you sit down, wine lists are sometimes longer than the actual food menu.
Have you ever found yourself paging through an extensive wine list and wondering which wine you should order and whether to get a glass for yourself or a whole bottle for the table? Depending on the number of courses and flavor profiles, there could be several different wines that pair best with your menu choices. I’ve often asked myself these questions, and I am in the restaurant business! With so many details to take into consideration, the fun can fall out of your night out. Nowadays I don’t let the “rules” of drinking wine paralyze me when I am ordering. I was once told, “Drink what you enjoy.” I started doing just that and have ignited my passion for exploring wines once again.
When my husband and I dine out, we truly enjoy the entire experience. We like to get settled into our table and start off with sparkling wine. It is light, bubbly, and fun! Sparkling wines are great to start as they can pair with just about anything so it makes your appetizer selection a little easier. When you are planning any meal, you always want to travel from light to dark. This is in reference to flavor and color. Start with your whites or lighter bodied wines and move up to the bigger bolder flavors of some of the reds. This correlates to food as well. Appetizers are lighter as they are meant to tantalize your taste buds. Afterwards you can move on to richer, fuller flavor courses.
Each wine varietal has certain characteristics that make up its flavor profile. Sauvignon Blanc is known for its light crisp flavor—very refreshing on hot summer days. It pairs well with fish or cheese. Chardonnay wins the popularity contest as it is America’s #1 selling white wine varietal. Chardonnay has a fuller bodied flavor that encompasses a wide range of flavors from the buttery oak overtones to the fresh fruit flavors of apple, pear, tropical citrus, and melon. This varietal pairs well with poultry, seafood, pork, or dishes that are cream or butter based.
Rosé wines are making a strong comeback and are breaking the misconception barriers that they are an overly sweet wine. Rosés can be made in a sweet style, off dry, or bone-dry style with most of the European Rosés being decidedly dry. A Rosé gets its color from the skins and how long they are in contact with the juice, just like the reds. Therefore they have a good representation of the red grape with softer more subtle notes. This makes Rosé versatile for pairing as it can stand up to red meat and seafood. It is great for backyard barbecues as it is often served chilled but can stand up to bold flavors. It can also be taken on a picnic with ham and cheese sandwiches. If you are looking for a sweet wine but want to stray from White Zinfandels, I would suggest trying a Gewurztraminer or sweet Riesling.
Some of us are hesitant to explore the red wines as they are fuller bodied with bolder flavors. Pinot Noir is a great introductory red varietal with a fruity flavor and softer tannins. It has great food pairing versatility and is easy to enjoy on its own as well. Merlots are typically a soft, medium-bodied red wine with juicy fruit-forward flavors. This too is a good introductory red varietal as it is soft on tannins and pairs well with a variety of foods: red meat, pork, pastas, and salads. Cabernet Sauvignon is often defined as “king of red wine grapes” and is the most sought-after red wine. Cabs range from medium to full bodied and are characterized by their high tannin content, which helps support the rich fruit characteristics and balancing of flavors. Cabs go well with rich flavorful foods like red meat, hearty pastas, lamb, strong flavored cheeses, and chocolate. Especially dark!
Malbec, Tempranillo, and Grenache varietals are increasing in popularity in the United States. They are economical and can be found in varying styles. Malbecs are a medium- to full-bodied dry red wine with high tannins and acidity. They can stand up to spicy cuisines like Mexican and Thai and pair great with barbecue meats. Zinfandel is another varietal that is great with barbecue and bold flavored foods.
Like wine, each person is unique and we all have varying palates. Some pairings might work exceptionally well for you but not for others. Taste and explore what tastes good to you. When you’re dining out and you see a varietal offered by the glass that you haven’t tried, see if your server will give you a taste. Enjoy the experience and more importantly drink what you enjoy!
Tip: some states, including Virginia, offer a bottle-to-go program. If you are ordering a meal and an accompanying bottle of wine, you only need to drink a portion of it. Then the restaurant can package it in a one-time sealable bag so you can enjoy the rest of the bottle in the comfort of your home.
Denise Baron Herrera is vice-president of food and beverage of Burtons Grill. A graduate of Johnson and Wales University, she has traveled throughout Central and South America learning about the area’s cuisine. Denise lives in Massachusetts with her husband and year-old daughter.
Burtons Grill is located in the Marketplace at Hilltop in Virginia Beach and offers half-price wine by the bottle on Sunday nights.