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Wine Pairing for a Windy Day

Pairing Churrasco-style meats with Amarone at Las Fuentas restaurant
Pairing Churrasco-style meats with Amarone at Las Fuentas restaurant
Jim Hammond

March might exit like a lamb, which probably became Easter dinner, but May is only getting more blustery. While taming the wind isn’t in the cards, avoiding overwrought wines could be. These are wines that provide their own form of bluster, over-alcoholic, over-extracted and over the top. These red wines are sometimes called “fruit-bombs” and sometimes even blamed on Robert Parker. The last is a bit unfair. He has praised some of these wines as have many others, but the choice to follow his lead is still up to the winemaker.

There are many occasions where enjoying one of these wines makes sense; as a standalone wine or with certain cheeses these wines excel. The problem comes from trying to pair these wines with most table fare. Food-pairing wines are lower in alcohol, lower in tannins and provide mouth-watering acidity. While fruit-bomb wines can still pair with foods, the challenge is much higher and the range of foods more restricted.

There are three broad classes of wines: standalone, food-pairing only, and all-purpose. Standalone wines are best by themselves or with a limited selection of cheeses or hardy foods. Food-pairing wines are best with food and often with a broad set of cuisine choices. The broadest category is all-purpose wines, which can be enjoyed by themselves or with food.

Some examples:

A big hairy 16.5% Central Coast Zinfandel will challenge one’s pairing skills with most foods, but can be very satisfying by itself. One might even say, it is the food! A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with saber-like acidity will rock with seafood, but by itself the acidic backbone can repel anyone with acid-sensitivity. The rest of us will stop at one glass.

Many Old World wines are designed to go with food and the lower alcohol, less extraction and subtle fruit aid the pairing. Someone used to New World wines will find these a bit dull without the catalyst of food.

As it happens, New Mexico is not a fruit-bomb state. The shorter and trickier growing season means 13.5% is much more common for red wines than 14.5% alcohol and 15.5% is nowhere to be found. Many of these wines go with our local cuisine so that gives our wines definite advantages over wines from that “other” state.

So while pushing against the wind to get to the store don’t put extra pressure on your food pairing skills by choosing an overwrought wine to go with your dinner.

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