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Vigilant Wine & Food Guide

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Wine & Food Paring

Many of us here at Vigilant share a love of fine wine and food. We have assembled some useful information on our favorite wines and grape varieties to share with you and to get you ready for your next gathering.


Bordeaux - A Region in France

The region of Bordeaux, France is the largest region of wine growing in the world. Bordeaux is made up of five main districts.

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Red Bordeaux's are created with Cabernet Sauvignon, often blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The color tends to be a garnet/ruby shade.

Taste

Bordeaux generally has a light flavor. Often time it hints flavors of blackberry, black fruits, wood, and other notes. A classic Bordeaux is said to have a "cigar box" aroma to it. The color is a deep red that is garnet in color, rich and complex.

Pairings

Red Bordeaux is excellent with beef, lamb, grilled veal, game such as pheasant and poultry such as grilled turkey. The wine pairs well with food made with red wine and rich sauces. Other good accompaniments are: couscous, tandoori spices, pâts, bean dishes and stews.

Burgundy - A Region in France

Located in eastern France, below Paris, Burgundy is often the sole stop of wine drinkers touring this country.

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Burgundy is known as Bourgogne in France, and has a long history in winemaking. Each sub-region of Burgundy is so different resulting in many different varieties of wine that each differ from the next. The great differences within the region make it difficult to generalize when discussing the wine.

Taste

The dry, classic Chablis flavor is made solely with Chardonnay grapes, while the freshness of Beaujolais Nouveau comes from the fruity Gamay. Characteristics of Burgundy ’s vary greatly. The Pinot Noir variety of Burgundy typically produce rich, velvety, light to medium bodied red wines with balanced tannins and edgy acidity. Flavors of subdued fruit, dark cherry, peppermint, linden and leather.

Pairings

Burgundy red wines (of the pinot noir grape variety) are excellent with beef, toasted turkey, game such as pheasant, pork roasts and delicate cheeses. They also pair excellently with rich fish such as: tuna, salmon and mackeral, poultry, lamb, veal, spices, fresh herbs, and recipe’s using mushrooms.

The Burgundy white wines go very well with snails, shrimp and goat cheese.

Cabernet Sauvignon - A Grape That Originated in France

Cabernet is grown all over the world - South America; Australia; Lebanon; Long Island, NY; Northern California; and of course France.

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The grape is very durable and adapts well to various climates. The two areas of Bordeaux, France that use this grape - Médoc and Graves - have only created the red wine since the 18th century, so it is a relatively new occurrence.

Taste

Cabernets can be mellow and mild, hearty and rich. It has a deep red color, with the primary taste being black currant. Other overtones can include blackberry and mint. Traditionally aged in oak, the wine also takes on an oaky, vanilla flavor. Higher quality cabs age extremely well (although a bit slowly), developing a taste encompassing many different flavors.

Pairings

Cabernet goes well with beef, lamb and goose, especially when cooked with herbs. It also is a great match for brie, cheddar cheese and chocolate.

Chardonnay - A Grape That Originated in Lebanon

The Chardonnay grape is thought to have originated in Lebanon. Chardonnay is the only grape allowed to be grown in the Chablis region of France. The grape is also grown in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States (specifically California), Italy, and Spain.

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Chardonnays popularity has grown immensely in the past forty years, to where it is now the most popular white wine available. Chardonnay really hit the radar when it started being grown in California. Winemakers love Chardonnay because the vines are easy to grow, and have a high yield. Wine drinkers love Chardonnay because of the wide variety of flavors it can take on. Chardonnay is also used in the production of high quality sparkling French wines and French champagnes.

Taste

Depending on where it’s grown and how it’s fermented, Chardonnay can taste semi-sweet or sour, heavy or light and simple to complex. Chardonnays produced in the Burgundy region of France tend to be complex, long-lived, flinty, and appley - complex. Chardonnays produced outside of France tend to be big, creamy and oaky. California wines labeled "Chardonnay" are typically dry, buttery and fruity. There are many in-betweens with Chardonnay. Typical flavors are apple, pineapple, tangerine, lemon, lime, melon, figs, pear, butterscotch, nuts, honey, spice and oak. Chardonnay is surprisingly affordable and can cost under $10. It can be oily. Due to the broad range in the quality of wines made with the Chardonnay varietal, it is best to refer to the label when choosing which wine to serve.

Pairings

Chardonnay is usually dry, and goes best with poultry, creamy sauces, egg dishes and seafood, like lobster or scallops. It can even go well with a light red meat dish, grilled and smoked especially. Good cheeses for Chardonnay include Gruyere, Provolone, and Brie.

Chianti - A Region in Italy

Chianti comes from the Chianti region of Tuscany , Italy . Only wines from this region can properly be called Chianti, although some other areas are using the name on their labels.

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The reference of the word Riserva on the label represents superior quality and aging of 3+ years. In countries like the United States, inexpensive wines are generically labeled Chianti, but are not true Chianti regional red wine.

Taste

Chianti is a red wine with strong and bold flavors. Chianti regional wines vary in style, primarily determined by ageing. Styles range from light to full bodied, but they are always a dry wine. Flavors of concentrated fruit, tart cherry, and violet are common.

Pairings

Chianti is great with Italian food and food that is rich in seasoning, such as red sauces, red meat, parmesan cheese, poultry, goose, lamb, lasagna, pasta with tomato sauce, heavy veal dishes, and veal chops.

Madeira - A Region in Portugal

Madeira is named after the Portuguese island it is made on. The baking it received in the blazing tropical sun, gave an otherwise light and acidic wine, a softness, depth of flavor, and a pleasant burnt quality. It was reasoned, if one crossing of the equator was good for the wine, two had to be better.

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By the late 1700’s, orders were given to put pipes of Madeira in the hold of ships as ballast, and send them on round trip voyages to all parts of the world. A rather unique way to mature wine. The wine became known as vinho da roda or wine of the round voyage. Why these wines, exposed to constant rocking, extreme heat, and the barrels often found soaking in bilge water, were not ruined, is a mystery.

Taste

Madeira is made with four varieties of grapes, and a bottle of Madeira should be labeled according to which were used in it. These are: sercial, a very dry taste, light color, verdelho, medium dry, golden color, bual, medium sweet, velvety, dark gold to brown, malmsey, the original grape, sweet, chestnut-brown Madeira is often made in the "refreshed" manner - a batch is made, and the following year the new wine is added in with the old wine. This allows the flavor to remain consistent. The grades of Madeira are: Reserve: 5 years or older, Special Reserve: 10 years or older, Extra Reserve: 15 years or older.

Pairings

Madeira goes wonderfully with cheese, and works great as a pre-dinner sipper. The heavier Madeira’s also work well as dessert cordial. The richer bodied Madeiras are generally served as an after dinner beverage while the lighter flavored varieties are favored as dessert wines. Madeira can also be used as a cooking wine for savory dishes and dessert sauces. Poultry and mushrooms go excellent with Madeira, as well as cheeses such as Fontina.

Merlot - A Grape That Originated in France

Originating in the Bordeaux region of France in the 1 st century, the grape is also grown in the United States, Chile, Italy, Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. Merlot is the name of a red grape which traces its ancestry to the biturica variety. Many of today’s wines originated from the merlot grape such as: Cabernet and Malbec. Merlot was used to mix with Cabernet in the French Bordeaux wines and the primary intent of blending Merlot is to soften and balance.

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Merlot is titled a noble Bordeaux varietal. The "Merlot" grape was not named as a distinct variety until the 1800s. Merlot is not well suited for long aging, so until recently the wine made from merlot grapes was used solely as a blending wine. Recently, merlot has been discovered as a delicious wine in its own right. It is being grown for that purpose primarily in California and Chile, and in a few other wine regions. It tends to be more tolerant of soil conditions than a Cabernet vine is, and while it buds earlier, it also can be harvested earlier.

Taste

Not quite as harsh as other reds, merlot has less tannin than a Cabernet and can therefore be drunk earlier. It is hearty, smooth and mellow but still complex. Styles can vary greatly from low to medium intensity. Merlot varietal wines tend to be moderate in body and low in tannins when compared to other red wines. Merlot is known for the flavors of plums, black cherry, violets, blueberry, raspberry, mint, pepper, and orange.

Pairings

Merlot is a perfect match for beef and other medium-heavy dishes. It pairs wonderfully with rich, red pasta sauces, pork, turkey, beef, veal, pheasant, and garden salads. chicken dish with heavy sauces. Merlot is also an excellent compliment to chocolate.

Riesling - A Grape That Originated in Germany

The Riesling grape is believed to be indigenous to Germany, and has been planted there since the 14th century. Riesling is the most planted grape in the Rhine Valley in Germany, and people who talk about a "Rhine Wine" are talking about a Riesling. Riesling does the best in Germany and in California, but is also grown in the Alsace region of France, in Austria, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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Riesling is a late-ripening grape, and only has a moderate yield. This makes it difficult to grow, and often the price reflects this. Riesling is the ’precusor’ to White Zinfandel - the wine that "sweet tooth" drinkers sought out before White Zinfandel became available. Riesling is a grape with many names - Weisser Riesling, Rheinriesling, Riesling Renano, and Johannisberg Riesling.

Taste

Riesling is a zesty white wine balanced between fruit and a steely acidity that ages very well. They vary from dry and crisp to full bodied and sweet. Hints of apples, peaches, melon, honeysuckle, floral, honey, musk, and light spice. Riesling is affected by where it is grown - Riesling from California tends to be dry and melony, while German Riesling tends to be tart with flavors of grapefruit. Cheap Rieslings may be sharp, while the higher quality, more expensive choices are sweet, complex and delicate.

Pairings

Riesling is considered to be the most versatile white wines with food. An excellent aperitif, it also pairs well with oriental dishes, seafood, chocolate, vegetarian dishes, antipasto, appetizers, asparagus, barbecued shrimp, Cajun spices, stuffed pastas, caviar, mild cheeses, mushroom dishes, all sort of poultry dishes and sauces, wild game, ham, Indian cuisine, Japanese cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine, and Sauerkraut. It is also great on its own, as a dessert wine.

Zinfandel - A Grape That Originated in Italy

Red Zinfandel is an "American Classic" wine - it was even originally thought to be made of native Californian grapes. Research has now shown that the Zinfandel grape originated in Italy, but this wine is still mostly grown in California.

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Zinfandel is always structured but can vary from dry to sweet and from a light to a heavier full bodied red. The grape grows its best in cool, coastal locations.

Taste

The color of a Zin is deep red, bordering on black. Zinfandel is a spicy, peppery wine, with a hint of fruity flavor - berries, plumb, raisin and dark cherries are often in the taste range.

Pairings

Zinfandel goes well with "typical American" food such as pizza and burgers, but it is hearty enough to pair with red sauces, gamey meats, spicey dishes and asian cusisine. Zin also matches will with highly acid foods like tomatoes and citrus fruit.

White Zinfandel - A Grape That Originated in Italy

White Zinfandel is a relative newcomer to the world of wine, even though bottles of wine were first labeled with the name "Zinfandel" as far back as the 1880s in California. Contrary to what the name suggests, white zinfandel is a rosé or blush wine rather than a white wine.

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First, in the 1980s red wine was touted as having medicinal effects and a red wine boom hit the US. California started planting Zinfandel by the county, because it grew so well in that state. Then white wine rose in popularity, and the wineries with acres of Zinfandel grape planted wondered if they could make a wine out of it. Thus White Zinfandel was born.

Taste

Produced from the zinfandel grape varietal, white zinfandel remains pale in color because the skins are quickly removed after the grapes are crushed, this stops the transfer of color from the skin’s pigments. White Zinfandel is a pale-rose wine that’s very sweet, although some may be dry. In general, it is looked down upon by "avid wine drinkers" because of its youth and sweetness. White Zinfandel is often a wine that new wine drinkers will "enter into wine drinking" with. Tastes mimic flavors of vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, orange, raspberry, cherry, and light citrus. In addition, new White Zinfandels have fruit juices added to them right before bottling to create new flavored versions.

Pairings

White Zinfandel is delicious with pasta dishes (especially with cream sauces), fish, pork, bacon and pancetta, mild cheeses, Asian cuisine, couscous, crab cakes, Creole, crudités, dessert, egg dishes, Indian cuisine and tandoori spices, lamb, pâté, anti-pasto.



Shiraz/Syrah - A Grape That Originated in France

The Shiraz grape was once thought to have originated in Persia, but recent research indicates the grape is a native of the Rhone valley, in France. It is best known for its usage in Hermitage, in the Rhone valley.

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The Shiraz/Syrah grape is called Syrah in the US, France and other countries. In Australia it is called Shiraz, where it is considered the finest red wine grown there. It is certainly the most widely planted red grape in Australia.

Taste

These grapes produce hearty, medium to full bodied, medium to high tannic wines with hints of blackberry, violets, spice, herbs, leather, smoke, and pepper. Hints of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and mocha often times sneak out. Shiraz is greatly affected by growing temperature - warmer climates bring out the mellower flavors of plum, while cooler temperatures spice up the wine.

Pairings

The best food pairings are barbecued foods, grilled foods, dark meats, strong game, hearty ripe cheeses and lamb - hearty foods. It also goes well with Indian, Mexican, and other spicy foods.