The New Year brings an array of warm feelings filled with fresh starts and personal aspirations. Spend some of that refreshing burst of energy on exploring different grape varietals with friends and family.  Let’s take a look at some wines that are great for food-pairing and will make you look like a professional host!

When selecting wines, think about trying to find balance between the wine and the food you’re serving. White wines from Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc generally have higher acidity and fruit notes like green apple to tropical notes, such as pineapple, along with citrus flavors and aromas. Look for Chardonnay from the region of Chablis in France as these wines are generally un-oaked and showcase a tremendous amount of flavor and finesse. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is an easy pick as well, but also look for one from the Loire Valley in France where you are sure to provoke exhilaration for your guests, while presenting a wine in balance with citrus and herbaceous notes with a great mineral style on the finish. Rieslings come in many styles from sweet wines made in Germany to dry styles from Alsace, France. However, the key factor is the mouth-watering acidity that it brings. These wines can complement many dishes from salads to seafood and chicken, but you will be surprised how fast a bottle of German Riesling disappears while you’re cooking.

For red wines, Grenache is another food-friendly grape varietal that can taste drastically different depending on from where it comes. Grenache is a great varietal not only on its own, as a blending component as well because it has red and black fruits, higher alcohol, moderate tannin and lower acidity. I like to think of Grenache as the proverbial “girl next door,” as you really don’t know how beautiful it is until you start to appreciate the finer things in life. Australia and France are the two areas from which you need to taste Grenache in 2017. Australian Grenache tends to show rich, fuller-bodied, textured mouthfeel, while showcasing jammy fruit and dried fruit flavours. Yangarra is a quality producer for Grenache in South Australia. To add some varietals that add further depth to Grenache, we can look to Syrah and Mourvedre to make what is commonly known as a GSM blend. The world leader in this blend is the area of Côtes du Rhône in Southern France where the wines can display beautiful ripe red fruit characters along with spice and earthy elements like mushrooms and it truly is as smooth as it gets. Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well produces an elevated sensory experience from GSM blends and is a sure way to impress. These wines are versatile as they can accompany richer sauces, unique spices and game meats, while still showcasing their structural elements of acidity, tannin and fruit characteristics.

Finally, Veneto is a region you could seriously spend many hours trying to understand and at the same time see some varying quality and price points. To narrow this complex region down, the red wines you need to try are Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicella. This is Italy’s largest producing region and you’re sure to find these in any wine shop. Valpolicella Classico is both the name of the region and the wine, where the wine displays a lighter body, bright cherry and some earthy notes, heightened acidity and lower alcohol. This is perfect pairing for Pizza, pasta or seasonal vegetables. On the other end of the spectrum Amarone della Valpolicella uses grapes that are dried out on straw mats for months to concentrate the sugars and the resulting wine is a powerhouse wine packed with dried fruits like prune, figs, and raisins with a high alcohol, full body and firm acidity. Simply made to accompany braised meats and aged cheeses. These wines do command a higher price point so a great alternative is a Valpolicella Ripasso wine which give a nice balance between the previous two wines, as it is literally the combination of the two but not through blending. They macerate the Amarone grape skins in the Valpolicella Classico juice which results in a fuller bodied, richer, softer and more complex but approachable wine. This is a great transition into Italian wines from Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.

Exploring different grape varietals and the regions they come from is the easiest way to travel and get a cultural lesson. Enjoy the many new adventures of 2017!

– Cam Pinkney, DipWSET at The Greenbrier Resort

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