What’s better than enjoying an exquisite meal, sumptuous snack or decadent desert? Enjoying it while swirling and sipping a fine Ontario VQA wine selected specifically to complement the food’s unique flavor profile. While most oenophiles have at least a general understanding of smart wine-protein pairings (a delicate fish pairs well with Sauvignon Blanc, and a thick, juicy steak pairs well with a robust Cabernet Sauvignon, for example), knowing which wines to pair with herbs and spices is trickier. Here’s a helpful primer to guide your wine selections.
Basil and mint are strong flavors. When enjoying them paired with wine, allow the herbs to take center stage. The best supporting wines for these bold flavors? For a basil-spiced dish, reach for an unoaked VQA Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon; for a minty dish, choose a Merlot or Riesling.
When pairing wine with dishes spiced with pungent green herbs, such as oregano, thyme, bay leaf and parsley, think Sauvignon — Cabernet or Blanc. You can’t go wrong with these perfect pairings: Sauvignon Blanc best complement oregano, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio go well with thyme, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc are best with parsley, and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc complements bay leaf.
If you’re unfamiliar with the word “umami,” you’re not alone. Umami is the least understood of the five basic taste sensations (the other four being the far more familiar sweet, sour, bitter and salty). Distinct yet hard to put into words, umami is a savory taste. It has been translated from Japanese as “yummy deliciousness.” Consider umami a tsunami of savory. Some chefs claim that Parmesan cheese is the most umami ingredient in western cooking. Other umami-rich ingredients are garlic, onion and chives, all of which belong to the Allium genus. Pair garlic and onion with Chardonnay, sparkling wines, dry rosé and Pinot Noir – Ontario VQA of course. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir best complement chive-heavy dishes.
Several spices display umami in spades as well. These include coriander (which pairs delightfully with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) and cumin (pour a dry Riesling to balance this strong flavor).
Merlot, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines are the best pairings for deserts or dishes featuring sweet baking spices such as cinnamon.
For piquant (aka strong, hot and zesty) dishes, reach for red wine. Specifically, if the dominant spice is paprika, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are excellent choices.
While you really can’t go wrong with pairing food and any fine Ontario VQA wine, being strategic about your food-wine pairings will elevate your wining and dining experience. Be conscious of your pairings, keep this list handy and consult it as needed, and making the best choices will eventually become second nature!