Food And Wine Pairing

When only one variety of grapes is used to make a wine, the wine is called a varietal and is named after that grape. Regulations vary by location, but in California at least 75% of the juice in a wine must be of a particular grape in order for the wine to be labeled as a varietal.


Chardonnay (Shar-doe-nay)
This popular dry white wine is more full bodied than other white wines. Chardonnay has aromas of fruits and acidity. The aroma typically has flavors of lemon or grapefruit. Fermentation in new oak barrels results in a rich, buttery taste often described as toastiness, vanilla, apple, nutty, or toffee. Chardonnays aged in French oak result in a milder flavor than those aged in American oak.

Food and Wine Pairing: Chardonnay goes well with chicken, seafood, and fish.

Origin: Chardonnay originated from the Burgundy area of France. There are many world-class Chardonnays being produced in California.

Sauvignon Blanc (So-veen-yawn-blah)
Lighter than Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc usually has a grassy citrus aroma. Flavors range from apple, pear, green tea, limes and freshly mowed grass. You can often detect a little smokiness. California Sauvignon Blancs sometimes have a melon flavor. This is a crisp light wine with a strong acid finish. It is also called Fume Blanc.

American Sauvignon Blanc tends to be grassier than those produced in New Zealand.

Wine and Food Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with salads, poultry, seafood, and cheese.

Origin: Sauvignon Blanc originated from the Sancerre region of France. Fabulous Sauvignon Blanc is currently being produced in New Zealand, South Africa, California, and Washington as well.

Riesling (Rees-ling)
Rieslings have a floral aroma. They range from very dry and crisp to intensely sweet depending on where it is from. German Riesling is slightly sweet and balanced with some acidity. California Riesling tends to be sweeter.

Food and Wine Pairing: Rieslings go well with chicken, fish, pork, and spicy foods.

Origin: Rieslings originate from Germany. Great Rieslings are also produced in New York, Washington, California, and Australia.

Gewurztraminer (Gah-vurtz-tra-meener)
Gewurztraminer has a spicy aroma and fruity flavors of peach, apricot, tropical fruits, and lychee. It can be dry or sweet.

Wine and Food Pairing: Gewurztraminers go especially well with spicy Asian dishes and pork sausages.

Origin: Gewurztraminer comes from the Alsace region of France. Fantastic Gewurztraminers are produced in Germany, New York, Washington, and California.

Pinot Grigio (Pea-no-gree-zhe-oh)
Pinot Grigio is light and crispy with almond, lemon, and vanilla flavors. These wines are also called Pinot Gris.

Food and Wine Pairing: Pinot Grigio goes well with seafood and salmon.

Origin: Pinot Grigio originated in Burgandy long ago but is often considered an Italian wine. The grapes prefer a cold climate, which is why Oregon is able to produce delicious Pinot Grigio.


Cabernet Sauvignon (Ca-burr-nay So-veen-yawn)
Cabernet Sauvignon is a rich full-bodied wine. Aged in oak, this is a complex wine with cassis and blackberry flavors as well as hints of bell pepper. To make these wines drinkable sooner they are often blended with other grapes. French Bordeaux is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Merlot to soften the tannins. When blended with Merlot and perhaps Cabernet Franc as well, this Bordeaux style blend is called Meritage in the United States.

Wine and Food Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon is the classic wine to serve with red meats.

Origin: Cabernet Sauvignon is a well known grape of Bordeaux, France. Superb Cabernets are being produced in California (especially the Napa Valley), Washington, Italy, Australia, and Chile.

Merlot (Mare-lo)
Merlot is softer tasting than Cabernet Sauvignon due to having less tannins. It is a smooth, dry wine. Merlot is often described as having the flavors of boysenberry, black cherry, herbs, and mocha.

Wine and Food Pairing: Merlot is best with poultry and grilled meats, but actually goes well with most foods.

Origin: Merlot originates from Bordeaux in France where it is the most commonly planted grape. You can find many great Merlots from California, Oregon, and Washington.

Pinot Noir (Pee-no Na-wahr)
Pinot Noir is a smooth silky wine that is extremely fruity. It is characterized with aromas and flavors of black cherry or rose petals along with hints of spiciness or herbal qualities. Pinot Noirs are enjoyed for their soft velvety texture. High in alcohol, they are full bodied but not heavy.

Food and Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir is best served with grilled salmon, roast beef, lamb, duck, and mushrooms.

Origin: Burgandy, France is the area most recognized for its Pinot Noir. Great Pinots are also being produced in California, Oregon, British Columbia, and New Zealand.

Sangiovese (San-gee-oh-ve-zee)
Sangiovese is a medium bodied dry wine with earthy aromas and berry, plum, spicy, or floral flavors. It has a smooth texture. Sangiovese is the main grape used to produce Italian Chiantis.

Food and Wine Pairing: Sangiovese goes especially well with pasta and other Italian foods.

Origin: Sangiovese grapes came from the Tuscany region of Italy. California is making some delicious Sangiovese as well.

Barbera (Bar-bear-uh)
Barbera is often used as a blending grape. As a varietal it can exhibit aromas of berries, plums, or cherries with hints of vanilla, toasty, or smoky flavors.

Food and Wine Pairing: Tomato based pasta dishes are perfect matches to serve with Barbera.

Origin: Barbera is an Italian wine. However, California is producing some wonderful Barbera.

Syrah (Sah-ra)
Syrah is a hearty wine noted for its complexity of aromas and flavors including raspberry, plum, smoke, and white pepper. It is a dark red wine, sometimes almost black in color. This wine is also called Shiraz.

Food and Wine Pairing: Syrah is great eaten with duck, wild game, steak, and beef.

Origin: Syrah is believed to originate from France. There are great Syrahs produced in France, Australia, South Africa, and California.

Zinfandel (Zin-fan-dell)
Zinfandel can be light to full bodied. It can be rich and spicy or lighter and fruitier. Aromas and flavors that are typical include raspberry, jam, black pepper, and licorice.

Food and Wine Pairing: Zinfandel is wonderful with steaks, grilled meats, and tomato based dishes.

Origin: It is believe that Zinfandel originated in Croatia. It has been grown in California since the 1850s with California Zinfandels generally considered to the best.

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About The Author, Kathy Howe
Kathy Howe and her husband, Steve, spend much of their free time enjoying and tasting wine. Their interest in wine is reflected in their Web Site,, a comprehensive guide to California's Wine Country.