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Like a toasted bagel and cream cheese, these wines are perfect with cured salmon

1/10/2018 2:33:16 PM     Food and Wine Pairings     By Joshua London     Comments

A friend recently asked me about pairing wine with some traditional brunch fair. In particular, I was asked, what wine would I pair with gravlax, lox, or smoked salmon?

As with so many foods, one can’t go far wrong with dry bubbly, but these different preparations of salmon are very different from each other, and the flavors can vary from delicate and sweet, to rich and smoky. The different flavors and textures, the various styles of serving, and the accompanying menu options—breads, bagels, toast, cheeses, capers, red onion, and the like, also means that there are a variety of other winning wine combinations to consider.

Here’s a short primer for those who don’t know their fish so well. Gravlax is salmon that has been cured, but not smoked. The cure typically contains salt, sugar, and dill, and traditionally also aquavit or vodka, and often enough juniper berries, horseradish, and possibly also some sort of citrus; it is commonly pressed a little too while it’s curing. Lox, traditionally, refers to a salt-cured belly of salmon, which is also not smoked, though most folks think it means smoked salmon. Smoked salmon is a salt-cured salmon (though it can come from any part of the fish, not just the belly) that has also been smoked—either cold-smoked which leaves it with a raw texture similar to lox or gravlax, or hot-smoked, which results in a firm, flaky texture.

When most folks refer to smoked salmon they mean cold-smoked. Popular types of cold-smoked salmon include Nova, which is from Nova Scotia, and tends to be a very lightly smoked. This smoked salmon is fatty and mild in flavor. Norwegian smoked salmon tends to be subtlety smoked, not too oily, with a mild flavor. Irish salmon tends to be similar to Nova in texture, fattier than the Norwegian, and with a more mild smoke. Scottish smoked salmon has strong smoke, and is generally fatty and silky in texture. Most folks looking for smoked salmon are probably looking for Nova or Irish.

Besides dry bubbly, consider serving young, crisp, dry white wines that are un-oaked or that have very little oak influence. The oak tends to overpower the more delicate and subtle qualities in the salmon. Some great options are sancerre, chablis, dry riesling, dry sauvignon banc provided it isn’t too herbaceous, un-oaked chardonnay, and many dry rosés (especially from Provence).

As for reds, avoid tannic and full-bodied reds, as these qualities will almost certainly overpower and clash with the fish. Instead, look for something that is dry, lean, and that offers a nice amount of minerality, like some styles of pinot noir. Avoid most Israeli pinot noirs, for example, as many when paired with smoked or cured salmon, are likely to seem comparatively sweet and syrupy, appearing almost jammy in character.

Other options, outside of wine, are ice-cold vodka, gin, or aquavit or even a cold northern European lager or pilsner. A briny and not too smoky Scotch whisky is another idea. I have plenty of friends who will balk at this particular suggestion, arguing that most Scotch of this sort will overpower the fish. While Laphroaig or Lagavulin would likely smother a cured or cold-smoked salmon, Caol Isla, Oban, Old Pulteney or, to my mind at least, even Talisker would work a real treat. Ultimately, as in all matters of personal taste, try some options for yourself and see what works.

While writing this, I enjoyed a poppy-seed bagel with lox, capers, red onion, and plain cream cheese, paired with a nice glass of Champagne Laurent-Perrier, Brut, Kosher Edition ($80). This first-rate, light to medium bodied blend of 45 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir, and 15 percent pinot meunier (different from Laurent-Perrier’s usual house blend of 50-35-15) is refined and balanced, yet fun and easy, with fine, concentrated, endless bubbles and lovely notes of citrus peel, minerals, and nuts, all with a lovely dollop of fresh berries in the lengthy finish. This is really superb champagne.



Kosher Wine and Food Pairing

8/20/2017 7:54:06 AM     Food and Wine Pairings     By Scott     Comments

One of the most frequently-asked questions is with respect to finding the “right” wine(s) to go with any number of specific dishes and/or holiday meals.  The general belief is that wine is a beverage that can and should bring pleasure and therefore one should drink the wines you like with the food you like. That said, there are some pretty easy-to-follow tips that can bring an even higher level of enjoying to your meals.

Even though a fair amount of wine is enjoyed without the accompaniment of food, food and wine are soulmates that should rarely be separated.  Similar to the Torah’s description of man and woman’s ability to compliment each other, wine and food belong together, with each bringing something to the table that enhances the other.    

Our general philosophy is that when it comes to enjoying the nectar of the gods – do with your wine that which brings you (and yours) pleasure and enjoyment, regardless of the prevailing common wisdom or opinion of so-called experts  

Drink the wines that bring you the most pleasure, whether mouth-puckering and acid loaded Sancerre, oak-aged ripe Cabernet Sauvignon wines or full-bodied buttery Chardonnays.  Bring them to the table regardless of what culinary fare is being served.  

There is a ton of legitimate science behind food pairings and a highly successful pairing has the power to elevate dining to a transcendental experience.  The majority of science relates to the manner in which different food compounds interact with those in the wines (and in the other dishes with which they are served).  In order to help make your meals more enjoyable, here are some general tips and helpful suggestions for thinking about your food and wine in a slightly different way; a way that will make it easier to create a more harmonious combination of foods and wine.

Before getting into specifics with respect to the individual characteristics of the wine and food in question, one should first consider whether the goal of the pairing is to complement or contrast.  If a complementary pairing is desired, focusing on the dominant flavors in the relevant dish can be helpful in finding a matching wine.  Pairing the 16 ounce aged ribeye in pepper sauce with a spicy Syrah or Zinfandel will provide complementary nuances as will a buttery Chardonnay with a sea bass poached in farm-fresh French butter.  Other examples would be to pair a meat dish sweetened by a fruity sauce or glaze with a red wine that is very fruit-forward or utilizing the savory and earthy notes in a classic Bordeaux to match with a dish redolent with pungent mushrooms or other umami-heavy foods.  If your goal is to showcase the uniqueness of either the food or wine, you might prefer to use the textures of each to showcase a contrast between the two.  Utilizing texture leads to many of the more well-known pairings including matching the grease-laden traditional Chanukah latkes and sufganiyot with a crisply acidic Sauvignon Blanc or sparkling wine (that has the added grease-cutting abilities drawn from its bubbles).

One of the most important things to consider are the characteristics of the wine and food in question, with the wine’s “weight” or how it feels in your mouth (heavily influenced by the alcohol content) being the most important piece of the puzzle and the easiest to understand – lighter wines go with lighter food and heavier wines make better pairings with heavier dishes.  The rationale being that one wants the food and wine to complement each other as opposed to one overwhelming the other.  The nuanced beauty of a delicate and complex Pinot Noir could be obliterated by a perfectly constructed beef bourguignon, whereby a rich and slightly spicy Shiraz would provide the needed heft to match the dish round for round.  The need for proper balancing of the weight is the genesis of the now-infamous “white with fish and red with meat” rule, but given the dizzying array of possible weights for fish (think of lighter white fish versus heavier tuna and salmon), poultry (lighter chicken versus heavier turkey or goose) and meat (veal is significantly lighter than beef), the simplistic cliché is not really relevant.

While the alcohol level plays a big part in the weight of the wine, a dizzying array of other wine components all have a say in how well a wine will pair with any particular food or dish.  Any list of factors to be taken into consideration when thinking about wine and food pairing will include the levels of acid, alcohol and sugar in any particular wine, along with the oak influence and strength of its tannins.  Similar to salt’s role when flavoring food, acid acts as an enhancer, highlighting the primary flavors in any particular food.  As long as the wine is balanced, the higher the acidity levels the better the wine will pair with food.  A white wine’s acidity levels, together with its level of dryness (i.e. lack of residual sugar) will contribute to its “crispness”, which can serve as a lovely balance to fatty foods.  While acid can be (and is) added to any wine (a practice especially prevalent in hotter-climate wine-growing regions, where the wines ripen too quickly for their natural acidity levels to be sufficiently preserved), some grape varietals are more natural acidic then others including Barbera, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc.  

In addition to their influence on a wine’s weight (and the resulting food-compatibility), higher alcohol in a wine can overwhelm delicate flavors in a dish by creating a bitter sensation, but can play very nicely with sweeter foods (e.g. most dessert wines are relatively high in alcohol).  In addition to their über-importance in a wine’s structure, balance and aging ability, a wine’s tannins can be softened by pairing them with fatty and high-protein foods like steak and certain cheeses.  However, when paired with sweeter foods, the tannins can have the negative impact of diminishing the sweetness and making the food seem dry and bitter (e.g. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and rich chocolate fudge cake are not the best pairing).  Keep in mind is that a dish’s sauce or glaze will often provide the dominant flavor in a dish so make sure to take the flavors and textures of the sauce when thinking through any wine pairing scenarios.  Another tidbit is to ensure that any dessert wine you are serving should be sweeter than the dessert it is expected to accompany.

Especially when you are contemplating a multi-course meal with numerous dishes and/or dominant flavors in each course, the thought of coming up with a “proper” wine pairing can seem significantly overwhelming (especially on top of actually cooking all that delectable food).  If the thought causes you stress just stick to some generally food friendly wines, that manage to pair nicely with a wide array of different flavors. Chief among such wines is Champagne (or other good sparkling wines), whose crisp dry acidity, typically low(er) alcohol level and refreshing bubbles ensure a wine-range of pairing opportunities and make it the go-to pairing partner (besides providing you with the welcome opportunity to significantly up your sparkling wine consumption).  Other options are crisply dry Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  While they can certainly provide magnificent pairings with a little bit of thought and advance planning, bigger and bolder Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are not wines that can be relied on to safely pair with anything you put in front of them (with tannin likely a food pairings worst enemy).  One of the kosher wine world’s many ironies is that these two varietals are the best-selling wines for a consumer base whose primary method of wine consumption is during Shabbat and Chag meals where the need for versatile wines is the greatest.

Despite all of the above, the awesomeness of any particular pairing hinges on whether you like the wine or food in question.  Sauternes and foie gras may be a classic (and insanely divine) pairing, but it won’t be enjoyable to you if you don’t like  Sauternes or foie gras. 


Keep it Kosher

8/2/2017 6:19:22 PM     Food and Wine Pairings     By Scott     Comments

The subject of kosher wine and spirits can be somewhat difficult to navigate. Plenty of myths, incorrect assumptions and misinformation can make it difficult to understand just what kosher means and what items fall into this category. Starting with the word itself, kosher is an English pronunciation of a Hebrew word that means “fit.” Kosher food items are “fit for consumption,” meaning they conform to Jewish dietary law. Then there are pareve or parve items. These are “neutral” foods: made with neither meat nor dairy items. Jewish dietary laws forbid consuming mixtures of dairy and meat, and also prohibit the consumption of meat and milk during the same meal. Since pareve items are neutral, they can be consumed with either meat or dairy.

Another important term to know is mevushal, which means “cooked.” This boils down to history and tradition: pagans offered wine to their gods and Jewish people didn’t want to consume wine that may have been used in such rituals. Kosher wine must contain only kosher ingredients and only be handled by Jewish people. Since pagans wouldn’t use boiled wine in their rituals, rabbis decreed that Jewish people could consume wine served from non-Jews if it had been boiled. Today, rabbis have decided that flash pasteurization is good enough for wine to be labeled mevushal. These wines aren’t considered to be as good as kosher wines, but they’re an option that adheres to kosher dietary restrictions.

When it comes to alcohol beverages, those who don’t keep kosher are probably aware of 2 popular wine brands: Manischewitz and Kedem. In all honesty, that was the extent of my own kosher wine knowledge until  just a few years back. I also had no idea that spirits could be kosher, pareve or mevushal. When I did learn about kosher spirits, I also discovered that, unfortunately, most major brands don’t include classification ratings on their labels. However, I did discover lists of kosher alcohol items as created by rabbis, such as those curated by the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc) and Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate (JSOR).

In order for bourbon to be considered kosher, it cannot be flavored or aged in wine casks unless it has been specifically given a certification. Maker’s Mark and Maker’s 46, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s, and Angel’s Envy are considered by the cRc to be fit for consumption.

As with bourbon, Canadian whisky isn’t recommended unless it’s unflavored and hasn’t been finished in a wine cask. Crown Royal, Crown Royal Black and Crown Royal Reserve, and Wiser’s (unflavored) are acceptable.

The cRc views rye whiskey as generally not requiring certification, unless it has been flavored or aged in a wine cask.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Irish whiskey isn’t considered kosher. This is due to the many types of cask finishes and multiple maturations. The cRc is very strict when it comes to Irish whiskey and the choices are very few and far between: Knappogue Castle 12 Year and The Irishman 12 Year.

Now, it may seem odd, but Scotch whisky is considered largely acceptable. Even though the same concerns as Irish whiskey exist, the list of acceptable Scotches is much, much larger. Included are Ardbeg 10 Year (with certification), Bruichladdich The Laddie 16, all varieties of Johnnie Walker, The Glenlivet 12 and 21 (with certification), and Springbank 12 Year Old Green.

Rum is also widely acceptable. In fact, even the spiced varieties are permitted as long as they carry certification. This means that Bacardi Gold, Select and Superior, Captain Morgan White, basically every variety of Cruzan, just about every Don Q, and Myer’s Legend, Original Dark and Platinum White are permissible.

Gin is a more complicated matter than that of, say, whiskey. Unflavored gin is, as you may have guessed due to the stance on flavored whiskeys, acceptable. That is, unless it’s produced from wine, milk, lactose, whey or grapes. Also, gins from France, New Zealand and Australia are iffy because many contain added flavors. Tanqueray London Dry Gin, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire London Dry and Bombay Sapphire East, and Bulldog Gin (when bearing the KIR certification) are considered kosher.

Vodka carries with it the same restrictions as gin. Pretty much every Absolut product (with certification) is permitted, along with unflavored Belvedere and Chopin, Tito’s, Grey Goose, Grey Goose L’Orange, Citron and Poire, and unflavored Ketel One. Every Smirnoff, Stoli, and Svedka vodka is also permitted, with certification.

Finally, we have tequila. Blanco/white/silver tequilas are considered kosher without certification but reposado, anejo and extra anejo, due to the possible addition of flavors, colors and glycerin, need certification to be acceptable. 1800 Silver, Don Julio Blanco, and Casa Noble Crystal are all permitted. Interestingly, Patron Silver, Reposado and Anejo, along with Roca Patron Silver, Reposado and Anejo, are kosher even without certification, according to the cRc.

And there you have it! Not excellent news for fans of Irish whiskey but vodka and tequila fans should have a relatively simple time keeping kosher. As far as wine is concerned, finding kosher products is fairly easy: just look for kosher symbols on the label, along with offerings from brands such as the much respected Hagafen and their reserve label Prix, the acclaimed Yarden, Israel’s premier Domaine du Castel, boutique Israeli winery Dalton, the kosher-dedicated Spanish producer Elvi, and also Herzog, Goose Bay, and Galil Mountain. Even popular cava producer Freixenet offers a kosher bubbly with their Excelencia Kosher Brut.


Perfect Wine & Chocolate Pairings

7/7/2017 11:58:39 AM     Food and Wine Pairings     By Kristina Azevedo     Comments

Wine and chocolate are two favorite treats that we absolutely love. Let’s face it, sometimes you need to eat chocolate in sweatpants with a glass of wine (Don’t worry we aren’t judging). Or maybe you had a great day and want to celebrate! Either way, this wine and chocolate pairing guide will help you find the perfect wine to enjoy with your favorite chocolate.

Dark Chocolate+Port
Port, or Vinho do Porto in Portuguese, is served as a dessert wine and pairs fabulously with dark chocolate. We suggest Porto Cordovero , because it has a warm, fruity taste that complements the strong cocoa taste in dark chocolate.

Milk Chocolate+Lambrusco
Lambrusco is known to pair well with pasta or sausage but sweeter Lambruscos can complement milk chocolate. Contessa Annalisa Lambrusco is slightly sweet with a fruity flavor which pairs well with milk chocolate. Just chill and serve with chocolate!

White Chocolate+Moscato d’Asti
This sweet, sparking white wine from Piedmont, Italy pairs well with the sweetness of white chocolate. We suggest Dalton Moscato d’Asti because it is fruity and bubbly. A great after dinner treat!



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