Beginners Guide to Wines and Wine Pairing

Though the world of wine can seem overwhelming, FYI provides simple info and tips to give complete beginners an appreciation of the nuances of different wines – and recommends what foods to pair them with.


What is Wine?
“Wine is basically grapes that have been crushed and then fermented, turning the sugar into alcohol, and somehow into something completely fascinating,” says Evyatar Cohen, wine-lover and owner of Jerusalem-based wine store Kos Shel Bracha. “The colors, flavor and personality of the wine come from the skins that are fermented with the grapes for varying amounts of time.”


According to Evyatar, there are two basic ways to pair wine: the traditional way that matches like with like, for example, matching intensely flavored meals with intensely flavored wines. Or, you could pair a contrasting wine to the food in order to bring out the flavors of both. “There are no exact rules, and both can work in different contexts.”
Though it may not always be possible within a Kosher wine framework, experts claim “what grows together goes together” and recommend matching dishes with wine from the region, for example, Italian fare with an Italian wine. Many also try to match the personality of the dish with the personality of the wine.
“The bottom line of drinking wine in any context is to enjoy,” says Evyatar. “So although there are lots of rules for pairing wine with food, it only helps if you enjoy the wine. If you’re someone who prefers red or white wines, or a particular type, that’s the direction you should go in.”


Types of Wine

White Wines
White wine is not necessarily made from green grapes and can be made from red grapes with no skin added. “All white wine should be kept in the fridge and taken out a half hour before serving,” shares Evyatar, who divides white wine into dry, semi-dry, dessert and Rosé wines. In general, white wines go well with dairy meals, pasta, fish, chicken breast, certain salads and lighter chicken dishes.


Dry White Wine
“Dryness is essentially non-sweetness, and dry white wines contain more alcohol and less sugar (up to four grams of sugar per liter). Well-known varieties include:
– Chardonnay – A rich, smooth and buttery wine that feels full and thick on the mouth and is not too acidic. In general, it is paired with cooked heavy dairy dishes.
– Sauvignon Blanc – More acidic and intense without the same texture as Chardonnay. Often paired with a cheese platter including Camembert to offset each other. Avoid serving with creamy dishes.
– Chenin Blanc – Fresh without being fruity fresh, this wine goes well with mushroom pasta dishes, though is versatile.
– Grüner Veltliner – With flavors of green pepper and lime, Grüner Veltliner holds up well with vegetarian fare (unlike most wines) including artichokes and asparagus.
Semi-dry White Wine
“Semi-dry wines contain less alcohol and can have a bit of sweetness to them (4-12 grams of sugar per liter). They aren’t usually made by adding sugar; rather the fermentation process is stopped early naturally or by freezing fermentation.” According to Evyatar, these wines are more approachable than dry wines, as they’re not too bitter or intense. Well-known varieties include:
– Riesling – Friendly and fruity with tastes that resemble melon, bananas, apples and peaches, Riesling offsets spicy cheeses and spicy ethnic dishes.
– Gewürztraminer – With tropical undertones – think melon, pineapple and lychees, Gewürztraminer pairs well with heavier fish like salmon and tuna.
– Chenin Blanc – Goes well with spicy dishes as well as fruit.
Sweet White Wine
Sweet whites are best served chilled directly out of the refrigerator. They go well with desserts, and bring out the flavors in desserts that are not so sweet like cocoa. Well-known varieties include:
– Muscat – Very singular flavor, intense sweetness, not so acidic.
– Zinfandel – Goes well with creamier desserts.
– Late harvest wines – The later grapes are harvested, the sweeter they are. This wine is both very sweet and very high in alcohol. Goes well alongside something fresh.
Generally categorized as a white wine due to its acidity, Rosé is made by “dying” the wine for only a short time with the skins of red wine grapes. You can find Rosé wines of all styles (dry or semi-dry) made from many different grapes, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel. Rosé wine can be very fruity, and accompanies fresh foods like salads or heavier dishes to offset the flavor.
Red Wines
Red wine varies in hue, and in general go well with intense flavored foods like meat, some intense aged cheeses, as well as pasta dishes with meat. In general, avoid pairing red wines with fish and acidic tomato-based sauces. Store reds at room temperature but place them in the refrigerator for just half an hour before serving. Though many divide red wines into full-bodied, medium-bodied and light-bodied variations, Evyatar prefers to group them according to the feeling they evoke, namely smooth, medium and intense.
Smooth Red Wine
These wines make for easy drinking, and are approachable. They are versatile, and go well with dairy and lighter meals, as well as chicken dishes. They tend to be light in color and texture, smooth and fruity. They offset heavy spicy dishes nicely. Well-known varieties include Sangiovese, Grenache and Red Zinfandel.

Medium Red Wine
Pinot Noir is a classic example, and is spicy and earthy, and smells light and fruity. Pairs well with lighter dishes but can offset strongly spiced foods.
Intense Red Wine
Heavier, spicier and more concentrated, these wines go well with richly flavored meals like roasted meats, and chicken cooked with spices. Well-known varieties include Merlot, Cabernet, Shiraz, Syrah and Cabernet Franc.
Sparkling Wines
The most prominent sparkling wine is Champagne (from the region of Champagne in France), which is symbolic and versatile and is usually made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Traditionally, champagne is said to go well with fried and salty dishes but since it is not super acidic, it pairs well with everything including hors d’oeuvres, heavier dishes and desserts. The same thing from a different region is called Brut, and the Spanish version is called Cava. There is also a host of sweet sparkling wines.

“For a refreshing twist, cut slices of fruit and place in a pitcher with the champagne,” recommends Evyatar. “The flavors from the fruit diffuse into the liquid.”

-Written by Loren Minsky

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