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Flavors are not constant. What makes your mouth water on a cold winter day in Wisconsin might not be appealing at all on a hot July Sunday on the patio. Just as weather impacts your appreciation of a meal, your choice of beverage can take a meal from good to great, or from great to extraordinary.
Local food and beverage experts told us you don’t need to be a sommelier or cicerone to pair wine with your food. Knowing a few basic ideas will take you most of the way there.
Scott Zimmerman, General Manager at the Whistling Swan Inn & Restaurant, always suggests drinking what you like, but has a few ideas on which of his 80 to 90 wines will go best with a dish.
“You don’t want to overpower the meal,” said Zimmerman. “You still want to taste the dish and you can find a wine that complements the dish as well.”
One rule of thumb is to pair the grape varietal with the region your cuisine comes from. French cuisine likes French grapes while local wine goes well with food grown locally. When it comes down to the dish, Zimmerman recommends big flavored wines with big flavored meals.
“On something like prime rib, it helps to swipe the palate for the next bite so you can enjoy each bite as if it was the first one,” he said.
Whereas something lighter such as fish might be complemented with a lighter Italian red or a sparkling wine to help naturally combat the fat in the dish.
Another trick is his favorite wine idiom “sweet on heat,” meaning pairing a sweet wine with spicy food. A high acid or high tannic wine with spicy food will only amplify the heat and cause you to reach for your water glass more often.
“But at the end of the day, drink what you want and eat what you want,” said Zimmerman.
Just because there are subtle properties that match one wine with one dish doesn’t mean that’s your only choice.
The explosion in craft brewing seems to have left no flavor or style untapped, expanding the possibilities of pairing beer and food in creative ways.
“There’s a lot of craft pilsners and those pair well with pretty much anything,” said Sturgeon Bay brewer Andrew Bradle. “They have enough hop and character to stand up with anything from pizza to burgers.
“Something like a sour beer would go well with a cheese or charcuterie plate because that acidity from the beer helps cut back on the richness of the meat and cheese.”
Sweet beers such as chocolate stouts go nicely with a dessert if they don’t serve as dessert themselves. Meanwhile, keep your bitter IPAs away from bitter foods like you might find in some Asian cuisine.
Door County native Zack Lozoff earned his mixologist chops on the peninsula, and now travels the state as a craft spirits specialist, including frequent trips home to Door County. His influence is seen on many cocktail menus in Door County.
While cocktails aren’t paired with dinner as commonly as wine or beer, your pre-dinner choice will impact how you enjoy your wine and dinner.
“When I think of cocktails and food, I think of easy cocktails that aren’t overly sweet, that have some bitterness and sourness,” Lozoff said. “A little herby, a little sour, or a little bitter tends to go great with summer foods like pasta salads or meat on the grill.”
For afternoon cocktailing, he suggests something with a lower alcohol content, such as a spritz with a good vermouth, campari, or aperitif.
“Most people think you have to get super elaborate, but when you’re eating in the summer, you want something relatively easy so you can enjoy each other’s company more,” he said.
If you’re going to keep the cocktail theme at the table, avoid overpowering your plate.
“You don’t want big, sweet things that are going to overwhelm everything that you’re eating,” he said. Keep it simple, and save your bold cocktail flavors for happy hour or a nightcap.
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