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Two triathlete-sommeliers pair budget- friendly wines with complementary dishes.
Chicken + quinoa
Betsy Noonen: Sauvignon Blanc
“Sauvignon Blanc has minerality and herbaceous notes that complement the quinoa and balance the flavors of the chicken. Acidity is the magic variable in food pairing, as is matching the intensity of the wine with the weight of the food. This wine fits the bill on both fronts.”
Try: Decoy Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, Calif. ($18)
Craig Michie: Chardonnay
“Chardonnay is commonly paired with chicken, and with the quinoa, I selected an organic wine that will bring out its slightly nutty flavor.”
Try: Bonterra Organic Chardonnay, Mendocino County, Calif. ($12)
Vegetable pasta with pesto sauce + salad
“This varietal has enticing aromas of melon and tropical fruit and a floral note. It’s medium bodied and will pair well with a variety of veggies. It’s dry on the palate and will complement the savory notes in the pesto and vinaigrette on the salad. It’s an excellent alternative to the big, high-alcohol Chardonnays.”
Try: Crios de Susanna Balbo Torrontes, Argentina ($16)
Michie: Sauvignon Blanc
“A vibrant Italian wine with some gentle creaminess. The high acidity matches well with the vegetables and salad, but the wine has enough body to stand up to pesto.”
Try: Inama Vulcaia Sauvignon Blanc, Veneto, Italy ($17)
Fish + rice
“There are a lot of options, including light red wines such as Pinot Noir or a Gamay, but I recommend Chablis. This wine has the body to handle a full-flavored fish, like salmon, and a well-rounded acidity.
Try: William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux, Burgundy, France ($17)
“Soave is a versatile wine that can go with fish prepared in various ways. It’s generally unoaked with gentle acidity and minerality, and soft notes of pear, almonds and apples.”
Try: Pieropan Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy ($15)
Pork tenderloin + potatoes
Noonen: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) blend
“This type of wine has fruit and acid playing perfect roles in bringing out the more subtle flavor of pork tenderloin. The earthiness and balance make them a great match for many dishes.”
Try: E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France ($15)
“Pork requires a red that is soft on tannins and not overpowering in fruit intensity. Riojas such as Reserva or Grand Reserva are aged in a barrel and bottle, which guarantees the texture is smooth and the wine is a perfect combo of fruity and earthy.”
Try: Faustino V Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($19)
Steak + roasted vegetables
“Tempranillo is a full-bodied red wine that is typically well-balanced and has tannins that complement the deep flavor of red meats. The nose features intense berries, vanilla and spice. The acidity will work with any sweetness from the roasted veggies. This is a good alternative to a Cabernet.”
Try: Pago de Sangara, Crianza 2008, Ribero del Duero, Spain ($24)
Michie: Cabernet Sauvignon
“Various reds can work, depending on the way the steak is prepared and the sauces and spices complementing it; however, a quality Chilean wine will have both ample fruit and an earthy tone that will deliver a wine that isn’t too dry and won’t overpower the food.”
Try: Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($20)
Certified sommelier Craig Michie gives some wine-buying tips for the vino novice.
If you’re watching your sugar intake but enjoy wines (dessert wines excluded) such as Rieslings and other aromatic whites from Germany, France and various regions, a trick you can use is to look at the alcohol percentage on the label. As a general rule, if it’s 5–8 percent, expect a sweet wine; 8–10 percent, semi-sweet; 10–12 percent, off-dry; and usually 12 percent and above are dry wines.
Wines that have a high concentration of pigment and tannins from the grape skins and seeds are the best antioxidant wines—reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbecs and Shiraz are good choices.
If you suffer migraines, headaches or sinus congestion, choose red wines that have soft tannins, lower sulfite levels, lower alcohol content, lower fruit concentration and better quality, such as Beaujolais and Valpolicella.
Meet the Experts
Betsy Noonen studied wine at The French Culinary Institute and became a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers more than three years ago. Noonen, who lives in San Jose, Calif., now has two businesses—one is a consultancy to wineries and restaurants, and the other, The Palette, puts on custom-themed wine, art and food-paired events. She started racing triathlon through Team in Training, and loves the Olympic distance.
Craig Michie is a second-year triathlete, but the 43-year-old currently living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been in the food and beverage industry for as long as he can remember. Michie has been a sommelier for more than a decade—he’s certified by the International Sommelier Guild, and is level I and II certified with the Court of Master Sommeliers. He’s worked in restaurants such as the five-diamond Eden at Rimrock Resort in Banff, Alberta, and he now works as an account manager for Select Wines and Spirits.