Nothing pairs quite so well with a midwinter day as an herb-crusted slab of meat roasting alongside a few root vegetables. And to toast that roast you’ll want a rich, flavourful wine that can stand up to the snappiest of cold snaps.
Here, experts dish up seven tips to pair with heartier fare.
1. It’s ok to order the merlot
“The kind of roast meats I think of for the winter meal are rich, succulent and take over your whole mouth,” says Doug Shafer of the Napa Valley’s Shafer Vineyards, known for its classic reds such as Hillside Select cabernet sauvignon and Relentless, a syrah blend named in honour of powerhouse winemaker Elias Fernandez.
Shafer might pick the Shafer 2013 merlot for something like a slow-roasted lamb shank. Like a good roast, the wine is “flavourful, fruity and lush. It’s why they’re such great dance partners.”
2. Take a saucy approach
Sauces have a big impact on wine pairings, so this can be a great way to narrow your choices, says Madeline Puckette, content director of winefolly.com and co-author of the recent book “Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine.”
If you have sauces that are on the sweet-and-sour side, including honey barbecue, finding a wine with a high fruitiness factor or a touch of sweetness will make sure the wine doesn’t get lost in the sauce. For example, she says, “You’ll be surprised at how awesome lambrusco pairs with sweet-style barbecue ribs. Delicious!”
3. Get intense
“The key to making a great pairing with any dish is to match the intensity of the wine with the food,” says Puckette.
So, beef brisket is going to take a more intensely flavoured wine than roast chicken. Some examples of wines that go great with brisket include syrah, pinotage (a grape found in many South African wines) and cabernet franc.
4. Be a member of the clean palate club
If you have a roast meat that’s been marinated with vinegar and is saturated with flavour, a palate-cleansing wine is a good idea, says Puckette. That means a wine with high acidity that will freshen your palate, similar to lemonade or iced tea. For lighter meats, this could be a sparkling brut or a blanc de noirs. A sparkling white wine made with red grapes is terrific with turkey. For darker meats a sparkling rose fits the bill.
WATCH: Learn more about rose, or pink wines
5. See red
There’s some debate over whether “red with beef” and “white with chicken and pork” is an absolute or a rule made to be broken. For instance, as noted above, a white or rose sparkler can often be a great accompaniment to roasts. Still, Puckette says there are some wines that are definitely better left out of the winter pairing equation and that would include soft whites such as chardonnay, pinot gris and viognier.
Pinot noir, with its lighter, red fruit character is a good choice for roasted feathered game such as guinea fowl, pheasant, duck, squab or quail, says Richard Matuszczak, wine director at La Toque at The Westin Verasa Napa. “Some of these meats exhibit gamier flavours that can match the earthy qualities of pinot noir. The accompaniments here shouldn’t be too bold; good pinot noir is more about subtlety and silk texture,” he says.
WATCH: Picking the best red wine
For older, aged cabernet sauvignons, think about balancing that drier fruit character with a richer red meat like a medium-rare rib-eye steak, says Matuszczak.
Cabernet franc from the Loire region in France has “a savory, herbal character that pairs especially well with green veggies,” says David Castleberry, sommelier at the RN74 restaurant in San Francisco.
6. Sip, sip syrah
Castleberry likes to pick wines that mirror the flavours of the roast. “I’m on a big syrah kick right now,” he says. “I think they are the perfect match, like a Tinder ‘swipe right’ match!” France has some great values from Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph, two appellations in the northern Rhone wine region. Castleberry also likes Samsara wines from California’s central coast.
Not in the mood for meat? Vegetables that take to roasting well, like sweet peppers, eggplant and mushrooms, can pair nicely with a syrah, says Matuszczak. “I would prefer one with a few years of bottle age, when syrah can begin to develop secondary aroma and flavour characteristics that remind me of things like black Kalamata olives and black pepper.”
7. Think Italian
Roast meats and vegetables are “meant to be savored, eaten slowly and enjoyed over the course of time. The wine should be bold enough and hearty enough to stand up to the succulence of the meat while slowly opening and displaying a beautiful bouquet of complexity,” says Eleonora Tirapelle, beverage director of the Black Barn restaurant in New York.
She suggests Sagrantino, a red grape native to Umbria in Italy.
“Big, bold and elegant. One of my go-to vineyards is Colpetrone. They make a Gold Sagrantino di Montefalco in the best years that ages for almost five years before its release. Great wine.”
WATCH: Wines of Italy
Serving roast chicken? From the same region she likes Perticaia’s Rosso di Montefalco.
“Full-bodied with wild raspberries and blueberries on the palate. It’s sure to please.”