Renew your subscription
Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

Pairing One Wine With Diverse Dishes

When dining out, it is rare when everyone at the table orders the same dish. Even at a table of two, each person will more than likely choose something different from the menu.

One might have fish and the other the beef.

So what wine should you order for the table?

Luckily, in most restaurants, you can order wines by the glass. This alleviates the pressure on the sommelier, or you, to choose just a single wine for the table. That ginger-encrusted mahi mahi with shiitake mushrooms would be great with a glass of Chenin Blanc, while the herb-marinated rack of lamb will be awesome with a glass of Groth Cabernet Sauvignon. That is easy as pie.

But what if the table wants to have a single bottle of wine?

Here is where it can get messy. The dishes on the table can be as varied as the personalities of the people ordering them. The combinations could be endless. I have three pieces of advice. (Listen up, sommeliers and servers alike.)

The first is to choose something that the host will enjoy. I know this sounds selfish and single-minded, especially if the host is you. But the person who is going to pay the bill should be the one whose opinion is solicited the most. I always ask hosts for their preferences. The host always has the option of deferring the opinion to someone else at the table, such as his or her partner, a guest of honor or someone on the table that would be considered a “connoisseur.” But that is completely up to them. The best servers always listens to their guests to get to know them and what they like and dislike. The service of wine is no different. And when the host chooses the wine, I dare say that there will be few complaints over it if it doesn’t necessarily go well with someone’s dish.

The second piece of advice is to choose a wine that doesn’t clash. At this point, your chance to make a perfect wine pairing where the experience is greater than the sum of its parts is approaching nil. So, instead of trying to pick apart every single dish and figure out something that would pair with all of them, try to find something that would cause the least amount of discord. Choosing something that plays the middle ground the best is a good bet.

I remember one night I had a table of three, where each person ordered something different, but they wanted only one bottle of wine for the table. I remember that one had a shrimp pasta dish, another had duck and the third had a filet of beef. The host told me to “choose whatever you think would be best.” I opted for a bottle of Pinot Noir – the reasons being that although Pinot Noir is not the best for shrimp, doing a red for duck and beef would be OK. I also picked Pinot Noir because it doesn’t have a lot of tannin, which can be unsavory with almost anything from the sea. Something like Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah/Shiraz or Malbec would have too much tannin and get quite bitter and almost metallic with the shrimp.

My last bit of advice is to make sure to choose a high-quality wine. If all else fails in terms of the pairings, maybe the host is not familiar with the grape variety that you choose, but if the wine is of high quality, the guests will recognize it. It may not be the best pair, but they will remember the wine.

Recommendations: 2010 Dieter Meier Puro Malbec ($15) Delicious, plump and smooth with tons of ample ripe black fruit, a velvety smooth texture and long finish – and it is made with organic grapes, to boot! NV La Montecchia Fior d’Arancio ($17) This is fully sparkling Moscato. Sweet, sparkly and fun. This is a for-sure try once, and then buy again and again for anyone that loves refreshingly sweet Moscato.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher