Even vino virgins know you serve red wine with steak and white wine with fish, right? Perhaps traditionally, but not anymore. “Conventionality can sometimes be destructive to creativity,” says Charles Ford, sommelier and general manager at Daisies Chicago. “Creativity opens doors to what can work, and that’s what inspires so many sommeliers and wine drinkers in the first place.”
And, it turns out, some white wine can stand up to a T-bone and red doesn’t always overpower grilled tilapia. Some pros have been experimenting with these swaps for a long time, Ford says, and they’ve discovered what works, as well as a few blunders along the way. You don’t need to chance it yourself: Try these nontraditional wine pairings that experts say are actually perfect for each other.
White Wine with Steak
Try: Vinas del Vero La Miranda Garnacha Blanca
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“There is always a huge potential for white wines to be paired with steaks,” Ford says. “Look at all the white wine-friendly food that steak is served with: potatoes in every way, creamed spinach, shrimp cocktail, the list goes on.” He likes this Spanish white because it’s perfect with any roasted vegetables or potatoes.
White Wine with Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Try: 2016 Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc, South Africa
“The body of the Chenin Blanc matches the pork, the richness of the wine complements the sweet mustard, and the crispness of the wine enhances the crispness of the apple slaw,” says James Tidwell, co-founder of TexSom and beverage manager at the Four Seasons, Dallas. And now you know to serve your sandwiches with apple slaw.
White Wine with Pasta and Red Sauce
Try: 2015 Beronia Rueda Verdejo
“Verdejo is known for its crisp and refreshing flavors of stone fruits and fresh herbs,” Ford explains. “Use those characteristics to play on the bright acidity of a San Marzano tomato sauce.”
White Wine with Roasted Duck
Try: 2011 Albert Mann Pinot Gris Hengst Grand Cru
This French wine from the Alsace region is high in residual sugars, making it a “home run” for any poultry or fowl, Ford says. “The sugars add an element of texture and weight to stand up to the fattiness of the duck,” he explains.
Rosé with Chili
Try: 2012 Chateau Musar Rosé
You may get a few eye rolls when you pull out a rosé rather than beer or red wine to accompany your chili. But trust Ford. “Chili is a complex and weighty dish, and Chateau Musar is a bold wine to say the least,” he says of the wine from Lebanon. “Its brief oak aging allows it to provide a shelf to suspend all of those different spices and aromatics that you get with each spoon of the good stuff.”
Red Wine with Seafood
Try: 2014 Cultivate Pinot Noir
This mix of bright, fruity Santa Barbara County Pinot and darker, richer Monterey County Pinot is fresh and thirst-quenching. Plus, the acid makes it light enough to be paired with seafood such as oysters, crab, lobster, and mussels, says Alexander LaPratt, master sommelier and owner of Beast & Bottles and Atrium in Brooklyn, New York.
Red Wine with Salad
Try: 2013 Ciù Ciù Lacrima di Morro d’Alba
If your dinner salad is topped with dried cranberries or raisins, reach for this Italian, Ford suggests. The well-balanced wine is aged in stainless steel vats, which “allows this grape to express its fruitiness,” he says.
Red Wine with Ahi Tuna
Try: 2014 Sadie Family Wines Pofadder
“The silky smoothness of the Cinsault grapes provides a savory complement to the umami-ness of ahi,” Tidwell says. He recommends searing the fish and serving with steamed rice and sautéed mushrooms to max out that umami, and to get the most from this South African wine.
Red Wine with Grilled Cheese
Try: 2013 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico
Yep, we’re going there. After all, nothing says “comfort food” like a gooey, crispy sandwich served with wine. “The savory flavors of Alpine cheese or Comté go very well with Chianti,” LaPratt says. Not only will it taste great, but Alpine cheese also melts super well for the ultimate comfort factor.
Red Wine with Fish Tacos
Try: 2015 Tenuta La Piccola Lambrusco dell’Emilia Nero di Cio
Alcohol makes spicy food seem even spicier, Ford says, so low-alcohol Lambrusco is a smart pick. Plus, the bubbles create a natural palate cleanser to wash out some of that heat with every sip.