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Wine and Sauce Pairings

The age old question, “What do I pair with ….”

And if there is anything in the wine world that has been overwritten about, it is experts telling you what food to pair with what wine. So we too, decided to put pairings to the test. We gathered eight people to taste six different pasta sauces with nine different wines. We’ll share the highlights, draw some conclusions and make some suggestions for your next meal: 

First, sparkling wine is versatile.

Ours was a Prosecco from Northern Italy. It had the most positive pairings, except for the Mushroom Alfredo. The Albarino, a light bodied, zesty white had the fewest negative pairings. Only the Pesto dish scored poorly. The heavier style of our Russian River Valley Chardonnay paired wonderfully with the Mushroom Alfredo and Bolognese sauce, but fell flat with all the other dishes. The aromatic, slightly sweet white, a Kabinett Riesling from the Mosel River Valley in Germany, scored highest on the two spicier dishes, the Thai Curry and the Bolognese. 

The Rose we chose, from the Savoie region in Eastern France, was probably the hardest to pair with the six sauces, striking out often, but not the Puttanesca sauce with its briny, olive and caper infused flavors. The light bodied Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon brought out the best of the Mushroom Alfredo and Puttanesca dishes, but the higher acid made it struggle with the Curry, Pesto and Pomodoro sauces. 

Secondly, the medium-bodied.

Of the two medium-bodied reds we tried, the Merlot based Bordeaux Blend from France stood out as the best pairing with the Pomodoro sauce, offering nice, juicy flavors that complemented the bright tomatoes. It had enough body to match the weight and richness of the Alfredo and Bolognese sauces, but, like most of the reds, the tannins and alcohol were too overpowering for the Pesto and Curry. The other medium red, a Sangiovese from the Chianti Rufina region of Tuscany, Italy, was the ideal partner for the two richest dishes, the Mushroom Alfredo and Bolognese, with its acid, spice and tannins. 

And finally, full-bodied.

The final red wine was a full-bodied Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from California. It paired well with the meaty Bolognese sauce, but, in the biggest surprise of the tasting, it also paired beautifully with the Pesto sauce as well! Besides the Curry, which the group universally declared was not meant to be eaten with any red wine, the Cabernet performed “ok” with its other dance partners. 

What kind of conclusions can we draw from this? 

The stronger the flavor of the food, the harder the pairing. The Pesto and Curry, with their intensely focused herb and spice presented issues with all but a couple wines. The bright, acidic Pomodoro tomato sauce didn’t produce as many bad pairings, but had few winners as well. 

Lower acid wines need low acid foods. Every time we paired the oaked Chardonnay with food that didn’t have enough fat to balance the acid in the dish, the wine came out tasting flabby. 

The higher the spice, the lower the tannin and alcohol should be in the wine. Wines with a lower alcohol level and a little residual sugar (Riesling, Prosecco & Albarino) paired best. 

So, what are our suggestions?

If you’re picking both food and wine:

  1. Start by matching the “weight” of the wine and food. Big Food=Big Wine. Chardonnays, Cabernets & Syrah are bigger varieties. 
  2. Make sure the acid in the wine is at least equal or greater to the acid in the dish. A good rule of thumb is that if you would squeeze a lemon on the dish, serve a bright, white wine. 
  3. Finally, the greater the spice of the food, the higher the sweetness and lower the alcohol and tannins should be in the wine. Think Chenin Blanc, Riesling & Gewurztraminer. 

If you’re charged with bringing wine to a dinner and don’t know what is being served:

  1. Leave the big, high alcohol and overtly oaked wines at home. Remember rule number two above: pick a wine that has an acid that is equal to or higher than the food. 
  2. In red wine, light to medium body wines that have red fruit flavor profiles work well. In white wine, light bodied wines like Albarino, several Italian whites, Chenin Blanc, dry Rieslings from Alsace, France, or Chablis-style Chardonnays that have little or no oak. 
  3. Don’t forget about Sparkling! Our group found these to be incredibly flexible wines that paired well with most food. 

If you’re cooking a meal and guests are bringing a mystery wine:

  1. Keep the spice at a minimum and make sure there is enough richness to balance whatever acid the dish has. This will minimize the chance of creating a difficulty pairing. 
  2. To reduce any awkwardness, have a backup wine ready and ask your guests when they arrive, “Would you like to open this tonight or was this meant for another day?” 
  3. If the gift is meant for tonight and you are certain the wine will be an awful pairing with the meal, suggest that we enjoy the wine before or after the meal, and have a different beverage during the meal. 

Whatever pasta you find in front of you, and whatever wine you are served, remember that at the end of the meal, it isn’t really what’s in front of you that matters; it’s who you find across from you. So, enjoy, make it meaningful, and make it memorable!

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How to Construct a Crostini

The word ‘crostini’ translates to ‘little crusts’ in Italian, but don’t let the name deceive you. With the crispiness of a cracker and the weight of bread, crostini make the perfect base for piling on your favorite toppings. Trust us, crostini can hold a lot! Find all of these items in our store and make G.B. Russo your one-stop shop for your crostini party.

 Before you start layering your toppings, here are a few tips to step up your crostini game.

  • Choose a loaf of bread that is crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. We recommend our Italian loaf, made fresh in-store. It’s simple with a flaky crust and a soft, billowy inside. Perfect to hold meats, cheeses, and other additions without being too dense.
  • When you cut your bread, use a serrated knife. It will help cut through the crust without ruining the inside.
  • To make the perfect crostini, cover both sides of the sliced bread with butter and put in a pan over medium heat. Flip when one side gets nice and toasty without burning. This will help keep the bread from getting soggy and breaking mid-bite.

Toppings: The good stuff

For our crostini garnishes, we go for maximum flavor to make your taste buds dance. Try these combinations to really get the flavor party started:

  • Start with your favorite soft cheese as a base for your crostini. We suggest seasoned ricotta, garlic & herb goat cheese, fontina, or tallegio. All these varieties add the perfect balance for what comes next.
  • After cheese, comes the meat. Delicately thin slices make it easy to layer without overpowering the rest of the crostini components. There are a variety of flavors that can complement your cheese selection. We recommend black forest ham, hot coppa (pork), soft and salty prosciutto di parma, or our homemade wine and cheese sausage.
  • The grand finale is your topper. There are lots of options when it comes to your topper, but we are all for a veggie. Fresh bruschetta, chopped peppadew, roasted garlic, or marinated artichoke. For a vegetarian version skip the meat and pile on more veggies and sprinkle with freshly chopped basil or flat leaf parsley.

All of the items above are compatible; so let your palate decide. Try one of our flavor combinations, or pick up something else from our store to make your perfect crostini!

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Straight from the Russo’s: Our favorite dessert wines

Valentine’s Day falls on February 14 every year, but sharing and enjoying a delicious bottle of wine can – and should – happen all year round. We carry lots of options to keep things sweet for dessert or anytime you’re craving something different than your ordinary go-to wine varieties. Below are some of our favorite picks for wines to accompany dessert at the end of a meal. Or, just let the bottle be dessert!

 

RED

Pedro Ximenez 1983 Gran Reserva Bodegas T Albala

Stored in oak barrels, this red wine is aged to perfection. The vintage has a rich mahogany color which plays well with the flavors of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and smoke. A dense red, you’re left with notes of spice and caramel that linger, leaving you with a sweet bite in the after-taste.

 

Six Grapes Graham’s Reserve Porto

Fruit with chocolate is a dessert that will never go out of style. This wine will pair perfectly with an aroma of fruits including plums and cherries mixed with chocolate notes. It’s full-bodied and complex but leaves a satiny, long finish on your palette. If stored in a cool, dark place the wine should stay fresh up to two months, giving you more time to enjoy!

 

Trentadue Chocolate Amore red dessert wine

This is decadence at its best. Produced from Merlot grapes, neutral grape spirits are added to stop fermentation. This act blocks a percentage of sugar in the wine from escaping. When the wine is finished aging, a small amount of natural chocolate extract is infused. The chocolate flavor is exceptional with a simple vanilla bean ice cream.

 

WHITE

Hores de Climens Barsac 2010 grand vin de sauternes

If you love desserts with a hint of honey, don’t pass up this wine. The palate is layered with honeysuckle, apricots, and grape. A French Bordeaux wine with great maturity, you’ll love the delicate but strong nature of this vintage.

 

Petit Guiraud 2011 Sauternes

Peach cobblers and pies are great all year round but especially when they are in season. Get a head start on testing your peach wine pairing with this wine. A forward and open taste that combines the flavors white peach, apricots, toasted almonds, and piecrust, you’ll notice a slight hint of freshness and sweetness. The finish is creamy, with the slightest trace of ginger to add a little zing to your taste buds.

 

Chateau La Tour Blanche 2010 sauternes

Take a trip somewhere warm and exotic without leaving the comfort of your home with this sauternes wine. Enjoy aromas of kiwi, apricots, and minerals work surprisingly well with a smoky palate that includes orange marmalade, ripe citrus, and saffron. Even if it’s cold outside, let your mind drift to a sunny beach.

 

ICE

Ice wines are dessert wines are made by freezing the grapes while they’re still on the vine. The sugars don’t freeze but the water does, creating a more concentrated grape that makes for a very sweet wine.

 

Frost Bitten Ice Riesling

Cookie fanatics will love this wine. Combining the flavors of vanilla and butter cookies, you’ll feel indulgent without a high price tag. You’ll also note honey and peach tea that softly settle on your tongue as a gentle reminder of this smooth wine.

 

Black Star Farms Sirius Cherry Dessert Wine

Nothing screams ‘Michigan’ like a cherry dessert wine from a Traverse City winery! Black sweet cherries strengthened with Black Star Farms cherry brandy and sweetened with a tart cherry juice. Barrel-aged for nine months to get a slight toasted oak mixed with the warmth of brandy. The ultimate wine for cherry lovers!

 

Chateau Chantal Ice

Incredibly sweet and delicate like a traditional Riesling wine, but provides a balanced of flavors of apricot, toasted caramel, and baked apple to delight the palate. For political junkies, this wine was served at the 2016 White House Canadian State Dinner for the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau!

Source: Detroit Free Press

 

42 Ice Wine – Sweet White Wine made with frozen grapes from Michigan’s 42nd parallel

This sweet wine is made from grapes frozen at Michigan’s 42nd parallel. A wine that is best enjoyed by sipping, you’ll pull flavor notes of peaches, mango, apricots, honey, and raisins with the slightest hint of violets. The sweetness of the fruit marries nicely with the sweetness of the ice wine without being overpowering.

 

Bowers Harbor Vineyard Ice Cider

Think outside the box with this sweet ice cider. Using the same technique as traditional ice wines, frozen apples are pressed to create this sweet treat. This sweet and slightly tangy ice cider is made with Michigan apples, and best paired with any apple-based dessert. The perfect gift for an out-of-town guest or to keep all for yourself!

 

SPARKLING SPIRITS

Rosa Regale Banfi Sparkling Red

The luscious scent of rose petals meets the delicate flavors of raspberries and strawberries. This sparking red is a great alternative to champagne, there are less bubbles to tickle your nose but you still get to enjoy some bubbles for a special occasion or a special treat on an ordinary day.

 

Codorniu Anna Blanc de Blancs

Enjoy the tastes of apple pie without using up your manpower on homemade dough. You’ll quickly find a nutty personality that goes well with the flavor of apple. Top it off with a finish of clove and nutmeg. This is a dry drink but if soft and smooth, due to its composition being 70% Chardonnay.

 

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava Seleccion

Sparkling wine with a clean palate of ripe pear, apple, and citrus that flow into a long, smooth finish. You’ll notice a touch of ginger in its finish to bring a little more excitement to the experience. It’s extremely versatile and can be easily paired with any dessert.

 

J.P. Chenet Ice Edition

Small, delicate bubbles fill your glass of this lovely drink. Your nose will fill with the scent of white flowers, citrus, and tropical fruits. An energetic palate with classically smooth creamy makes a refreshing delight that’s ideal for summertime, or anytime!

 

VIN SANTO

Belcaro Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico 2008

This Belcar Vin Santo has an amber color that will make your mouth water and warm your heart. Delicate notes of honey dance with a hint of almond, tied together by the slightest touch of spice. Perfect with a carefully cultivated cheese board with a mixture of nuts, fruits, and cheeses.

 

A.D. MDX Vin Santo Lanciola 2008

Luxuriously gold in color, complex notes of dried apricots blend with acacia honey and orange peel. A bouquet of yellow flowers enhances this dessert wine. Sit back and relax while you enjoy the aftertaste of candied fruit.

 

Fattoria Il Lago

Deeply intense in color with a dark yellow base and amber undertones, the aromas are equally intense with honey and dried fruits. Somehow this dessert wine is both complex and delicate at the same time. The finish is nutty and has a long-lasting taste. Best served slightly chilled.

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G.B. Charcuterie Board

Everybody loves a charcuterie board. What’s not to love? Meats, cheeses and breads presented for you to share with your favorite people. The most important part of a charcuterie board (besides quality, of course!) is variety. Stick with tradition or get creative with some unexpected items. Whether you’re planning ahead for a gathering, or have friends and family stop in unannounced, we’ve got you covered. Here are some G.B. Russo brand favorites to make the ultimate charcuterie board.

 

Meat

The key to the perfect meat selection: slice thin!

Meat is often heavy, so thin slices keep things light and help make the perfect ratio to pair with other items on your board. We recommend Black Forest Ham, Prosciutto di Parma, Casatorie, Coppa, Old Forest Salami, and Salami Toscano.

 

Cheese

The key to the perfect cheese selection: texture!

Cheese comes in all different shapes, sizes, tastes, and smells. But, the trick to taking your cheese selection to the next level is providing a variety of textures. It will enhance the flavor combinations and will make your tastebuds sing. We recommend Port Salut, Cheddar with Porter, Danish Blue Cheese, Cotswalt, fresh Mozzarella, and Morbier.

Bread

The key to the perfect bread selection: Keep it simple!

It’s important to keep the integrity of the board items’ original flavors. A simple and classic bread or cracker provide a strong base without overpowering the other flavors. We recommend our housemade mini French Loaf, and multi-grain crackers. 

 

Add-ons

While charcuterie boards are practically perfect with the basics, this is your chance to show your creative side by adding items that enhance the flavors. G.B. Russo’s Jalapeño Pepper Jelly will be sure to kick things up a notch!

 

All of these items are found in-store, but you can also ask our staff for some of their favorite G.B. Russo brand items to make your charcuterie board pop.