Author mug By The Glass

Roberto Viernes

Muscular reds overpower
most dishes and palates

The global trend in wine today is wines that are BIGGER and richer than ever before. I'm talking about wines with an enormous amount of alcohol, tannin and bold, in-your-face, flavors. It seems that the international palate has grown bored of elegant, demure and classy wines -- much as the average TV watcher bored of sitcoms would rather watch someone try to eat an African cave spider (I'm not sure what I'd pair with that)!

Hey, I can enjoy 100-point wines just as much as anyone else. But how about pairing one with a dish? Most blockbuster wines that I've tried are more than any dish can compete with. Not to mention, they are high in alcohol, so I can only drink one glass. I'm not sure I want my block to be busted anyway.

One night a friend of mine opened a bottle of 1996 Greenock Creek Roennfeldt Road Shiraz, a wine that scored a perfect 100 points from famed wine writer Robert Parker. The wine was stupendous! But at the end of dinner the bottle was still three-fourths full. Knowing that the wine would still show well and perhaps even get better the next day, my friend gave it to me to take home.

The next night I barbecued a couple of rib-eye steaks. Surely this would be a perfect match. Inconceivably, the wine overpowered even a nicely scorched piece of red meat!

I'm not preaching that there is no place for wines of this ilk. But for people whose business it is to pair wines with food, there are not a lot of everyday options for wines like this.

Now, wines with elegance, suavability (is that a word?) and finesse are wines that lend themselves well to food. These are also the bottles that a couple can finish in one sitting. These are wines that whisper in your ear rather than grab you by the neck.

One wine that comes to mind when talking about elegance is the 2003 Domaine Ostertag Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes ($16). This dry white from Alsace is made with the Sylvaner grape, from vines averaging 30 years old. This wine is like a blend of riesling and pinot grigio, with a wonderful aroma of lemon-lime, peach and papaya, light flowers and a touch of minerality for complexity. It is medium- to light-bodied, with the great intensity that only comes from old vines, yet it is still full of class, with no high alcohol or bitter tannin. It is crisp and refreshing and makes a perfect match with poke, steamed scallops with citrus glaze or even a pan-fried reef fish such menpachi.

Pinot noir is viewed as an elegant red, but plenty of pinots have received the steroid treatment. One that caught my palate by surprise is the 2002 Hill of Content Pinot Noir ($15) from Australia. It is full of ripe cherry-berry fruit, with a hint of spice and tea, and a flavor as smooth as silk. It slips down as lightly as a cloud floating over a mountain -- not like boulder down a hill. This wine would be perfect with a grilled fillet of salmon, roast pork or one of my favorites, roast duck.

How about an elegant cabernet sauvignon? The 2000 Sirita Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($37) is a sultry wine. Master sommelier Larry Stone makes it from fruit grown in the Stag's Leap District and Howell Mountain. It is plush with super ripe black- and red-fruit flavors, a nice dollop of vanilla and an intensity that will wow any red-wine drinker, without being heavy or overly tannic. It is so balanced and classy.

If you like wines that are HUGE and rich, more power to you (literally). They can be fun and exciting. But wines that seduce and intrigue without being blowsy and obnoxious will always have a place at my table.

Roberto Viernes is wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to features@starbulletin.com



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