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Sep 17, 2007 08:32 AM

Food and Wine Pairing Assistance Please

Hi there:

So I'm making a menu for a dinner party and I wanted to know if anyone had any recommendations for the menu. Or thoughts on where I was headed.

Nibbles: Italian Cheese (Robiola, etc.), Cured Meat and Stuffed Roasted Figs with Balsamic Glaze

Pairing: Was thinking Dry Lambrusco?

A vegetarian savory tart--not sure what yet, but have Marscapone or Fennel floating in my head.

Pairing: Txaxolina (sp...) (but trying to keep it Frizzante)

Braised Short-Ribs (red wine base)


Dessert: Unsure, but thinking about a chilled shot of Lambrusco Zabaglione with a thin honeyed cream mixture above it. Or using this fabulous lime blossom honey I have in some creative way. Could go either way, so need something universal.

Pairing: Thought perhaps a sparkling Rose Prosecco? Had a great, nearly sweet (NEARLY, but not cloying or cheap tasting, merely a hint, the smallest whiff, of sweet)



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  1. Mmm... short ribs... I would recommend a couple of things... A good Cahors if you can find it (French Malbec-- much more earth driven and bordeaux-y than their argentinian counterparts)

    interesting thoughts on lambrusco to go w/the cheese plate. sounds like you're into some esoteric stuff. with dessert, how about a good moscato d'asti? la spinetta or villa giada both make fantastic moscatos-- they are sweet, but tempered with some acid, and the honey tones would be a good echo to your dessert. with respect to your first course, it strikes me that perhaps your prosecco idea might work better in that slot, especially with the richness of the figs. can't comment on txakoli-- i'm not a huge fan myself, but it's always fun. maybe a vinho verde instead, or a loire sparkling?

    10 Replies
    1. re: tacostacoseverywhere

      And fancy that! I have a bottle of Moscato d'Asti that I completely forgot about!!! G.D. Vajra (sp, can't read the typeface) 2004, from Barolo. Any good?

      1. re: likaluca

        I haven't had vajra's moscato, but I love their other wines (particularly their barolo bricco viole and dolcetto coste fossati), and they're biodynamic, which appeals to my inner hippie. I say go for it. actually, if you find the dolcetto, that'd be a fine accompaniment to the shortribs... let'er rip!
        otherwise, i agree with r.l. in the chinon suggestion, esp. if you can find one with a bit of age on it. these will also be a touch less expensive than the brunello that i suggested... although i stand by the cahors and gigondas recs.

        1. re: likaluca

          It should be pretty good, assuming it's been well-kept. Moscato isn't a particularly long-lived wine but 3 years isn't old by any stretch, IMO.

          1. re: Chicago Mike

            Thanks for all the advice on this. The Moscato d'Asti DID hold up, despite my negligent storage of it and was absolutely delicious with dessert.

            1. re: likaluca

              nice! glad to hear it went well. how did the rest of the din din go?

              1. re: likaluca

                Nice report Luca....

                IMO Moscato is overlooked too often as dessert accompaniment....

                It's pleasant to drink, memorable, inexpensive, uplifting, and matches a ton of dessert items quite nicely.

                1. re: Chicago Mike

                  Dinner was a great success!

                  To start, we had the Lambrusco (much enjoyed by all) with cubed Sopressata, roasted figs wrapped in prosciutto with a balsamic reduction, a taleggio and another italian cheese that I can't seem to remember the name of at the moment.

                  The Txakalina was BY FAR the least remarked upon/enjoyed wine. A mistaken pairing I think. It was served with a leek goat cheese tart.

                  The braised short ribs (!!!! yum !!!), porcini polenta and pan-roasted root vegetables came with the Chinon, which paired nicely with the ribs. AND it allowed everyone to focus on the meal.

                  Finally, I decided on a pear-cardamom tarte tatin, which from all accounts was the stand out of the meal. It went beautifully with the Moscato d'Asti.

                  While I was cleaning and everyone was digesting, folks had some port (which I had a bottle of since I was cooking with it).

                  Overall, it was a really fun meal. I learned a ton about wine in the process AND about timing :)

                  Thanks all for all of the insight, lesson, tips and encouragement.

                  1. re: likaluca

                    Which Txacoli and what vintage? Was it just a bad pairing or was the wine maybe off?

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      The wine was good... I have to go digging for what it was... but it was a 2004 Basque one (thats no help! sorry!) I think the rest of the wine was much more "interesting" and the Txak just felt a little misplaced in the larger sense. No one disliked it, they just weren't moved. I guess its a love I will have to endure on my own.

                      1. re: likaluca

                        The acidity on all txakolis I've tried is so bracing that I can easily see how it needs not just food, but the right food, to really make sense.

        2. After Lambrusco and Txacoli, I'd probably go with Chinon with the short ribs.

          With the dessert, maybe Brachetto, a sweet Lambrusco, or Barolo Chinato.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            May I ask why Chinon? Simply because I will learn from knowing ;)

            1. re: likaluca

              Chinon (Cabernet Franc from the Loire) tastes really good with wine-braised beef, and it would be a nice sequence from the Txacoli. I'd want a relatively modest Chinon, like a Beausejour, not a high-end Joquet.

              I wouldn't choose Shiraz or most Zinfandels because I've lost my taste for super-ripe, high-alcohol wines, but if you like that style, braised short ribs are a great match.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Just picked up a Chinon. Les Petites Roches 2004. Thanks for the rec. Right before I got to the store, I was reading the America Wine Awards article in Food & Wine mag, and they named Kermit Lynch the importer of the year. Thats pretty much why I picked that one. :) Wish me luck.

          2. Hi Lisa...

            APPETIZERS. Here's how to approach it... either A) start with the cheese then match a wine to it, THEN find some other finger-food that matches that wine.... OR (easier) B) Match the wine to your other finger food then go out and find some cheeses that match that wine. The problem is that if you don't take this approach you may have a wine that matches the sausages and/or figs well but is frankly horrible with the cheeses.

            SO, with the above in mind, what are the best matches for your mixed sausages ? In whites probably riesling, in reds several work (barbera, shiraz notably). Of course barbera and shiraz are heavy appetizer wines. What matches the figs? Nothing better than muscat, in this case likely a Moscato d'Asti. Note that the Moscato also works with "mixed sausages".

            SO, start the party off with an Italian sparkler (Moscato d' Asti), then bring out your appetizers along with riesling by the glass.

            NOW, let's find the penultimate cheese matches for riesling...Emmental, Aged Gouda, and Leyden are all great. Note where this differs from your original plan is that these are not 'Italian cheeses". These are the cheeses that match best with the wines that match best with the sausages as appetizers. Since you're going to be serving a rich red with yoru short ribs I presume you don't want to start with one with your apps.

            Alternatively, for Plan A if you want to start with a selection of delicious Italian wine-friendly cheeses, then go with: Provolone Val Padana and Parmesan Reggiano. Which wines work with these? Alot. Zinfandel or a Tuscan cabernet are two great matches that also would work with your sausages. You're still going to need a match for the Figs so you'd go with the Moscato as a party-starter, and the zin or cab to match the "Italian cheeses". Note that you could also serve other Italian cheeses (like Gorgonzola and Pecorino) but they are better matches for rioja and Shiraz).... note the above-mentioned problem, that these smashing Italian cheeses are unfortunately much better matches for rich reds and probably better suited for a cheese course later in the meal, than right up front with the apps.

            VEG SAVORY TART: Chardonnay is first choice, Italian or otherwise. If you want another Italian option, then Garganega (Soave Classico).

            BRAISED SHORT RIBS: Zinfandel or Shiraz

            DESSERT: A fair number of wines work with the Zabaglione. Will you serve it with Figs also? If so then either a Liqueur Muscat or PX Sherry are the clear choices. Otherwise Sauternes and Dessert Germans match very well. I also like Monbazillac with zabaglione...

            6 Replies
            1. re: Chicago Mike

              I agree with you. Zinfandel or Shiraz with the ribs.

              1. re: Chicago Mike

                Lambrusco should work great with the figs and it's nice with a wide variety of cheeses. You can drink Moscato d'Asti with just about anything but I don't think it's the best choice in this case.

                There are a lot of different kinds of wine made from Riesling and Chardonnay. Very few would be comparable to Txacoli.

                Given the light, high-acid, European wines mentioned in the original post, Shiraz or Zinfandel would be a sharp turn in a different direction.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  To my palate, it's a generalization to say that Lambrusco, or any other wine works with "a wide variety of cheeses".

                  And there's no safe harbor by matching "italian cheeses with italian wines". Look at dreadful matches like Sangiovese and Taleggio for example.

                  We just want to avoid starting off the meal with some funky cheese & wine matches.

                  1. re: Chicago Mike

                    The suggested cheese was Robiola. We eat that often as an appetizer, so I've had it with dozens of different wines. It goes well with a wide variety of old-world-style whites and reds.

                    Italians have been drinking wine with all of the hundreds of cheeses made in the country for centuries, in some cases millenia. Italian cheeses virtually always go well with the wines of the same region.

                    Taleggio is made in Lombardy. Depending on the cheese and how long it has been aged, it can be mild and buttery or pungent as Munster. Valtellina wines are a good traditional pairing.

                    Sangiovese-based wines come primaily from Tuscany. They vary from very light wines somewhat similar to Beaujolais, to medium-bodied wines like regular Chiantis, to heavy Chianti riservas, to California-influenced oaky fruit-bomb "super-Tuscans." They all go well with the local sheep cheeses.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      but the suggested cheese is really "italian cheese, robiola ETC..." which is a much wider range, leaving me the impression of multiple cheeses which in turn risks a poor pairing, IMO.

                      And to take your pairing suggestions as accurate, that regional wine & cheese matches are always reliable, this would indicate that you cannot willy-nilly, match "any old italian cheese" with "any old italian wine"... i.e. combinations "outside of region" are risky, which in fact is true.

                      1. re: Chicago Mike

                        Cheeses and wines from the same region virtually always pair well, but there are many, many other nice pairings.

                        We often have half a dozen cheeses of various styles and a variety of cold cuts on the table with several very different wines, which makes it easy to experiment.

                        Lower-alcohol, higher-acid European wines are very food-friendly and tend to pair well with most cheeses. Higher-alcohol, lower-acid New World wines are not so food-friendly and are more likely to clash.

              2. What type of red wine are you using in the braise? I'm not one of those "use the same wine cooking as you drink/don't use anything you wouldn't serve at the table" types (and probably wouldn't be even if budgets were unlimited, but generally, I'd try and use the same type of wine for serving as the braising, so, if you are using a cheap California cab in the dish, a nice Napa cab on the table. A syrah in the braise, a nice Cote du Rhone, etc...

                1. Further to the Veggie Tart w/ Mascarpone and/or fennel...

                  All roads here really lead to chardonnay... with the veggies and with the mascarpone and (get this) with the fennel ESPECIALLY if the fennel is accompanied by butter/cream.

                  So, if you want a frizzante, why not a "frizante chardonnay" (i.e. champagne).

                  Also, to the ribs, while I mentioned zinfandel and shiraz specifically, a wide variety of richer reds will do well here. If you want an Italian red try a Barolo or Brunello... for example.... or a Tuscan Cab for that matter. It's your other dishes, really, that are more wine-sensitive, IMO.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Chicago Mike

                    You see, people, this is why I love Chowhound. You guys are incredible. Thank so much for all the suggestions.

                    Despite much back and forth, I think I'm going to take a chance on the dry lambrusco for the nibbles and pray for the best (but Chicago Mike, you have no idea how close to NOT staying the course I was after your detailed, informative and PRINTED OUT FOR SAFEKEEPING post).

                    And because everyone loves the bubbly, I think I might be willing to forgo my Tzakolina for some good old fashioned champers during the appetizer course.

                    I also think the Zinf/Shiraz suggestion for the Rib course makes a whole ton of sense and I will do that. Also ChefboyAreMe, I am using a cheap CA cab for the braise, as you guessed... does that throw off the Zinfandel/Shiraz possibility?

                    Finally, I love all of your ideas for the dessert course. I'll have to mull this one over.

                    MANY thanks for all your thoughtful advice. Sheesh, where'd y'all learn all this stuff. I can cook up a storm, but have always been crap when it comes down to wine selection and pairing.

                    1. re: likaluca

                      I've drunk Lambrusco in a lot of contexts, including with a variety of Italian cheeses. It's very flexible and food-friendly. I think your instincts are good.

                      Chicago Mike's palate is somewhat eccentric--notably, likes Pinot Noir with Roquefort.