April’s 4-Course Paired Wine Dinner

How Does One Pair Wine With A Meal?

Wine and food pairing is more than just picking a wine to go with each dish. To really make it work for a multi-course dinner you have to think through a wine theme, how you are going to approach each dish and how to make sure it works while moving from course to course throughout the dinner.

The theme for wine is the overall organization of all of the wines for the dinner. The approach is how each wine for a course will impact that specific course, as well as its impact on following courses. Themes can be simple or complex, even whimsical.   For example, it can be as simple as picking the traditional wine that was designed to go with a specific traditional dish, and that just takes a little research. But this month we hope to change the taster’s perception of how wine and food pairing works, and so the wine list will be a little whimsical.

The starting point is to review the menu and make sure that the flow from dish to dish follows the coursed dining technique of moving from lighter to heavier (richer) dishes. You begin with lighter wines and move to more full-bodied ones. Often, dishes are close to each other in richness, texture and flavor intensity, as is the case for the first and second courses of this month’s dinner.  I will use the wine choices to make the dishes seem distinctly different from each other. The main course is richer and more complex than either of the dishes preceding it, so the wine choice will be more focused on emphasizing the dish itself although it still builds on the flavors of the previous courses.  The wine for dessert is a start-over: that is, the organization of wines from appetizer through the main course does not impact the dessert course.

Is There A Theme?

So the theme I have developed for this dinner I am calling backwards bookends. The “bookends” are the first and last wine served. The aperitif wine and the dessert wine are both Italian, while in between is a sequence of French wines. So the bookends are Italian and the “book” is French.

The “backwards” part of this pairing is a response to an old rule that wines must be served white, rosé, red. In reality, the color of wine has nothing to do with the order it is served (with or without food). Service order is based on body and dryness (or sweetness), not color. To demonstrate this, I have purposely selected red with the first course, a rosé with the second course and a white with the main course. Even though the color order is “backwards” the wines have been chosen to be in technically correct drinking order (lighter to more full bodied, drier to sweeter).

Also, the best way to do wine and food pairing is to pick the wine to go with the main course, then the wine to go with the first course. All subsequent courses should have body and dryness characteristics that are between the first and main course.

April’s Menu

Aperitif: Sparkling Italian wine

First Course: Duck Confit Salad with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette –  Chinon

Second Course: Asparagus Crown with Mashed Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese – Tavel

Main Course: Crab Stuffed Shrimp with Mornay Sauce over a bed of sautéed zuccini, squash, red onions and garlic – Mersault

Dessert: Chocolate Cherry Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream – Recioto

All wines


There are few things more fun than starting a meal with a sparkling wine. We started with a Franciacorta from the Lombardy region of Italy. The wine and food of this part of Italy were highly influenced by the French. In fact, most of Lombardy was part of the Duchy of Savoy, a fairly large Duchy separating France from the “Italies” during the Renaissance through 1815. The wines have a distinctive French influence. The Franciacorta is produced following Methode Champagnoise, using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Lots of pinpoint bubbles and a wonderful yeast smell. A great start to the evening.

Here are the wine specifics:


Appellation: Franciocorta DOCG

Style: Brut

Brand name: Alma Bellavista Cuvée

Vintage: NV (non-vintage)

As I have said in other blog posts, you do not have to get this specific producer. All Brut style Franciocorta’s will have the same basic characteristics.

First Course

Course 1 with wine

The Duck confit salad, included both arugula and spinach as greens, with piquillo peppers and almond slivers. The vinaigrette dressing was a little more flavorful that most vinaigrettes (see the recipe).

The pairing issue was to find a wine that would enhance the flavor of the duck, bring out the slight bitterness of the greens and complement the dressing.

The wine chosen to go with this dish was a Chinon, from the Touraine district of the Loire Valley of France. This is one of the lightest red wines you can find. Although made principally from Cabernet Franc, it is light and dry, with good fruit, a hint of tannins, and fairly acidic. I call a wine like this a “white wine disguised as a red wine.” That is, it is a red wine that can be used like you would normally think of using a white wine.

It integrated all of the pieces into a coherent set of flavors, in which the wine and dish complemented each other and created a completely new set of flavors. It brought out the spices on the duck, the pepperiness of the arugula and balanced the dressing.

A great wine to start the meal because it went with the food so well that you wanted to slow down and savor each bit and sip of wine.

Here are the wine specifics:

Producer: Domaine du Pallus

Appellation: Chinon AOC

Brand name: Les Pensées de Pallus

Vintage: 2011

Again, any Chinon should work as well. A Bourgueil, also from the Loire, would also work. Both are very light red wines made from Cabernet Franc. Although most people thing of Bordeaux when talking about Cabernet Franc, it is actually native to the Loire. It was moved to Bordeaux in the early 1600’s at the direction of Cardinal Richelieu. Chinon is an ancient city in the Loire, it is also the place were Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Second Course

Course 2 with wine

The Asparagus crown with mashed potatoes and herbed goat cheese is an excellent example of how to integrate a vegetable dish into a multi-course dinner. Although not heavy, it does have more richness and slightly more flavor intensity than the duck confit. Just before this dish goes to the table it is finished by the Chef with a light sprinkle of salt on the potatoes.

The wine chosen to go with this dish was a Tavel, from the southern Rhône Valley of France. It is a nine grape blend, with the informing grape of the wine being Grenache (Noir). This wine is produced using a technique called “blocked malolactic fermentation.” This will not appear on the label, it is just a part of the production processes to make the wine. When the malolactic fermentation is blocked, meaning it is not allowed to occur, the wine will be fairly acidic and fruity. A Tavel is France’s most famous rosé.

The Tavel shows a fair amount of mineral along with the fruit. It is in balance with the dish. That is, it pairs well to the asparagus and goat cheese. However, the touch of salt added just before it was served helps bring out that mineral character and allows the potatoes to become part of the pairing. Usually, a starch like potatoes are neutral and not part of the pairing process.

Here are the wine specifics:

Producer: Hprieuré de Montézargues

Appellation: Tavel AOC

Vintage: 2012

Although 2012 does not sound like an “old” vintage, please keep in mind that rosés typically only have a three-year life. So a 2012 Tavel would be a fully mature Tavel. I would recommend avoiding European rosés that are more than three or four years old.

Third (Main) Course:

Course 3 with wine

Shrimp basically become a delivery device for the sweetness of the blue crab and buttery richness of Mornay sauce. The wine is principally paired to the sauce, but will complement the sweet crab and mineral character of the shrimp. The sautéed vegetables are not adding to this pairing, they are providing another texture because they were done al dante.

Each component of the wine brings out and complements a different part of the dish. From a flavor viewpoint, this is a very complicated dish.

The wine is a Mersault, from the Côte de Beaune, of Burgundy. Is a Chardonnay, with 24 months of oak aging and 100% malolactic fermentation. To balance the richness of the Chardonnay, the wine is about 90% Chardonnay and blended with 10% Pinot Blanc. The Pinot Blanc is fermented and finished on stainless steel and keeps the wine from being too heavy and rich. It also adds a strong minerality to the wine.

The wine brings out the buttery richness and the cheese of the sauce. It brings out the sweetness of the blue crab. And as these flavors are beginning to decline on the palate, the wine then shows the mineral and salty character of the shrimp. So the complexity of the wine brings out a progression of flavors on the palate.

This wine is a great example to illustrate the importance of acid, in the wine, and its impact on wine and food pairing. This wine shows four acids. These are, in the order they attack: Malic, Citric, Lactic and Succinic. Every time the acid changes it brings out a different component of the dish. This is why so many parts of the dish are complemented by the wine.

Here are the wine specifics:

Producer: Olivier Leflaive

Appellation: Meursault AOC

Vintage: 2010

Informing grape: Chardonnay

To reiterate, you don’t need this producer, just a Meursault. I would avoid a Meursault Premier Cru (1er Cru) as it will overpower the dish.

Fourth (Dessert) Course: Chocolate Cherry Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream

Course 4 with wine

Desserts are always a difficult pairing. In this case there are four very distinct flavors: bittersweet chocolate, black cherries, cream and butter (the tort).

The wine chosen to go with this course is the Recioto della Valpolicella Classico, a red dessert wine from the Veneto region of Italy. The Recioto style is created by drying the grapes on wooden pallets in an open-air room for up to 90 days after the harvest. This creates a rich dried fruit and raisin character in the wine. The Recioto process also creates a dessert wine with 10-12% residual sugar and slightly elevated alcohol. In this case 14% alcohol. A still wine made from the same process is an Amarone della Valpolicella, a very full-bodied medium-dry still wine.

The Recioto does a wonderful job of bringing out the bittersweet chocolate ganache, it complements the fruit character of the cherries and enhances the richness of the pastry cream and tart. The fruit character of the wine is not a direct match to cherries, but a mixed berry character that enhances the flavor of the cherries without overpowering it.

The custard helps bring out the sweetness of the wine, again without the sweetness from the wine or the food overpowering the pairing. A great end to a wonderful meal.

Details on the wine:

Producer: Ragose

Appellation and style: Recioto della Valpolicella Classico

Vintage: 2007

Informing grape: Corvina

The term Classico means the wine comes from the original growing area of Valpolicella. Make sure you get a Recioto della Valpolicella, and not just a Valpolicella or Valpolicella Passito as neither of these wines are dessert wines.

A French Banyuls, from the Languedoc would work equally as well. It is made from Grenache, but has many characeristics similar to the Recioto.

I want to summarize some of the main points of this post. Selecting the right wines for a multi-course dinner is all about the overarching theme of the meal.  Begin light and flow into richer courses.  Use wines to make similar courses taste distinct and different.  Remember that service order is based on body and dryness (or sweetness), not color.

Look forward to the recipes for these dishes, and have a great meal!

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