These days, California Pinot Noir is made in many styles throughout the Golden State and has become known as world class delicious Pinot Noir throughout the wine drinking world. From the Sonoma Coast in Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County to the Santa Lucia Highlands along the Central Coast and further south to the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara, California’s abundance of micro-climates, as part of each region’s terroir, offers excellent growing conditions for this cool climate grape variety.
Key Characteristics of Pinot Noir
Among the reasons why we consider Pinot Noir to be our favorite red variety is the fact that Pinot Noir is an extremely food-friendly wine. This versatility can be attributed to some of the key characteristics of this grape variety. It prefers cool climate regions that allow for a slow ripening process in which sugars can mature slowly while retaining the grape’s acidity late into the growing season. Good acidity levels in a wine allow it to be paired with foods high in acidity, but also pair well with foods high in fat content. Secondly, a variety that is difficult to grow in the vineyard, well-made Pinot Noir is often associated with highly perfumed delicate aromatics and red fruit flavors that do not overpower most food pairing choices. Softer tannins, inherent to the grape variety, offer many pairings of food and wine. Lastly, while some California Pinot Noirs are made at higher alcohol levels, many well balanced medium bodied delicious Pinot Noirs, our own Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir wines included, possess moderate alcohol levels—a wine characteristic that suits many food pairing choices.
A Basic Food and Wine Pairing Principle
Do all foods pair with Pinot Noir? Certainly not, there are food items to avoid when matching Pinot Noir with food. The list of foods to avoid is based on simple wine and food pairing principles. According to the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), food most often has a greater impact on the way a wine will taste than the other way around. Keeping this principle in mind, matching the flavor intensities of food and wine usually leads to a satisfying food and wine pairing.
What not to pair with Pinot Noir
Based on this principle, the subtlety of Pinot Noir not best matched with seafood choices such as herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and mussels. In addition, spicy foods tend to decrease the flavor intensity of the wine while increasing its astringency. For this reason, spicy foods do not yield matching flavor intensities with the delicate fruit flavors of Pinot Noir and should be avoided. While Pinot Noir can be served with many types of hard and soft cheeses, those with strong flavors, in particular blue cheeses such as gorgonzola or stilton, are not recommended. Pinot Noir should also not be matched with any sauces that are made with large amounts of butter or cream. Either ingredient would again overpower the delicate fruit in the wine.
What to pair with Pinot Noir
As previously mentioned above, Pinot Noir makes a great wine pairing for most foods and, in many cases, is sure to delight one’s taste buds. Pinot Noir wine and roasted chicken are a classical match, but other types of poultry such as Cornish Hen or quail work well too. Among red meats, there are few types that do not work with Pinot Noir as a pairing. For beef, Beef Wellington is a terrific pairing. Grilled Filet Mignon works just as well, as does a burger with a mild sauce.
Pork, duck, and lamb are classic pairing choices, but even venison can work if the wine has an earthy element to it that matches the gamey taste of the meat. An earthy element in the wine also works extremely well with risotto, especially mushroom risotto. A simple pizza and Pinot Noir make for an easy pairing, too. For seafood, the low, satiny tannins of the grape variety allow many pairing options including salmon, tuna, and even swordfish. Among cheeses that pair very well with Pinot Noir are herbed goat cheese as well as cheeses with a slightly nutty flavor. Those include Emmenthaler, Gruyere, and aged Gouda, all matching the subtle flavors and velvety texture of the wine.
A Personnel Favorite
Keeping in mind that the food and wine pairings above are recommendations mostly based on our own experiences, one should certainly try to explore what works for him- or herself., Among our personnel favorite pairings is Pinot Noir with salmon, especially with a California Pinot Noir from a cooler growing region.
Besides its health benefits, salmon offers a great variety of preparations. Whether seared, baked, or grilled, each version of salmon can accompany the delicate flavors of Pinot Noir extremely well without overpowering them. One of our favorite preparations for salmon is the honey apple cider glazed salmon recipe below:
Honey Apple Cider Glazed Salmon
(Recipe by Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes)
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Servings 4 servings
The salmon should just be barely cooked through, still a little translucent in the center, when you remove the pan from the heat. The fillets will continue to cook in their own heat for a minute or two.
• 1/2 cup unfiltered apple juice or apple cider (not hard cider)
• 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
• 4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 8 ounces fresh baby spinach
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Lemon slices for garnish
1. Make apple cider honey glaze:
Put the apple cider and honey in a small shallow pan on medium high heat. Let it come to a boil and boil it until the mixture reduces by about half, leaving you with a little more than 1/4 cup of glaze. Let cool for a minute.
2. Let raw salmon fillets sit in prepared glaze:
Arrange the salmon fillets (skin-side down, if using skin-on salmon fillets) in a rimmed dish large enough to fit all of the fillets in a single layer. Pour the honey cider glaze over the salmon.
Let it sit for 5 minutes, then turn the salmon pieces over and let sit for another 5 minutes in the glaze.
3. Place fillets in hot pan flesh side down:
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Sprinkle the flesh side of the salmon fillets with salt. Place the fillets flesh side down (skin-side up) in the hot pan. Cook for 2 minutes on medium high heat.
As you cook the fish, brush the sides of the fillets with some of the glaze.
4. Turn fillets over so flesh side up:
Turn the salmon fillets over (now skin-side down) and brush with the remaining honey cider glaze. Sprinkle salmon with lemon juice. Lower the heat to medium. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the salmon is just barely cooked through.
5. Brush the cooked fillets with remaining pan glaze:
Remove the pan from heat. Some of the glaze should have caramelized in the pan. Use a pastry brush to brush any pan juices over the top of the fillets. Cover with foil to keep warm.
6. Wilt baby spinach:
In a separate large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the baby spinach to the pan. Cook for a minute. When the spinach begins to wilt, use tongs to turn the leaves over in the pan to help coat the leaves with a little butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue to cook a minute or two more until the spinach is wilted.
To serve, divide the spinach among 4 plates. Arrange a piece of salmon to the side or on top and garnish with a slice of lemon.