Wine Pairings: A Celebrator’s Guide
Whether it’s a beachfront dinner for two, a business dinner with clients or a festive family celebration, let a Ritz-Carlton master sommelier help you pick the right bottle of wine, no matter the occasion.
“What would you recommend?” It’s a question the sommeliers and wine directors of The Ritz-Carlton are accustomed to hearing, given the astounding range of varietals and vintages on offer. Fortunately, they’re always happy to be of service when guests ask to be guided to the perfect pairings for memorable meals and events.
Jonathan Morán, wine director at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, is a certified sommelier via The Court of Master Sommeliers who worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants before joining the Forbes 5-Star and AAA Five Diamond Hotel in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Here, he shares his wine-pairing know-how along with suggestions for wines that will sing at life’s special moments.
Beachfront Dinner for Two
When you’re dining seaside, chances are there’s some fresh-catch seafood on the menu. Fish pairings can be tricky, Morán says, but the key to getting them right is to match the wine to the delicacy of the fish. For example, he’ll pair a light snapper with an aromatic white, such as muscat from Alsace or chenin blanc from the Loire. For a more intense fish like salmon, Morán reaches for a Burgundian pinot noir, or an Australian GSM (Grenache, syrah, mourvèdre).
One underappreciated varietal for seafood pairings, in Morán’s estimation, is Bardolino chiaretto, a pale, dry rosé produced on the shores of Lake Garda in Northern Italy. “Its notes of red fruit and flowers are amazing when you drink it with oysters, clams or crab,” he says. And for ceviche, Moran likes an albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain, thanks to the grape’s citrusy nature, lighter alcohol and firm acidity.
Unexpected Pairings: If your beachside meal leans lighter — vegetable dishes, say, or a picnic spread — look to a sauvignon blanc from Sancerre. “Young, minimally oaked, with tangy acidity, this wine is sublime with fresh dishes,” Morán says.
Dinner with Clients
When everyone’s ordering something different—a filet mignon here, a bone-in pork chop there — it can be difficult to know which wine to reach for. The key here is to understand a few basic pairing principles, and to be familiar with some standout food-friendly wines that can hold their own against a variety of flavors.
If steak is on the menu, Morán recommends pouring a tannic red. “Tannins, the astringent compounds in red wines that help give the wine structure, are an ideal complement to red meat,” he says, “and the combination on the palate creates an indescribable flavor.” Wines such as nebbiolo, cabernet sauvignon and Montepulciano are worthy partners to hearty steaks and roasts. For chicken or pork, look to lighter reds such as pinot noir, or medium-intensity whites like a Russian River Valley chardonnay.
With spicier, more intense meals, you’ve got options. Morán likes to pair an off-dry riesling from Mosel, Germany, with dishes such as a Thai curry. “The high acidity in this wine makes the mouth water, and therefore helps to soothe the fierceness of the spices,” he says. For those who prefer reds, try a pinot noir from Burgundy — soft, delicate and with low levels of tannins and alcohol, it’s perfect to pair with chile- and vinegar-forward dishes.
Unexpected Pairings: Morán champions a few lesser-known varietals that rise to the culinary challenge. “The xinomavro from Greece, whose name means ‘black acid,’ is unique in both flavor and personality, and is very food-friendly,” he says. “Also, tannat from Madiran in southwestern France features inky-dark fruit and a rough nature. These characteristics can help surprise family and friends with an unusual choice.” He further suggests seeking out a tempranillo blanco from Rioja — “everybody knows the red tempranillo, but its white brother is the great unknown,” Morán says — or a pinotage from South Africa, a cross between pinot noir and cinsault.
Festive Family Celebrations
Family get-togethers for birthdays, anniversaries and the like usually have one common theme: a show-stopping dessert course. And when it comes to dessert pairings, you need to consider a wine’s acidity, intensity and sweetness. “An acidic wine may pair best with fruit desserts, which also have natural acidity,” Morán says, “and the more intense the flavors of a dessert, the more intense the wine should be.”
Unexpected Pairings: The same can be said of sweetness — the sweeter the dessert, the sweeter the wine should be. “Ice wines from Canada, made with cabernet Franc or vidal, are some of the most interesting sweet wines in the world,” he says. “They can help create unforgettable pairings with chocolate, fruits and ice creams.”