Lighten Up

Spring blossoms with brighter flavors and lighter fare.
We’re tired of everything heavy: no more heavy coats, heavy snowfall and heavy foods.

We need something crisp, bright, maybe even a little fruity. Give us asparagus, strawberries, spring lamb and Riesling.

A longtime sommelier favorite, Riesling offers high acidity, citrus aromas and medium to light body, placing it squarely in the food-friendly wine category.

While some moderate profile wines, such as California Merlot and Chardonnay, are pleasant to sip alone, wines high in acidity (think Granny Smith apple) or high in tannins (think strong tea) require food to neutralize the puckering and drying effect on your palate. (You would never consider sucking a lemon while chatting with friends, would you?)

Riesling’s acidity can easily be countered with a springtime salad, fish in lemon sauce or even grilled lamb chops marinated in lemon and lavender.

Other high-acid white grapes to consider for springtime fare include Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Pinot Grigio from Italy.

Tannins direct the pairing for reds. Found in grape skins and oak barrels, tannins give the wine structure and aging potential. Sipped alone, tannins quickly dry your mouth, leaving a “furry” feeling behind. Munch on a hunk of cheese or roast beef and those puckering tannins melt away.

The more tannin in a wine the more fat is needed in the accompanying food to keep the pairing in balance. Wines such as Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Valpolicella with medium to light tannins make great partners for springtime foods that tend to be lower in fat and body. In addition, these reds tend to be higher in acid, making them part of the food-friendly group of wines.

With the fresh flavors of spring emerging from the winter blahs, there is no better time to celebrate the art of pairing. To start, simply follow five basic rules: 1) Match the body of the wine to the body of the food. A wine becomes fuller in body as the alcohol increases. 2) High-acid wines marry well with high-acid foods. Think vinaigrette on a salad with Riesling. 3) The higher the tannin, the higher the fat. Unless you are familiar with tannin levels, ask your retailer for help. 4) Desserts should be paired with wines as sweet or sweeter than the dish. Try Madeira with milk chocolate. 5) No one has ever died from a bad pairing — just eat, drink and enjoy.

Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by Cellar Door Tasting Consultants in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
2005 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés, Alsace, France ($22): Dry, with intense honey, citrus and mineral notes, the high acidity and medium body make it perfect for ham, lamb or salad with blue cheese and vinaigrette.

2008 Huia Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand ($22): Pronounced citrus and tropical notes. High acidity and medium body pair with foods that can stand up to the pronounced aromas.

2006 Tommasi “Rafael” Valpolicella Classic Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($18): A blend of three grapes (Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara), Valpolicella is a medium-bodied wine that can be consumed at a young age. Sour cherry aromas, a hint of spice and high acidity. Try with pasta and red sauce.

2006 Louis Jadot Château des Jacques, Moulin-a-Vent, France ($26): Made from the Gamay grape using a process called carbonic maceration, its medium to light body with bright cherry fruit aromas, moderate tannins and high acidity are stellar with spring flavors from veggie dishes to light meats.

2006 Steele Carneros Pinot Noir, California ($24): Medium-bodied with bright cherry aromas, crisp acidity and medium tannins. Great match for lamb, ham and most springtime staples.

2007 Girlan Filadonna Pinot Grigio, Valdadige,

Italy ($14):
Dry, with a soft floral and citrus aroma, its medium body and velvety texture make it great with lighter courses such as salads and fish. Or sip by the glass while you cook.
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