If you're more comfortable ordering comida than vino, we've got the perfect cheat sheet for you, courtesy of Sur Lucero, Master Sommelier and National Director of Wine Education at Jackson Family Wines.
What are your helpful tips for people trying to select certain wines to pair with certain dishes?
I think of food and wine pairings as a basic algebra problem. I take the 5 main tastes (bitter, acid, umami, sweet, salty), and I look at the food and wine as if they are on separate sides of the same equation. If you have sweetness in your food, you have to cancel that same amount of sweetness in your wine, making the wine taste more sour. The wine doesn't change, but your perception of it changes due to the sugar in your food. Same holds true if you have a lot of acid in your food like ceviche; the acid in food will cancel your perception of acid in the wine making the wine taste sweeter. It's all about balancing of tastes.
Any unexpected pairings you’re enjoying?
Recently I had an incredible pairing with two mature white wines. One was a Sauvignon Blanc/Semmillon and an older white Rioja. They both paired very well with a bowl of Ramen noodles with pork and seaweed. There was so much savory depth in the ramen and the more savory lightly nutty components of the aged white was perfect. The pairing was better as the wines came closer to room temperature so that the ramen and wine weren’t so far apart in temp.
What’s something people often get wrong when trying to ask a Somm a question?
They often don’t really know how to describe wines they enjoy. I always tell them to snap a picture on their phone of the wines they have really liked and show them to the Somm. Most likely the Somm will recognize the wine or the region it comes from and have an idea of what it tastes like.
What’s the best question you could ask a Somm to impress your dinner guests, but not be too over-the-top?
First thing first, try not to be the person who is trying to impress anyone with wine! This is why wine becomes associated with pretention. Be honest with the Somm on what you like and what you are willing to pay and let the Somm do what they do best! They WANT to please you and your guests. They want to bring you the BEST bottle within your budget. By having an honest and organic conversation with your Somm, you are allowing them to do their best for your table. Ask if he or she has a philosophy on why they choose the wines they do? Ask, what it is that they love about wine, and if the Somm has passion and excitement, he or she will share it with the table, enhancing the experience for all of your guests.
What’s the best way to smell the wine presented to you to try by a Somm?
Smell from the bottom of the glass to the top and back down to the bottom in one movement. Most people only smell at the bottom of the glass getting one snapshot of the wines aroma, but the more subtle aromatics are around the top. This happens because the aromatics like everything else in the world are affected by gravity, so you smell different concentrations the further away from the wine your nose is. So go for the entire spectrum of smells and go from bottom-to-top top-to-bottom in one motion.
What’s your advice to people who might not want to speak to a Somm because they fear they will only recommend $$$ options?
The Somm is there to support your dining experience. Trust them. Give them a clear budget and perhaps the type of wine you are looking for. If you are not sure what type that is, tell them something you have had in the past that you have loved.
Some of the Jackson Family Wines we're loving right now are the Cambria Pinot Noir, Matanzas Creek Sauvingnon Blanc, and Drew Barrymore's Barrymore by Carmel Road Pinot Grigo (seriously, it goes with everything).