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Four Pours That Are Verifiably Vernal

By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

We're not your typical wine writers: We love food first and wine second. Frankly, we think the most amazing thing about wine is its ability to make food taste even better.

That means, simply, that you can bring more pleasure into your life every day through more thoughtful -- even inspired -- pairings. We know from experience that the wrong combination can ruin the wine, the food or both: Imagine pad thai wiped out by a cabernet, or Riesling overwhelmed by a steak. On the other hand, reverse those same wine choices, and you'll see that the ideal match can transform virtually any meal from ordinary to extraordinary.

Sharing our enthusiasm for some of the best wine and food pairings we've tasted, we'll focus less on once-a-year or even once-in-a-lifetime extravagances and more on those that can be enjoyed week in and week out. As one of life's greatest delights, the matching of compatible food and wine need not be limited to special occasions.

But it isn't just a matter of finding the right wine for the right food. It's also about pairing to the moment -- the particular people gathered, the occasion, the mood (such as Sunday brunch with the family vs. a romantic dinner out) -- and to the season.

As temperatures rise and winter officially melts into spring, at least on calendars, cravings for full-bodied winter reds give way to those for lighter-bodied reds, such as pinot noir, and whites, such as Riesling. In fact, pinot noir and Riesling are two of the most food-friendly wines around, so they're worth keeping on hand in your wine rack or refrigerator throughout the year.

After all, what better wine to accompany spring's more delicate flavors? All sorts of seasonal foods -- fava beans, spring lamb, first-of-the-season salmon -- are noticeably lighter in flavor and texture than they are later in the year, calling for a wine equivalent.

This week we bring you four recommendations, all white wines. At home as our "go-to" wine, we often "call the Doctor": Loosen Bros. "Dr. L" Riesling. This elegant wine is fruity, high in acid and low in alcohol, with a touch of minerality and a hint of sweetness -- which helps it stand up beautifully to sausages, spicy Indian food and chili-laden Mexican dishes. Best of all, it's usually priced around $10.

We enjoyed our other three recommendations earlier this month at a restaurant wine tasting. These wines sparkled on our palates as well as in our glasses; their liveliness and vibrancy are the essence of spring. We were even happier when we learned that each retails for less than $25.

Moreson means "morning sun" in Afrikaans, and Moreson winery's 2006 Chenin Blanc struck us as a liquid exemplar of the phrase. South African chenin blanc often calls to mind melon, peach and honeysuckle flavors, and Moreson's impressed us with its lemon-lime acidity and slight minerality. This is an ideal wine to pair with spa cuisine, whether steamed shrimp dumplings or sauteed scallops.

The other two wines are from New Zealand's Te Awa Winery, which is better known for its reds, especially pinotage and syrah. However, its excellent sauvignon blanc (which is 50 percent barrel-fermented, adding flavor complexity) and chardonnay should not be overshadowed. Both wines are well balanced, with finishes that seem to go on forever on your tongue. The winery describes its chardonnay as having "well-integrated oak," which is a nice way of saying it has all the body and flavor benefits of oak without being a proverbial oak bomb, which would obliterate the taste of many foods. That makes it the perfect foil for full-flavored fish such as salmon.

All four of this week's recommended wines can herald spring with their mood-lifting sprightliness. The pleasure they deliver is only enhanced by the suggested food pairings, because of course the right food can make wine taste even better, too.

Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg are the award-winning authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat" and several other books. They can be reached through their Web site,http://www.becomingachef.com, or atfood@washpost.com.

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