This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Aug. 14, 2006.

Worst wine-food matches

Wine Advisor reader Miriam P. got in touch the other day with a cheeky suggestion that rang the bell at the top of my idea-meter: "Food and wine pairings are an evergreen subject," she wrote, "and most experts will say that it's more about personal taste than an objective correct answer. In fact, your Web site even says that there are very few incorrect choices. So that might be the way to approach the topic: what are the absolute wrong choices? Seems like that would be a fairly short list and, therefore, a more practical guideline."

Great topic! I'm not sure that a don't-do-this list should be the only way to approach your decision about what wine to have (or not to have) with dinner tonight, but perhaps by examining some of the wine-and-food combinations that most people consider unsuccessful, we can pick up some general principles to guide us in the quest.

Scrod and Shiraz - The delicate, light character of scrod, cod, sole and other white fish calls for a crisp and subtle white wine to match. The inky, dark and monolithic character of a big Barossa Shiraz would wipe out the fish, overwhelming the food with all the subtlety of spots of red paint spattered on a white dress shirt.

Venison and Vinho Verde - Representing the exact opposite equation, this pairing between a robust, strong-flavored game meat and an exceptionally light and frothy wine is likely to fail because the meat is too powerful for the wine, which might not actively quarrel with the dinner but certainly wouldn't harmonize.

Chocolate and Chardonnay - Generally speaking, sweet desserts and wine make an iffy match, because even wines that seem sweet on their own will show their tart and sour side when you compare them with something sweeter. Dark chocolate goes well with strong, sweet red wines like Banyuls from the Pyrenees or Tawny Port. It's hard to imagine anyone washing down a Hershey's Kiss with a big, bold Chardonnay, though: The flavors are so different that it would be like reaching into a box of candies and pulling out a chocolate-covered fried cheese curd.

Mackerel and Merlot - In constrast with the Shiraz that smashed the sole, this knockout battle pits strong, oily fish against a fruit-forward red, a joust of fighting flavors that most people would find unappealing; if the Merlot boasts an astringently tannic backbone, the battle could be as disgusting as tag-team mud-wrestling.

I could go on, but I think the underlying principle is becoming clear: Matching wine and food involves a dance between balance and contrast: Balancing flavors of similar strength and intensity so neither beverage nor fare outshouts the other; seeking pleasurable contrasts of aromas and flavors that intuitively fit. Most people like chocolate-covered coconut; few of us care for chocolate-covered catfish. Let your own taste buds be your guide, with a dash or two of common sense, and you'll find, as I said in the first place, that most food and wine combinations work just fine.

Today's tasting features a food-friendly Sonoma County red that's one of my favorite California Italian-style wines. Ferrari-Carano 2003 Sonoma County "Siena" emulates a "Super Tuscan" with its blend of 75 percent Sangiovese (the primary grape of Chianti) with a smaller portion of the Malbec (11 percent) and splashes of a half-dozen other grapes. I'm delighted to see its price, at least in this part of the world, drop back to the $20 range after having soared close to $30 in recent vintages; although still a bit above everyday status for most wine enthusiasts, its high quality makes it a fine value at this price.

Siena Ferrari-Carano 2003 Siena Sonoma County Red Wine ($19.99)

This is an inky dark reddish-purple wine, showing glints of ruby against the light. Lovely black-cherry aromas add more subtle hints of fennel or licorice. Ripe and juicy fruit flavors follow the nose, shaped by tart Italian-style acidity and soft tannins in a nicely structured wine. Tart cherries linger and add a touch of dark chocolate in a long finish. Curiously, the proprietary name was rendered "Sienna" for a year or two, as shown in the 2001 label at right; it has now returned to "Siena" as in the historic Tuscan town. (Aug. 10, 2006)

FOOD MATCH: Like its Tuscan cousins, Siena serves nicely with a rare grilled steak; it also went very well indeed with a hearty, meatless pasta dish of sauteed eggplant, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes over farfalle, topped with grated fresco Asiago and Pecorino Romano cheeses and a basil chiffonade.

VALUE: I was delighted to spot it at less than $20 in this market, at which point it's a fine value; you may be able to find it in some regions for a few dollars less.

WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking beautifully now, but its blend of grapes and its careful balance suggest that it should cellar well, and possibly evolve, over at least the next five years.

The winery Website describes the full Ferrari-Carano portfolio and offers online buying where the law permits. For a Siena fact sheet, click

Find vendors and check prices for Ferrari-Carano Siena on