An incredibly food-friendly wine, Syrah strikes a balance between power and finesse. Syrah is rarely as tannic as Cabernet, but has an equally deep color and a similar degree of flavor complexity. This combination gives Syrah a food-friendliness akin to Pinot Noir's, thus Syrah can match beautifully with rich seafood dishes as well as robust meats. Some delicious trial-and-error will help you discover the outstanding Syrah and food combinations, in which together they seem to be better and more vibrant than either is on its own! For those less patient, never fear, several generally accepted strategies (and recipes) will head you in the right direction.
Matching body or weight
Chefs and sommeliers often pair food and wines with similar body or weight. On the wine side, the most obvious indication is color (red grapes have more body than white) and grape varietal (from light to heavy: Champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon). Winegrowing climate and winemaking technique offer additional clues as lighter body wines tend to come from cooler climates, and heavier wines tend to come from warmer climates or from barrel fermentations. Alcohol level is the final clue since a lower alcohol generally means lighter weight and higher alcohol means heavier weight.
On the food side, weight is primarily determined by the main protein, although there are additional considerations. A continuum of weights for the main protein from light to heavy might look like: Sole, Lentils, Chicken, Turkey, Salmon, Lamb, Sausage, Beef, and Foie Gras. Secondary elements like sauces, spices, and toppings also need to be considered: lemon-butter sauce, mango salsa, and dill would be on the light side; whereas a molé, bacon, mornay, gratinée would be on the heavier side. The final consideration is cooking method: poached, boiled, or steamed dishes are typically on the lighter side whereas grilled and roasted foods are heavier weight with their smokey, carmelized, and concentrated flavors.
Montemaggiore Syrah tends to be medium full bodied thus goes well with foods that are likewise: duck breast, lamb (e.g., lamb burgers, lamb shanks), beef (e.g., grilled steak, beef carpaccio), paella, sausage (e.g., grilled sausage, andouille-stuffed quail), and Vincent's favorite: foie gras. We especially enjoy dishes with sauces or toppings such as molé and bacon. And if the food is braised, stewed, grilled, or roasted, Montemaggiore Syrah will probably also be a good match.
Truly transcendental pairings often involve echoing similar flavors in the food that one finds in the wine. When the wine and food have the same aromas and flavors, most people find that each is enhanced; whereas when they have differing flavors, each is diminished. By tuning your food to match the flavors of the wine (since it's difficult to do the opposite), you can often enhance the flavors of both.
For example, common flavors in Syrah are fruit (blackberry, blueberry, plum, cherry, black currant), spices (black or white pepper, anise, clove, thyme), savory (bacon, leather, earth), or things like toast, chocolate, and roasted nut. Thus Montemaggiore wines would pair well with cherry sauce, pepper steak, burgers topped with bacon, Spanish almonds (or avocado and almond soup), mushroom ragout with polenta, mushroom crostini, hearty bean dishes (e.g., lentil stew, three-bean ragout), blueberries with Syrah reduction. Many spicy foods echo the spiciness of Syrah—for example Tuna Tartare with Szechuan Peppercorn Cream and Chipotle Sweet Potato Gratin. Syrah even goes well with brownies!
Many good books have been written on wine pairings in general, but if you are more the visual type, you might enjoy Wine Folly's simple infographic.
While there are many other strategies, matching weights and echoing flavors are the most important. Some of our other favorite strategies include looking to traditional regional gastronomic specialties, since presumably the wines and food evolved together over centuries. For example, the specialties from the northern Rhône include lamb, veal, sausage, game birds (quail, pheasant), paté, venison, boar, charcuterie, beef carpaccio, Valrhona chocolate, and goat cheese. Since Syrah is the primary varietal from that area, these foods should go very well with Montemaggiore Syrah!
Finally, one should always consider the occasion along with personal taste. Is this a takeout pizza night? Then perhaps a wine in the same price category is called for. A special occasion might dictate a more special wine—one of our friends tempts his college-age daughter to come home for dinner with the promise of Montemaggiore wine! Thus many foods will do! But even the most fabulous pairing won't succeed if your guest prefers "big reds" when you are serving "delicate whites".
Cheese is another story
Pairing Syrah with cheese is a completely different story: there are few generally-accepted rules, thus our overall advice is to try it for yourself! At one end of the spectrum, a masters student at UC Davis concluded in her thesis that there are no good red wine and cheese pairings—her trained, expert tasters found the flavors of the wine were always diminished. Yet most people will find plenty of really outstanding cheese pairings, so that might be a bit extreme!
At Montemaggiore, we've found that our Syrah generally goes better with hard and mild cheeses… but then again we've found several soft and strong cheeses that we really like too! For example, we like Montemaggiore Syrah with Prima Donna, regular or aged Cheddar, Pecorino, Manchego, Ewephoria, Parmigiano Reggiano, Romano, Grana Padino, Provolone, Aged Dry Jack, Buffalo Mozzarella, Salva Cremasco, and Humbolt Fog. Our local Cheese Shop in Healdsburg carries all of these, and we hope your local shop does too!
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