• Pairing Basics

    Pairing Basics

Chef Dominic’s Wine Pairing Tips

“Balance is key when creating a menu to be paired with wines.”

- Chef Dominic Orsini

At Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars, I work with a range of varietals. My cuisine doesn’t revolve around classic food-and-wine pairings. Instead, I let the property, the land and the seasons tell me what to prepare. I’ve found that successful pairing is about taking all of the ingredients we have at our fingertips and balancing the flavors. I invite you to try the following straightforward techniques.

Include a little protein

The weight of each dish should match the relative weight of the wine. Protein provides the weight in most recipes, but it doesn’t have to come from meat, poultry or fish. It can come from many sources such as breads, grains, legumes and dairy. Even umami loaded ingredients like mushrooms or soy sauce impart a protein-like weight.

Balance with salt and acid

When you drink wine, the alcohol can numb your palate a little and food can start to taste bland. Salt helps to amplify food flavors, soften wine tannins and polish acidity.

Likewise, acidity in food - which can come from citrus, vinegar, fresh cheeses, or other sources - can temper the apparent acidity of wine. Make sure the acidity level of the food approximates the acidity of the wine so one doesn’t outdo the other. I find that a squeeze of lemon is the ideal acid to use - it brightens up wine and allows its fruit flavors to pop on the palate.

Strive for a balance of mouth-coating flavors

Determine the amount and type of fat in a dish by the acidity or tannin in the wine. A high-acid white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, will pair well with an acid-based fat like a lemon butter sauce. A tannic red wine, such as a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, will do better with a protein-based fat like butter or cream.

Carefully introduce sweetness, bitterness and spicy heat

These ingredients are wild cards, inspiring both “love it” and “hate it” reactions. If you experiment, here are a few truisms.

Sweet ingredients can help high-alcohol wines shine, but will make dry wines taste bitter or astringent. Bitter ingredients, such as radicchio or broccoli rabe, can make sweet wines taste dry and dry wines taste bitter. Sweet and sour balances can work with sweet or highly acidic wines but wreak havoc on dry wines. Finally, although spicy heat can usually be tempered by sweet wines, it will devastate dry wines.

Contrast is interesting - shake it up a little

Can you pair a flaky white fish with a big, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon? Sure you can - but balance the lighter weight of the fish with an umami heavy ingredient such as sautéed mushrooms. As Cabernet tannins cry out for fat, add a red wine-based beurre blanc. And don’t forget the salt! How about grilled flank steak with Sauvignon Blanc? That’s fine too. Lighten it up by turning it into tacos, add a coleslaw and garnish with an acid-based fat like guacamole.

Silver Oak and Twomey
Food Pairing Recommendations

  • Hors d’oeuvres & First Course
  • (Twomey Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir)
  • Start light and refreshing
  • Second or Middle Course
  • (Twomey Pinot Noir, Merlot, Silver Oak Alexander Valley)
  • Progress to semi-hearty middle course
  • Main Course
  • (Silver Oak Alexander or Napa Valley)
  • Climax with a rich entrée
  • Final Course
  • (Silver Oak Napa Valley or Twomey Merlot)
  • Conclude with a cheese course
  • Semi-firm and firm, low moisture, high salt content, aged cow’s and sheep’s milk cheeses are all good pairings. Try cheeses like manchego, Petite Basque, Parmesans, pecorino, Dry Jacks, aged cheddars, or Piave.

Recommended Ingredients to Pair With Silver Oak and Twomey Wines

  • Base ingredients refer to the main ingredients of a dish.
  • Bridge ingredients help connect the food and the wine by providing umami, acid, salt, or fat.

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Silver Oak, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Base ingredients: grilled NY steak, veal, buffalo, lamb

Bridge ingredients: demi-glace sauces, complex Indian spices (not hot), olives, mushrooms, red beets, eggplant, roasted tomatoes, rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, walnuts, pecans, aged cow’s milk cheese

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Base ingredients: grilled salmon, tuna, roasted beef, lamb, veal, venison, squab, duck, mushrooms, eggplant, red beets

Bridge ingredients: mushrooms, roasted beets, demi-glace sauces, cream, butter sauces, most nuts, hearty herbs, aged cow’s milk cheese

Twomey Merlot

Twomey Merlot

Base ingredients: duck breast, leg confit, rack of lamb, squab, braised beef, grilled salmon, venison

Bridge ingredients: roasted garlic, sauces, olives, Dijon mustard, eggplant, mushrooms, rosemary, oregano, sage, demi-glace sauces, red beets, aged sheep’s milk cheese, juniper, most nuts

Twomey Sauvignon Blanc

Twomey Sauvignon Blanc

Base ingredients: shellfish, lean white fish, chicken breast, turkey

Bridge ingredients: tender herbs, mint, tarragon, basil, cilantro, dill, all citrus, red bell peppers (raw or roasted) buttery olive oil, flaky butter crusts, yeasty bread, goat cheese, Gruyère, ricotta, mozzarella, feta, Castelvetrano olives, curry spices, sour cream, yogurt, roasted garlic, Dijon mustard, capers, prosciutto, eggplant, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, almonds

Twomey Pinot Noir

Twomey Pinot Noir

Base ingredients: pork, pork belly, toasted chicken, veal, rabbit, quail, most seafood

Bridge ingredients: roasted garlic, fried eggs; roasted root vegetables, tomato-based sauces, gastrique sauces (with controlled sweetness and acidity, chicken jus, Olives, Dijon mustard, fennel, eggplant, rosemary, oregano, sage, sun dried tomatoes, pancetta, prosciutto.

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American Oak

The Story of American Oak

How American Oak, one of the signatures of our wine style at Silver Oak, goes from forest to barrel to glass.

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Silver Oak Cookbook

Life in a Cabernet Kitchen features recipes that capture the casual elegance of California wine country.

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