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Learn categories of tastes to understand pairing

Some time ago, fellow wine writer Robin Garr wrote a column that used the idea of teaching basic wine tasting ideas with tea. Tea contains a flavor profile that can be rather diverse.

The idea is terribly simplistic, yet it makes good sense. You serve one plain, one with lemon, one with sugar and one with milk. The plain tea allows the taster to concentrate on the profile of the tea itself, while the lemon shows acidity, the sugar demonstrates sweetness and the milk compares to the mellowing effect of malolactic fermentation.

If you can get the idea this way, when you hear of a wine with "lively acidity," you may have a better idea of what to expect. Even more so, you may have a better idea of what foods to pair it with to bring out the best in each.

Although I can appreciate a glass of wine by itself, I rarely indulge apart from food. Wine and food are intended to be taken together, and the idea of pairings is not really as complicated as it first may appear.

When you realize that wines can be categorized according to flavor characteristics, it makes the process immeasurably simpler. Instead of facing an overwhelming number of varietals, blends and regions, you can narrow it down to wines that are very acidic, such as many sauvignon blancs, wines which are sweet or off-dry, as are many rieslings, and so on.

Then you can choose to pair according to these characteristics, rather than simply by color, region or tradition.

When hosting a dinner at home, I may pair several wines with a variety of courses, perhaps including a dessert or after-dinner wine. We sometimes choose to serve coffee with dessert, rather than wine, especially if we have guests who will be driving home and would be better off without any additional alcohol.

While Marco Negri Moscato D'Asti is amazing with a mocha tort, a fresh cup of rich coffee from the French press is hard to beat as well. Turns out there are other such heavenly coffee and food matches.

A reader who loves German Dallmeyer coffee wrote and told me that, "the best way to really enjoy it is with a Lindt red Lindor chocolate ball. Pop the whole thing in your mouth, bite through the center, and enjoy! As you near the end of the candy, swig the coffee for an unbelievable treat!"

This is a person who understands the synergy of a great pairing. A complex, smoky Valpolicella with Veronese gnocchi does the trick for me.

Or how about a dark, peppery Chianti Classico with a good, homemade ragu that simmered all day over penne? Heck, why not a cabernet sauvignon like Clos Du Bois with prime rib while we're at it?

But if you're not ready for that yet, Starbucks tells us that African coffee pairs perfectly with lemon pound cake, Columbia Supremo is a match for gooey pecan rolls and Cafe Verona is a partner to chocolate mousse or souffle.

To share your favorite pairings, ask questions, or just to talk wine, write me at goodellwineguy@sbcglobal.net.