How to pair your cooking with your guests' favourite wines, according to a top winery chef

Dominic Orsini with Summer Garden Vegetables silver oakSilver OakDominic Orsini with summer vegetables at Silver Oak.

As the executive winery chef at Napa Valley’s Silver Oak Cellars, Dominic Orsini certainly knows a thing or two about wines and how their flavours interact with food.

Silver Oak is one of the most prestigious wineries in Napa Valley. Family-owned since 1972, it was the first winery to earn LEED Platinum certification and is the only one in North America to have its own barrel-making facility. High-profile fans include Lebron James, Matthew McConaughey, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, and Drew Barrymore.

A Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, Orsini will release a cookbook highlighting his techniques in October. In the book, he outlines what types of foods are ideal to cook when a high-quality wine is the star of the meal.

“Silver Oak Cookbook: Life in a Cabernet Kitchen” is available for preorder on the winery’s web site, but Orsini gave us a sneak peek at some of his tips here. What follows are a set of guidelines for meals you can cook when you have guests that are partial to certain types of wines.

Silver Oak
Wild salmon confit.

If they love cabernet:

The common instinct is to pair a red wine with red meat, and red meat only, but Orsini says you can think more broadly than that.

'For cabernets, you need an appropriately weighted protein, and that doesn't just need to be steak,' he said. 'A big trend is pairing bold reds with fish from salmon to sturgeon, as long as you balance with extra protein, be it mushroom, eggplant, beets, or even nuts. Don't forget to finish with a little bit of salt and acidity.'

Silver Oak
Porterhouse and panzanella.

If they love sauvignon blanc:

Orsini also encourages chefs to think outside the box with white wines.

'The old adage is that you should pair white meat with white wine and red meat with red wine, but you can really pull off an impressive sauvignon blanc/red meat pairing if you balance the recipe with bridge ingredients like peppers, curry, cheese or capers,' he said. 'Beef carpaccio with arugula will surprise and delight your guests. And instead of a heavy, starchy side like potatoes that is usually served with steak, accompany with a lighter side like sale salad coleslaw or avocado to complete the dish.'

Silver Oak
Heirloom tomato mosaic.

If they love merlot:

'A great merlot has medium-full body style with soft silky tannins and smooth mid-palate texture. Most people reach for the obvious Mediterranean pairing here, but this is an opportunity to think across cultures with your pairings,' Orsini said.

'Because of these softer tannins, merlot is right at home with a whole range of cuisines, from tomato-based Italian cuisine, to sweet & sour-style Chinese and even complex spice-driven Indian cuisine.'

If they love pinot noir:

'Pinot noir is the most delicate as well as the most versatile of the red wine varietals and basically anything that starts with a 'p' goes with pinot noir: pizza, pork, prosciutto, pumpkin, you name it,' he said.

'Take advantage of this broad range to introduce something unexpected. Pork belly banh-mi is a personal favourite and can be surprisingly well-executed by most home chefs.'

If they love chardonnay:

'3 words: macaroni and cheese! Chardonnay and cheese is a winning pairing because of the wine's acidity and richness,' he said.

'For voluptuous chardonnays with a generous oak influence, consider using an extra-sharp-cheddar or a zesty pecorino-romano to cut though the richness of the wine. For a buttery unoaked chardonnay, try gruyere or manchego cheese. The flavour of these more complex cheeses will come through in the absence of oak.'

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