You’ve got your favourite wines, and your favourite recipes—but does the stuff you’ve poured into your glass “go” with the food you’ve placed on your plate? We tapped master sommelier Gillian Balance for her best tips around wine and food pairing, with a particular focus on summer.
Hi Gillian! What does it take to become a master sommelier (we hear it’s quite the journey!)? Once you have the title, what does your work involve?
It is a journey, but it’s a rewarding one! I started out on the floor of fine-dining restaurants and tasted a lot of wines from around the world, so becoming a master sommelier was many years in the making. That said, once you pass all stages and levels, a big part of holding the diploma is the responsibility of mentoring future candidates, which I find so gratifying.
Let’s talk summer wines, and perfect food pairings. One of our favourites is Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Please tell us about this wine.
I love Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon! While many Napa Cabernet Sauvignons can be a little heavy on tannins and alcohol for summer sipping, the Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon is elegant and beautifully fragranced, with well-integrated tannins. It’s just delicious with a mixed grill: chicken, pork, ribs and sausages.
Moving on to another good bottle, Penfolds Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz. Tell us about this one.
Oh, this is such a delicious fruit-driven blend of Cabernet and Shiraz that we expect from Penfolds—but it’s not from Australia! This wine is part of the new Penfolds California Collection, sourced from Napa Valley and Paso Robles. The dark fruits provide a perfect contrast to so many foods—think burgers topped with blue cheese and bacon.
Last but not least, give us the scoop on the Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay.
I absolutely love the balance between oak and fruit in our Napa Valley Chardonnay. Southerly Napa vineyards contribute citrus and apple fruits while the oak ageing gives subtle oak spices—I think of sweet summer corn with creamy lobster risotto for a heavenly match.
Let’s dive a little deeper into wines that are considered perfect for summer. What qualities in general make them so? Any wines to “avoid” in warm weather?
Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid heavier wines in summer weather; thinking “like for like” is always a good way to go. Summer weather is about eating light—lots of salads, for example—but there are still those that enjoy heavier wines. I would probably stick to grilled meats for those.
Beyond the three wines mentioned above, do you keep any other favourites handy for al fresco dinners and patio parties in summertime?
Sauvignon blanc and rosé! I always have some chilled because they pair beautifully with summer vegetable dishes. Matua Sauvignon Blanc or either 19 Crimes or Matua Rosé are the perfect patio party sippers—reasonably priced and full of freshness!
Any advice on how to store/serve wines during the summer months? Are there some fun tricks you use when the temperature really climbs (hello, heat dome) to make wine not only taste good but feel refreshing?
Some people would be offended, but I really don’t mind an ice cube in white or rosé (just like Martha Stewart!). I also love the reusable freezer cubes; they come in handy and don’t dilute the flavours of the wine.
Finally, what are some general rules around food pairings, especially with hot weather in mind (i.e., less cooking please)? How about grilling? We’re planning on doing a lot of barbecuing this summer, and would love to know how to pair grilled foods with our wine.
When in doubt go for a great rosé! This will stand up to grilled items and keep you cool, too.