Wine PairingsSet aside your case of wine guilt (or case of guilt wine, perhaps?) and just drink what you love. That’s the takeaway from a recent conversation with wine expert and co-founder of Messina Hof Winery in Texas, Merrill Bonarrigo. “We often tend to return to the first wine we started with. And that’s okay,” she says. Having said that, she proceeded to explain the concept of wine pairings. Master the complex, yet fun skill of perfect wine pairing, and you may just break your pattern.

Or try something a little different.

The more you learn about pairings, the more surprised you may be to discover wines that you have previously shunned. Sweet wines are a good example. When a sweet wine is paired with a slightly sweeter dessert, the wine comes to life on the palate. Bonarrigo made a believer out of me with a combination of apple pie and Messina Hof’s Riesling. I love dry Rieslings but have always turned my nose up at the sweeter versions. But both the hint of spice in the pie and the pleasant fruitiness of the Reisling were enhanced when combined on the tongue. The wine seemed to suddenly have the perfect amount of sweetness.

The wine pairing everybody loves

Most wine lovers know about the wine and cheese combination. The fats and proteins in the cheese mellows the tannins in the wine. The heavier the tannin is in a wine, the more it needs these compounds to offset the bitterness. Expand the concept by drinking rich reds with cheesy comfort foods– think mac ‘n’ cheese or cheesy quiche.

Bonarrigo offered up a spicy Gewurtztraminer as a perfect vegetarian wine, balancing starches with bold fruit flavors. We sampled it with a potato pancake. It also holds up well to the herbs traditionally used in a Thanksgiving Day spread.

Perhaps the best pairing I experienced at Messina Hof was the Port Fudge Sundae. Described on the menu as, “Decadent vanilla ice cream topped with Port fudge sauce, whipped cream and fresh strawberries drizzled with Messina Hof Barrel Cuvée Port.”

Picture a large wine glass artfully smeared inside with rich chocolate, with a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream sitting in the bottom of the glass, surrounded by a moat of rich red port, and topped with whipped cream and strawberries.  The combination was rich, fragrant, and memorable. It has me anxious to try the amazing array of chocolate desserts found in the cookbook written by Bonarrigo and husband Paul, Vineyard Cuisine. Imagine Chocolate Pate or Pair of Ports Pie.

Messina Hof also has a page on their website dedicated to pairings.

Disclosure: Gary and I were hosted at the Messina Hof winery by the Bonarrigos and their staff and the Bryan-College Station CVB, but there’s no conflict because we always love the wine we’re with.

Read more about our exploration of Texas wine towns.