Wine pairing tips from Aida Mollenkamp and David Mirassou

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Pairing wine to food is a fine art that, when done correctly, can create an amazing eating experience.
Pairing wine to food is a fine art that, when done correctly, can create an amazing eating experience. Mirassou Winery in California recently teamed up with Food Network’s Aida Mollenkamp to create a new online cookbook that demystifies food and wine pairing by providing recipes with their appropriate wine pairs.

Fabulous Foods recently caught up with Aida Mollenkamp, star of Food Network’s “Ask Aida” and host of the Cooking Channel’s “FoodCrafters,” and David Mirassou, a sixth generation wine maker, to talk about their new (free!) cookbook.

FF: Why an online cookbook and not a website or a blog?

David Mirassou: We get a lot of traffic on our website and we thought it would be fun to package a lot of recipes with Aida.

Aida Mollenkamp: I think a lot of people are looking for food and wine pairings and [the cookbook] makes it really concise.

FF: How did you use your California heritage in creating this cookbook?

Aida Mollenkamp: I have a fondness for the foods, cooking styles, and flavors of the Golden State. No matter where you live, bringing a bit of California cuisine into your kitchen doesn’t have to be difficult.

Here are my tips for creating delicious California-inspired dishes at home:
  • Start with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Cooking seasonally is paramount in California cuisine. To me, there’s nothing better than fresh asparagus in the spring and root vegetables in the fall. Pick two or three fresh, seasonal items at your local farmers' market or grocery store and incorporate them into your next meal.
  • Use bright bursts of flavor. Adding bright bursts of flavor, such as citrus zest, can help give your dishes an unmistakable taste of the season. Try adding grapefruit zest to hollandaise sauce or lime zest to flavor fish tacos.
  • Try new ingredients. California is a diverse place with all sorts of comingled cultures, which is most apparent in our food. Growing up in California, I was exposed to Korean, Persian, Japanese, and Mexican cuisines, to name a few, and I bring those flavors into my cooking. So, try twists on your favorite recipes with ingredients from these cultures using red chili paste, saffron, miso, or avocado to mix things up.

FF: What’s your favorite pairing in the book?

Aida Mollenkamp: I was developing the recipes, hoping that there would be something for every time of year, I really liked the peach and rhubarb with’s a real conducive fit.

David Mirassou: For me it would probably be the sweet corn soup with the chardonnay, it’s really yummy.
FF: How did you match the wine to food?

Aida Mollenkamp: I like really bold flavors and Mirassou can hold up to those. I don't overpower the food with the wine in my pairing, but it’s nice to have adventures and explore new tastes with nontraditional pairings.

Food and wine are naturally complementary. One general guideline is to pair lighter foods with lighter wines and heartier foods with bolder wines. I always say that there are no rules, but I do have some tips to help folks get started with food and wine pairing:

  • When you use wine as an ingredient in a recipe, pair that dish with a glass of that same wine. The flavors of the wine in the dish will pair nicely with the wine in the glass.
  • Pair spicier cuisines, such as Thai, with a sweeter style of wine. Our Mirassou California Riesling makes a great pairing for spicy dishes.
  • Pick out one flavor in a recipe and match it to a complementary flavor in a wine. For example, Aida’s recipe for Roast Chicken with Spiced Pomegranate-Orange Glaze pairs beautifully with our pinot noir because its fresh fruit flavors of pomegranates, cherries, and currants are complementary to the flavors in the glaze.
FF: Is there one variety of wine that is all-purpose?

David Mirassou: Probably the most versatile of all the wines is the pinot noir. My great, great, great-grandfather was the first one to bring black grapes to America. I can grab that wine with just about everything.

Aida Mollenkamp: That was the first wine to go in our house.