Spring Wine Pairings and Tasting the Unique Grape Varieties of the Fingers Lakes
John Breymaier is a co-owner and sommelier at Friends Lake Inn in Chestertown, NY. Not only is his in-house restaurant recognized as one of the best in North America (DiRONA) for its delectable New American/French-influenced cuisine, the wine cellar has also been honored as Best of Excellence by Wine Spectator magazine. It features 25,000 bottles of wine from around the globe with a focus on French, Italian, and Napa, California. Here are his tips on food & wine pairings for spring, plus some insights on the Finger Lakes region and its varietals.
What are some basic rules of thumb for food & wine pairing with lighter dishes served in spring?
Lighter foods need wines that are lighter in body. Body is determined larger by three factors: oak aging, alcohol level, and tannins. Lighter wines are typically aged in stainless steel or concrete vats, and therefore don’t pick up extra body from tannins or other compounds found in oak barrels.
Look for wines with alcohol levels below 13.5%. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, or Riesling are good examples of whites that work in this category. Finally, tannins add body to wine, so for light wines look for wines from grapes with less tannins. Most white wines fit this category, except for some Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs (especially Fume Blanc) that spend some time in oak.
Some people lean toward more whites as the weather gets warmer, but there are plenty of light reds that are ideal during this time too. What are some of your favorites, and why?
Some of my favorite light reds are Beaujolais, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, and Côtes Du Rhône. Why? Because they go great with the type of food you want to eat in spring. When I say Beaujolais I’m not talking about the Beaujolais Nouveau that you drink with Thanksgiving dinner. I’m talking about one of the Cru Level Beaujolais that despite its light body can age for as long as ten years in your cellar. This wine goes great with lunch meat platters or other types of charcuterie and is crisp and refreshing on a warm spring day.
Sangiovese is great with a light pasta sauce or pizza. The bright acidity pairs perfectly with tomato sauce, and it tastes like Italy!
Côtes Du Rhône is made in the Rhône region of France and is a typically a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, though other grape varieties are permitted. Côtes Du Rhône goes well with light dishes that contain beef, pork, game, duck, lamb, sausage, or veal.
Of course, Pinot Noir is probably the best known light red wine with low tannin and alcohol and red fruit flavors like raspberries and cranberries. Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France is more earth forward and is great with food, or you can choose Pinot from warmer climate like Sonoma, California for more fruit-forward styles. Either way, Pinot Noir goes great with light chicken or duck-centric dishes or other low fat proteins.
The inn offers exceptional food & wine experiences, including tasting dinners with some focus on the Finger Lakes. What inspires you about the region?
The Finger Lakes is best known for Riesling made in the German style. Its cold weather climate and proximity to moderating temperatures from the various lakes are a major reason for this fact. Above this point, the Finger Lakes has a growing reputation for other varietals that are unique in the wine world.
One is Vidal, which is made in either an ice wine or dry style. Another varietal is a red grape called Saperavi. Saperavi originally comes from the Republic of Georgia, a former Soviet State, and loves very cold climates. The wine made from Saperavi is full-bodied, soft on the palate with black fruit flavors, and has bright acidity. Saperavi pairs nicely with lamb dishes or other types of stews.
What is one of your favorite food & wine pairings for spring?
Lemon peppered salmon with seared asparagus paired with a Gruner Veltliner. Gruner Veltliner is a crisp white wine from Austria, like Sauvignon Blanc, with a characteristic flavor of white pepper.
Friends Lake Inn Restaurant Events in the Finger Lakes
Wine pairing dinners at Friends Inn take place September through June. The delectably themed four-course dinners are paired with four wines and are part of a package that includes a one-night stay for two in a cozy guest room; signature turndown service; and a full country breakfast for two in the morning. During the event, attendees enjoy a lively discussion with the inn’s owners and the winemakers of the selections featured. The inn also has its own wine club website, which specializes in selecting the top 100 wines from around the globe that represent top value.
Friends Lake Inn is also one one of many Bed & Breakfast’s BnBFinder works with in wine regions throughout the United States. Check them out if you’re looking to tour other AVAs and stay at unique wine-focused accommodation.