Food & Wine 3

Wine always makes a tasteful gift, and you never have to wrap it. But how do you know whether your cubicle mate or running partner prefers a dry white or a luscious red?
Add a tag to the bottle that lists his favorite complementary dishes, and you’ll be a hero.

Unless your giftee is a habitual dieter or true ascetic, chances are you’ve dished about food. And your friend’s favorite cuisine may be all the insight you need to buy a great wine for him or her, says Natalie MacLean, sommelier and author of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.

Here, she and chef Michael Chiarello, the Emmy-winning star of Food Network’s Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello, offer tips on matching wine to taste buds. Just add a tag to the bottle, listing the best foods for your chosen wine.

STEAK LOVER: For the red-meat fan on your list, a robust cabernet sauvignon is a sure bet. “When you’ve got a juicy rare steak, the protein in the steak binds with the tannins in the wine, and they do a happy little dance in your mouth,” says MacLean, who has won four James Beard journalism awards for her wine writing. Try a cabernet-dominated Bordeaux from France or a California cab.

COMFORT FOODIE: One word: merlot and forget about all that Sideways trash talk. “Merlot is soft jazz, it’s fluffy sweaters, it’s an Irish setter by the fireplace,” MacLean says. “It’s an easy-drinking wine with a plummy fruit taste, and it goes well with things like stew or shepherd’s pie.”

FAST-FOOD JUNKIE: If you think there’s no wine out there for this budget-minded person, then you’re wrong. “Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joe’s is perfect for 20-somethings,” Chiarello says. “It has become the jug wine of the new generation.” He recommends a cab or merlot, but Charles Shaw wine (as Two Buck Chuck is really called) also makes chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, Pinot Grigio and Valdique, similar to a Beaujolais nouveau — at $1.99 to $3.49, depending on the region. Even at prices that are a little higher, a bottle of wine can be an inexpensively elegant gift.

HEALTH NUT: If your friend is all about lean chicken and antioxidants, go for a low-alcohol wine. MacLean suggests a pinot noir from Oregon, or a Riesling, which can have as little as 7% to 9% alcohol (most wines are around 13%). For the vegetarians in your life, she says, go for a crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc: “It’s like a salad in a glass.”

ASIAN ADDICT: A wine’s job is to go with the food, but also to get you ready for the next bite, says Chiarello, who owns a Napa Valley winery. “Someone who likes Asian food would like wine varietals, like a German Riesling or a Gewuerztraminer, because it will help clear the palate between bites. A cabernet, especially with Thai food or something spicy, will make the tannins feel like gnawing on a splinter.” MacLean likes champagne with fish, sushi or sashimi. “A swarm of bubbles will wash away any fishy taste and also refresh your palate.”

CHOCOHOLIC: One yummy pleasure deserves another, and the perfect choice for this sweets lover is a box of his favorite chocolates paired with a luscious dessert wine, such as a true port from Portugal or Banyuls from the Pyrenees of France. They have “the richness and body to match the chocolate,” MacLean says. “And they’re fortified with more alcohol, which literally melts the chocolate in your mouth.”

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