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Walla Walla trip: Wine and food pairing, fromagerie, killer cocktails and truly great people.

June 28, 2010

I am in the air right now flying back from Walla Walla in Washington. I was hired by Click Wine group (amazing people) to do a wine and food pairing presentation to a few hundred wine bloggers from all of the country. First and foremost “cheers!” to all of you amazing wine bloggers that I met. You are passionate, fun, people who are helping the world enjoy wine like never before. Thank you! What a trip! I got off the plane and we went straight to the most incredible fromagerie called Monteilllet. Joan, the owner is the greatest combination of farmer, entertainer and mentor. Within moments of meeting her she makes you feel like you are best friends. Her farm is out in the middle of a sea of green and brown. There are wheat fields as far as the eye can see. After petting the goats and meandering through the farm we had the most incredible cheese tasting. Fresh cheeses that were less than 48 hours old as well

as grape ash (imported from France where her husband is from) cheeses, feta style cheese, and marinated cheeses (pink peppercorn). We had a huge lunch under the newly constructed outdoor kitchen/dining room. We then headed into the next town called Waitsburg. A one street “wild west” looking town that is over 100 years old. There is a hardware store that looks like it has been there since the beginning. The centerpiece is a bar that you would think would be in a big city based on the complexity and brilliance of its owner and bartender Jim German. I had a killer cocktail of Rye Whiskey, Cappellano chinato (a red grape based bitter with a hint of dark chocolate), and Cynar. Sounds funky but totally tasty and perfectly balanced. The day ended at Saffron restaurant where we had an incredible meal. From lamb tartar that was sweet, mild and fresh to an incredible harissa flatbread. The dessert was strawberry flat bread with an Aleppo red chile ice cream. The flatbread was crispy yet chewy, the strawberries were sweet and then the best part was the red chile ice cream.

I would normally raise an eyebrow to such a combination but it was brilliant. The ice cream was not too sweet and filled your mouth with cool cream. As the ice cream melted you were left with the mild heat of the red chile. Truly well balanced and brilliant. Chef Bear (and his awesome house-grown micro greens)at the hotel where I did the presentation was brilliant. He created ten scrumptious dishes to pair with ten different wines. My favorite was the duck empanada with mole sauce paired with a Malbec. The huge blueberry cream and blackberry fruit of the wine dissolved into the mole sauce to marry with the fruit and chile. Fantastic!!

If you are up for a quick lesson on how to pair food and wine check out my presentation below. I hope this finds you well.

Pairing wine and food


That is what I said the first time I experienced the true “ah ha” of what a perfect wine and food match can do. It was 1990 in a little French restaurant in San Francisco. The kind I always spent my entire nights tips on as a waiter in my endless search for culinary pleasure. It was foie gras and sauterne – not unique, but truly symbolic of what it means to match food and wine. A little table, sip of this newly discovered dessert wine made honey sweet but with perfect acidity due to this magical mold called botrytis. The wine lacquered my tongue with a blanket of honey, and then came a bite of the seared custard like foie gras, cut through the crispy golden top, mild gamey/meaty flavor dissolved into a bone marrow like richness with that unmistakable savory custard-like texture. Another sip of wine and wow!!!! I have caramel and butterscotch in my mouth! Where did that come from? Foie gras politically correct? Sorry, the story is the story.

Tertiary – the biggest word I know and don’t ask me to spell it! If I were smart I wouldn’t be in the restaurant business! It is what happens when everything comes together with the right food and wine match and a third; new flavor is created that is better than the food and wine on their own.

Leaving bliss aside for a moment often times the goal is to just not mess up the food or the wine with a bad match right?

I am here in front of you not as an “expert” but as someone who has spent their life as a cook, a restaurateur and all around wine geek enjoying food, wine and the combination of the two. That is what it is all about. You know what tastes good and what doesn’t, right?    That should be your guide. Add that to what we are going to cover today and you are equipped to take your enjoyment to the next level.

My goal today is to start by:

1st setting us up by what it means to pair wine and food

2nd talk about some basic “rules” or guidelines that will help you increase the odds of pleasing your palate!  We will also talk about the top three “safe bet” wines that are all around heroes. And three “must try” wine/food matches.

Lastly, most importantly, see what questions you have.

Ok, before we get started let’s clarify what Tools are needed: nose, tongue, and love for filling your mouth with brilliant flavor combinations! You must first please the tongue/the gatekeeper with the necessary balance of acid/sweet/salty/alcohol /fat and spice before the nose (the place we really “taste” everything can enjoy the true depth of the wine and food match.

The fist step is to change the way you approach your plate and glass. Approach your food and wine the same way you approach your relationships (the good ones J) Stop and “listen” to your food and wine. Really pay attention to what is in front of you and give the first couple bites/sips your full attention. When you do this you start to notice things. Have you ever finished a meal and not even realized what you ate or drank? Sometimes that makes sense but to get the most enjoyment you want to really pay attention to your food and wine. Lock the tastes and smells into your “flavor database” so that you will be able to recall them in the future. Lose yourself in the dish and the glass for a moment (just make sure to re-surface before your friends think you have issues (it’s already too late for me).

Thanks to Josh Wesson’s book (“Red wine with fish”) most of us have moved far beyond the “red wine with meat and white wine with fish” rule. You probably know that the cooking technique, the sauce, the weather and even your mood are all more important that the protein.

Remember the most important thing about food and wine matches is to trust your mouth. See what is going on inside your mouth as you eat and drink. If it is pleasant you have found a good match. If either the food or the wine taste worse together than they did on their own you know you have discovered a pair that doesn’t work.

I always suggest first taking a sip of the wine and then following it with a bite of food and then one more sip. Repeat until you find the perfect match or are so happy that it doesn’t matter.

In addition to that remember that personal taste is king. Nobody can tell you what to like or dislike (even though there are some waiters out there who would disagree).

I. Pizza and milk anyone?

Who would drink milk with pizza? Of course not. How about an ice-cold coke? That seems obvious because we have all had this combination a million times. There are two lessons here.

Repetition is key. The more you try a certain type of food with a certain type of beverage the more you will learn what works and what doesn’t. To do your homework is to eat and drink as often as possible.Think about why pizza and coke work. Pizza – rich from the cheese. Acidic in from the tomato sauce and a touch of spice. Coke – Slightly bitter/tannic, which offsets the richness of the cheese. Also acidic which balances the acid in the sauce bringing the tomato and topping flavors forward. The underlying raisinated fruit/sweetness in the coke tames any spice in the sauce.

Ketchup and French Fries – Think of wine as an additional “condiment” you are adding to the meal. Ketchup is not so lovely on its own but it is great with fries due to the balance that is created. The sweet of the ketchup balances the salt of the fries. The acidity of the ketchup cleanses the fat of the fries = harmony.

Try to apply those same simple criteria to your food and wine matches. What elements does each contain? Will they play nicely together?

II. The general “rules”

First choose to match or contrast the elements in the food and in the wine.

Contrasting can be riskier due to imbalances.

When “matching,” remember that whatever the food has you want the wine to have a little more of that.  I.e. sweet dessert then you want a wine that is at LEAST as sweet or sweeter.

We must first master the non-sexy elements of pairing (acid, fat, sweet, salt, alcohol, tannin and spice) before you can enjoy the sexy, deep elements of wine (earthiness, layers of fruit, flowers, leather, tobacco, tar, the list goes on!). If you get the base elements right you are 85% of the way there!

In the food In the wine The result


Acid                                     Acid                                    Acid softens and fruit comes forward

Acid is the “safety net” the “equalizer” in

Food/wine parings. Yogurt brings almost

any match together.


Fat                                    Acid                                    Like lemon on fish the fat is cleansed and

the flavors of the food and the wine come                                                                                     come forward


Rich protein                        Tannin                        Tannin is softened in wine and fruit

(animal fat)                                                            comes forward. Think milk in coffee.

Tannin cuts the protein/fat in steak the same way lemon cuts fish oil.


Sweet                                    Sweet                                    Sweetness is tamed and flavors of food

and wine are accentuated. Sweet food

spanks the fruit right out of a dry wine.


Salty                                    High alcohol                        exaggerates the alcohol in the wine. Drink

lower alcohol white wines – champagne

or off dry white wine.

Spicy                                     tannin                                    tannin accelerated. No good. Sweet or

Fruity white :Gwertz/Riesling is safe.

Or red with acidity, barbera with spicy meatballs!! Riskier but amazing when it works.

Nuts                                    tannin                                    tannin is accelerated. No good.

Hazelnut crusted, butter basted fish with a fat Chard!

Cheese – a category in itself. Remember sweet or off dry is safe with almost all cheese. Riesling, Sauterne (amazing with strong cheese), Chenin Blanc.

Creamy                                                Will wipe out tannin in red and leave

wine flat. Drink a sweet white or a white

with firm acidity – sauvignon blanc.

Salty                                                             Sweet wine will offset salt. Tannic red

will battle saltines of cheese.

Acidic (goat)                                                Battles tannin in reds. Drink with sweet

Aged                                                            Red wine. Age softens acidity in cheese

and brings out nuttiness in cheese which

Accentuates the fruit in the red wine.

Stinky cheese will kill red.

Some of the “tricky” ingredients that can be a challenge with wine. Artichoke, Asparagus, Cilantro. Remember, like everything in life it is about balance. If the ingredient is an element in the dish but not the main ingredient you can find a great match. Think funky with funky – Gruner Veltliner with artichoke is great. Off dry Riesling with Asian cilantro pad Thai. Arneis (crisp white from Italy) or an herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc.

The top three food friendly wines – your “wine to the rescue” when you are not sure.

  1. Barbera – although red it has a lot of firm acid and bright fruit that will go with a huge range of food.
  2. Rose – a dry or off dry rose will go well with almost anything. There is enough acid to match the acid in a salad. There is enough fruit to off set a spicy food; there is just enough tannin from the minimal skin contact to stand up to most protein. And it looks so pretty!
  3. Champagne! As long as it is not overly yeasty the low alcohol, high acidity and mild yeast marry with a huge range of food. You can do different Champagnes to match ever course of a meal from rose, to white to full yeast to bright fruit.
  1. The top three unforgettable classic wine/food matches. Try them!
    1. Foie gras and sauterne.
    2. Sherry (oloroso)and Marcona almonds.
    3. A rib-eye and malbec.
  1. More matching info.
    1. When in doubt go local! IF you are eating Italian, stick with Italian wines. “What grows together goes together”.
    2. Think about matching the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. Is the food light, medium or heavy based on cooking technique, protein and sauce? If light go with a lighter wine (watery in weight like Muscadet for white or a light Beaujolais for red), if medium go with a wine with more body (milk-like in weight like Viognier for white or Pinto Noir for red), if heavy go with a heavier bodied wine (creamy in weight like Chardonnay for white or Carmenere for red).

Remember, these are the basics that will set you up for success. Just like discovering your own great restaurants off the beaten path on a vacation you will need to eat, drink and experiment with wine and food matches to find your own “off the beaten path” wine and food match.

Enjoy the journey!!

Eat well, Enjoy life, Be happy

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    June 28, 2010 5:02 pm

    Awesome talk, would like to be there in person someday. Coming to the East coast sometime? Have been making my own wine from kits and have and some good success…..your suggestions will certainly be taken into consideration when the “winery” starts up again after the move. Malbec and Viognier are among some favorites. Any other suggestions? Have done PinoNoir, Barolo is a great red, and of course the classics. Have had this hobby for over three years and it is quite fun!! Wine on..

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      June 28, 2010 9:07 pm

      Hello Mary, thank you! Sounds like you don’t need any help on the wine front! Well done. I hope to taste one some day. Take care and keep in touch, jeffrey

  2. July 1, 2010 8:41 am

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  3. Stephen M permalink
    July 1, 2010 10:27 am

    Great information on pairing. Love the way you describe how the acid in ketchup works to clean the fat of the fries, after years of food tv watching never got it like that. Thanks for writing this post, great to have all the info on one page.

    It would be handy to have this info on one sheet as a pdf download, maybe I can work on that.

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      July 4, 2010 8:53 am

      Hello Stephen, Thank you much! That is the goal! Take care and keep in touch! Best, Jeffrey

  4. Phil Anderson permalink
    July 1, 2010 1:09 pm


    First off I want to say that your talk on Sunday about food and wine pairings was, by far, my favorite. The organizers obviously saved the best for last! I don’t want to diminish the others but your passion and energy coupled with your sense of humor was a perfect combination and I gained SO much from what you said.
    After reading your post about your experience at the WBC I was happy to see that your favorite pairing was the duck empanada with mole sauce paired with a Malbec! That was mine as well! In fact, I was able to talk the lady out a bottle of the 2009 High Note Malbec to take back with me so I’ll be able to enjoy the entire bottle next time. Now I just need the recipe so I can share this experience with others.
    I will continue to follow your blog and career as it unfolds. Until our paths cross again,..
    …bottoms up!
    Phil Anderson

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      July 4, 2010 8:52 am

      Hello Phil, Thank you so much! I appreciate you being there! You can try that combination or something similar (like enchiladas) with a Carmenere as well. Carmenere has almost a ancho chile type nose that is brilliant with the dried chile type sauces. Keep in touch and have a great summer! Best, Jeffrey 🙂

  5. July 3, 2010 4:55 pm

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      July 7, 2010 11:39 am

      thank you my friends at “nursing schools”!

  6. July 4, 2010 6:56 pm

    this post is very usefull thx!

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      July 7, 2010 11:37 am

      Thank you, my pleasure.

  7. Stephen M permalink
    July 7, 2010 5:25 pm

    Hi Jeff, technical notice – I’m pretty sure “scool grants” and “nursing tools” are spammers. Generic comment + their name links to spam site. I’m note sure if you have the akismet anti-spam plugin installed, might want to look into that.

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      July 13, 2010 12:44 am

      Thank you Stephen, I had a feeling. I appreciate it. Best, Jeffrey

  8. July 14, 2010 6:46 am

    Dear Chef Saad,

    It was nice to meet you at the Wine Bloggers Conference. You helped the conference close on the highest note possible. The pairings were an awesome way to complement your presentation.

    We posted your speech to the Wine Bloggers Channel:

    Their are five parts due to YouTube time limits. As I mentioned, our specialty is weekly documentary videos with our winemaker, chef and owner, so recording a speech was a new experience. I was close enough to you to get some good audio, but people near me had their iPhones on (regardless of vibrate mode), so it interfered with the camera audio sometimes. I also should have sat farther away so I could have kept you in the frame. Sorry! Regardless, you made some awesome points that will make these videos useful to others.

    Looking forward to hearing about your new restaurant. Also, the invitation is still open if you and your wife want to get away from San Francisco one night and stay in our guesthouse in Alexander Valley.

    Lisa Mattson

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      July 15, 2010 2:04 am

      Hello Lisa, Great to meet you as well. You are so awesome! Thank you! Take care and hope to see you at the next one! Best, Jeffrey

  9. Karen permalink
    August 6, 2010 3:33 pm

    Hello Jeffrey!……I love the NFNS Shows……..I loved the way you cooked and your spice ideas…….why are you not on the new Cooking Channel?……..I think you should have a show there!…..Good Luck……keep up the great work:)))

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink*
      August 8, 2010 8:19 am

      Hello Karen, thank you! stay tuned…. great stuff happening…:) Jeffrey


  1. Food and Wine Pairing Suggestions from Jeffrey Saad | deVine Table

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