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A Toast to Wine Pairings

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How to choose the best wines for your dinner party

A gorgeous Washington Syrah may be, in theory, the perfect match for that luscious leg of lamb you are serving, but sometimes it pays to choose wines based on who is joining you for dinner, rather than on what is being served. It is true that many wine lovers at your table will delight in your thoughtful pairings, reveling in how that juicy lamb heightens the spice and fruit in the bold Syrah.

Yet for the guest who drinks only white, the pairing may fall flat, no matter what its epicurean merits. For the white wine enthusiast, you may want to serve a light dish of turkey, fish or chicken. But don’t rule out a spicy Asian cuisine or Indian curry, both of which can match well to whites.

Put your party hat on and buy the wine you think will match the food you are serving. If you are planning to serve seafood, champagne is a good choice, while you would probably prefer rich, velvety reds if you are having a barbecued dish. For hot and spicy Chinese food like Szechuan chicken or beef, look for a wine with a hint of sweetness like Alsace Pinot Gris.

But don’t forget to have everyone’s preferences covered by adding an extra bottle or two to the sparkling lineup. Here’s what to keep in mind:

Some like it sweet. Port is a delicious, rich wine that people like to have with dessert. It goes great with chocolate and is also wonderful to sip by the fireplace. Be cautious not to get too addicted to its strong flavor, as its alcohol content is higher than normal.

Since dry just does not fly many wine drinkers, it is a good idea to have a few sweeter picks handy. If you are undecided, white Zinfandel and some Rieslings should fill the bill. Your local Rouses sommelier will also have tips readily available, as they stock a large selection the largest selection of fine wines and champagnes from Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Others are serious. Some people have tried everything, from locally distilled rum to micro-brewed beers, but still have room to be impressed. There is no need to feel intimidated or become shy when an educated wine connoisseur comes to dinner. In fact, you should take advantage of the opportunity to surprise their palate when they least expect it.

The trick is simple: It’s about finding wines from currently sought-after regions, such as Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, Rhône–style blends from Paso Robles and Syrahs from Washington State. Believe it or not, we have some amazing local flavors ourselves here in New Orleans, so you do not have to stretch far to find a prize.

Whether or not such guests love the wine, they will relish the chance to sip something from a region that scores high on the wine world’s buzz-o-meter. To do something different, you can complement the wines with crisp crackers, salamis, artisan breads and Italian specialties from Rouses. Equally in demand are their gourmet cheese spreads, aged vinegars, Mediterranean dips, and nuts and olives.

Whether you like the signature red and white wines or something smaller-batched and vintage, there is something for everyone. Some guests may find higher-alcohol wines—13 percent and higher—hard to take. These include mulberry wine from Korea and ice wine from Canada, both fine examples of international flair.

Be prepared to accommodate all your guests. This means trying to have a lower-alcohol pick on hand by scanning the label for bottles under 12.5 percent. Some favorites include Portuguese rosés, German Reislings, French Vouvrays and Muscadets.

When in doubt, resort to what you know works. Remember that Chardonnay and Merlot still rank among the top-sellers, so if you have a bottle of one of those waiting, you have an excellent chance of pleasing every palate. Consider every trip to the supermarket a chance to grow your collection and have fun with it. We’re fortunate to live in a city where the party never ends.

John Keife, Rouses’ wine director, shares 5 pictures for March.

5 labels of wines. Cheers!