Gallery: Ask a Sommelier: One Wine, Different Entrees

You Can't Please Everyone
You Can't Please Everyone

"I believe there have been a few suspense / horror movies about this very same topic… and someone always needs to be sacrificed so that true love wins out. So, tell the steak guy to grab a whiskey and go to the bar. In the meanwhile, the fish guy, the pasta lady, and the chicken child can remain at the table and enjoy any wine they want." — Paul Greico (Terroir & Hearth)

Southern Rhone Wines
Southern Rhone Wines

"Often blends are great for a wider variety of entrees. I always find Southern Rhone wines to be pretty versatile. They aren't too full and tannic but will please the person who wants a lot of flavor for their steak." — Laura Maniec MS (Corkbuzz)

Consider Wine Preferences, Too
Consider Wine Preferences, Too

"I generally play the game of averages and try to pair a wine that will work very well with at least 2 of the dishes. Maybe a lighter bodied red with great minerality? I'd do a little extra research and ask questions on individual preferences for each guest. If the person having fish usually drinks fuller-bodied reds in general, the wine choice may not be weighted as heavily as the choice of entree. Same for the veggies. So I guess my rule is to find out as much info as I can about individual preferences, and then use that to my advantage to make a recommendation. It's easier to hit a home run with the wine when we take into account the preferences of everyone at the table as opposed to their dish choices." — Chris Gaither (Spruce)

Avoid High Tannins
Avoid High Tannins

"My first reaction would be to reach for red Burgundy, which I find not only to be an incredibly versatile food wine, but is also one of my personal favorites. With vegetable based dishes and fish, I would try to avoid anything with high tannins. And depending on the preparations of the steak and the chicken, I would look for a wine that has enough intensity of flavor to stand up to the richer dishes. For this crowd, I think a wine from Gevrey-Chambertin or Nuits-St-George would complement everyone’s meal." — Chris Baggetta (Quince)

Rich Champagne or Juicy Reds
Rich Champagne or Juicy Reds

"In situations like this, sometimes it's fun to order a richer style Champagne. A blanc de noirs can stand up to a steak but is also elegant enough to pair with the other dishes. If you're not in the mood for bubbles I would go the route of Beaujolais or softer juicy reds with bright acidity and soft tannin structure. If there is no Foillard on the list there are some pretty fun carbonic reds made in the same style as Beaujolais from lots of different wine regions. Maxime Magnon from the Languedoc is one of my favorites." — Eric Railsback (Le Comptoir Bar a Vins)

A 'Bridge' Wine
A 'Bridge' Wine

"Kevin Zraly, a great mentor and wine educator, taught me something early on in my sommelier career, which has always been so useful.... It was the concept of 'Bridge' wines—If there is a diverse range of food being ordered, these wines are the safest best. They generally have several things in common: soft tannins, medium-body, moderate to lower alcohol and more subtle fruit characters which provide a backdrop for the food rather than taking center stage. These bridge wines include, Rioja Crianza, a young, fresh style of Chianti, Pinot Noir, and lighter Cotes-du-Rhone (just to name a few)." — Gillian Balance (Cavallo Point)

Anything Spicy? Sweet? Savory?
Anything Spicy? Sweet? Savory?

"As you can imagine, this situation occurs all the time, especially with larger groups. Sometimes a lighter red is a good fit. The structure will stand up to the steak and chicken, but it will not wash out the fish by being too heavy. Next I consider the preparations and flavors on the dishes. Is there anything spicy? Are the flavors sweeter or more savory? Perhaps the fish comes with mushrooms or another type of vegetable that really drives the flavors. If one dish really stands out and doesn’t work with the others I may suggest that that guest try a wine we pour by the glass. If it’s four people, the bottle might even be finished by the time the food arrives, so adding a wine by the glass would work out well." — Liz Nicholson (Maialino)

Cru Beaujolais
Cru Beaujolais

"This is a circumstance that arises fairly frequently in our restaurant and my suggestion is to choose a wine that doesn’t interfere with the food on the table. A lighter red made with carbonic maceration like a cru Beaujolais would be an ideal candidate for this sort of task. The wine has soft enough tannins that it won’t create a metallic flavor with the fish, ample acidity for the pasta and vegetables, enough weight and texture for the steak and will most likely be a spot-on pairing for the chicken." — Chad Zeigler (RN74)

Medium-Bodied Sicillian Red
Medium-Bodied Sicillian Red

"When both a fish and a steak are at play it's probably best to find a red that is both assertive and is not very tannic. Unoaked Barbera comes to mind. Or you could choose a medium-bodied Sicilian red like those of COS or Terre Nere. Those wines have freakish seafood-pairing capabilities. Hopefully there's a tomato involved somewhere, too." — Steven Grubbs (Empire State South & Five and Ten)

Consider Two Half-Bottles
Consider Two Half-Bottles

"I often like to consider the half bottle section when this question arises. That way you can find two bottles that will match some dishes a bit better. If you don’t have that option or want to order a full bottle, I like to first offer a white wine just because I find them a bit more versatile. If people are set on ordering red I like Oregon Pinot Noir or Gamay Noir, these are lighter bodied and fruity which will match a more diverse group of foods. There are also many times when guests want to drink Syrah with their halibut, and you know what, that’s fine with me as long as they are happy." — Savanna Ray (Wildwood)

Consider the Sauces
Consider the Sauces

"Rosé Champagne or dry rosé wine may go with all of the dishes. The major question with these dishes is what are the sauces? The sauce can completely change the taste profile of a dish—think Chicken Parm versus Chicken Piccata. At any rate, why bother with one bottle at all? The beauty of a great wine by the glass program is that it allows each guest at the table to tailor the wine to their own meal—not everyone else's. Most great wine programs will also offer several half bottles to chose from as well. Maybe the pasta and veggies dish pairs up with the fish diner and they purchase a white, while the chicken and steak diners select a red. Everyone wins." — Virginia Philip (The Breakers)

High Acid, Low Tannin Reds
High Acid, Low Tannin Reds

"First off, there are four of you—maybe you’re best off ordering a bottle of red and a bottle of white and each having a glass for each? Trying a few different wines at once can be a great way to learn food and wine pairing, enjoy the company of your friends, and have the perfect match for every entree. That said, there are some very versatile red or white options you could consider. I’ve never been a big fan of pairing “rules”, but a simple bit of guidance never hurts: high acid and low tannin red wines are generally the most flexible reds to pair with a variety of foods. As for white, look for a structured white wine with bright acid and perhaps some lees or neutral barrel aging for added weight. I would avoid anything overly oaked or high in alcohol in both categories. If you’re looking for a red wine I would aim for a style that is on the lighter side, as the steak is the only dish here that could possibly demand a full bodied red." — Jess Hereth (Olympic Provisions )

Consider the Accompaniments
Consider the Accompaniments

"My first recommendation is to consider the accompaniments to the dishes ordered and determine if they have a common ingredient or thread. For example, fish dishes tend to have an earthy component or a wine based sauce that can easily pair with a red wine, despite the common notion that only white wines work with fish. I tend to lean toward lighter reds with good acidity, such as French wines from Burgundy, Loire or Jura, and not go too heavy or too alcoholic. Or just pick a full bodied Champagne (such as Bollinger) that can carry you through from aperitif to dessert." — Kerrie O'Brien (DBGB)