Bridge Wines: The Ultimate List

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Red with meat, white with fish?  Not necessarily! 

By Courtney Cochran

For years, the annals of wine drinking 101 have told us that we must drink whites with light dishes like fish and reds with sturdier fare such as steak.  Not so!  Turns out there are many wines that manage to work well with foods on both sides of the intensity spectrum - and they're primed for your food and wine pairing pleasure.  We call them bridge wines, and we've prepared a whole list of our favorites for you below, along with tips - natch - on the best fare with which to pair them.  

Get ready to start drinking outside the proverbial wine box. 

With its full body, rich mouthfeel and decadent pit fruit flavors (think ripe peach and apricot), Viognier is one of the best go-to bridge wines you'll find.  Oak aging adds still more heft to this singularly full bodied white, rendering it ready for the likes of the heaviest white fishes, roast pork loin, foie gras and lighter charcuterie dishes.  Pair the dish with a peach or apricot glaze for maximum impact.

Pinot Gris
Depending on where it's grown, Pinot Gris offers up fruit flavors that vary from Asian pear (Oregon) to uberripe tropical fruits and honey (France).  The best bridge versions come from France's northeasterly Alsace, where the variety pairs full body with beguiling notes of honey and spice.  Match it up with the likes of honey-orange chicken, patés, ham, goose and mushroom dishes.      

Ideal for food pairing, many excellent off-dry (just slightly sweet) Rieslings are made in Alsace, Germany (the word "Kabinett" on the label = off dry), New York and California's Mendocino.  The variety's signature high acidity - paired with a hint of off-dry sweetness - makes Riesling a knockout companion to meat dishes prepared with sweet fruit sauces; think duck à l'orange and turkey with cranberry.  

Full bodied and famously low in acid, Gewürztraminer is a shoe-in for a bridge wine since its structure essentially mimics that of a red wine (sans tannin, of course).  Match up this highly aromatic, often spicy white with the likes of Indian curries, sweet and sour Chinese duck and pork, quiche and pungent cheeses like Munster, which hails from Alsace along with some of the world's best Gewürz.

There is no better wine for all-around food pairing than Champagne - or, for that matter, top quality Champagne-method bubblies made elsewhere.  Thanks to its bright acidity (which cuts through fat in food) and versatile flavor profile that includes pomme and citrus fruits, nuts, toast and brioche, Champagne partners with everything from the lightest fish dishes (oysters!) to hearty roasts.  Santé!

Were there a definition for bridge wine, it would undoubtedly read "rosé."  Though sometimes made from a blend of white and red wines, the best rosés are made from red grapes in a process called saigner, which means "to bleed" (as in, to bleed color off of the skins) in French.  Pair up these mid-weight wines with foods from all ends of the flavor intensity spectrum; smoked salmon is a pretty choice.   

Pinot Noir
Whether it's called Pinot Nero (Italy) or Fruhburgunder (Germany), Pinot Noir is known as a standout bridge wine thanks to its bright acidity and mellow tannins.  To this it adds a food-friendly medium body and earth flavors that seem tailor-made for pairing with a variety of fare.  Pair up pretty, red-fruit driven Pinot with rich white fish like black cod, quiche, mushroom risotto and the full spectrum of meats.  

Cabernet Franc

A little-known parent of Cabernet Sauvignon (which is a cross between Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc), Cabernet Franc is gaining in popularity thanks to its mild tannins and intriguing nose boasting herbs, black fruits and dark chocolate.  Watch for versions of this lighter red from France's Loire Valley, Long Island and Napa, and pair them with the likes of rabbit, rillettes, white fish and asparagus.

The ultimate red wine for lunchtime, Gamay is the base of France's celebrated (and infamous) Beaujolais wines.  Far better than the Nouveau reds that come out each fall, versions labeled Beaujolais-Villages offer the same red-fruit-and-mellow-tannin profile of Pinot Noir, sans the earth notes.  Match these easy drinking charmers with sandwiches of all sorts, ratatouille, white and dark meats.

When aged for several years - as is often the case for versions from the variety's home in Spain's Rioja -Tempranillo offers up well integrated, caramelized oak tones, a pleasant tobacco essence and mild tannins à la Pinot, making it a fitting red for pairing with medium-weight meats and other light fare.  Match it up with herbed chicken, roast pork, nut-crusted fish, charcuterie and Mexican food.  

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My husband and I have turned to red wine. This article is great for us and helps steer us to the best wine. We also found that aerating wine helps bring out the flavor.

I would like wines to serve for Thanksgiving... Pinot Noir.etc.. whites reds and Campaign.. I personally like Brut and Perseco(My personal favorite) My sister likes Brut and My brothers like reds Please help... Thank you for all your help.... Also I saw a couple of days ago on Wine Country (program on TV) Wine barrel on the Cliffs of CA but do not remember where... They get their grapes from near by... Thanks again, Sincerely Lisa McKay

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