The Perfect Pairing

A Few of My Favorites
by Bruce Benoit

Wine and food: two of life’s great pleasures. Finding the right combination of the two is essential, as a suitable pairing can make all the difference to your taste buds.

Bruce Benoit, a local representative of Wirtz Beverage Illinois, suggests a few of his favorite wines and offers some thoughts on pairing them with food. Just remember: it’s more art than science—one taster’s perfect pairing could be less than ideal to another.



Approx. retail: $44-55

For you Meritage lovers, this is one of the best wines produced by Beaulieu Vineyards (the Georges de Latour Cabernet would be on top!). It is a blend of five classic varietals: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. It shows excellent structure, intensity, depth and concentration, with a mix of spice, dried currant, blackberry, mocha, cedar and licorice. It’s full-bodied, yet elegant and refined, ending in earthy graphite tannins.

This is a beautiful wine that will definitely stand up for the special occasion. Pair it with a range of foods: carpaccio of beef, lamb shoulder, duck breast, grilled salmon steak or a nice filet mignon. While a little pricier, it’s worth the splurge. If you purchase a bottle for home, plan on setting it down for a few years—if you can wait!—to bring out its best characteristics.



Approx. retail: $10-14

The Sonoma coast is famous for its cool growing areas. What does that mean? The wind and fog pouring in from the Petaluma Wind Gap converges with cool, moist air from the Pacific Ocean to create the ideal conditions for growing cool climate varietals like this chardonnay.

MacMurray Ranch was founded by the late actor Fred MacMurray. His daughter, Kate, still lives on the property, in a cabin built for Fred and his fishing buddies—including John Wayne. Kate is now a spokesperson for the ranch and its wines.

This wine has a rich mouthfeel with sweet aromatics. A small amount of oak is noticed, which brings in the caramel and vanilla flavors, followed by elegant, ripe fruit with tropical and lemon cream notes.

This wine pairs wonderfully with rich sea scallops. A nice lobster in a buttery sauce would not be bad, either! For you land-based diners, may I suggest turkey or pork?



Approx. retail: $18-22

Hello, zin lovers! If you have not tried this zin, please do. I have not tried them all, but this is one of my favorites. The “old vines” means vines that are at least 50 years old—and often more than 100. For that reason, they yield less than two tons per acre of exceptionally concentrated fruit.

The final product displays deep aromas of ripe black cherries and licorice, rich with spice and toasty oak notes that carry into a long, luscious finish.

Braised beef with cracked pepper is calling this wine! Enjoy with your spicier dishes as well.



Approx. retail: $16-19

Benziger was one of the first wineries to receive sustainable farm certification, which means natural land management and no pesticides or chemicals. Big, ripe fruit notes on the palate are accented by dried herbs, spicy tobacco and a slight vanilla essence. An enticing, solidly structured mid-palate gives way to a long, soft finish.

I’m a cabernet drinker, and I love this wine! From steaks to hearty pastas, it deserves a round of applause. Try it as a dessert pairing with dark chocolate. Even a non-cab drinker will be amazed!



Approx. retail: $12-15

This wine is one of my favorites as an apéritif, or with lighter fare such as seafood. What is the Verduzzo with that Pinot grigio? Don’t be afraid—it is 75% Pinot, while the native Verduzzo grape adds roundness, body and richness.

This wine has a straw-yellow color, with an attractive bouquet and tropical fruit aromas. Fresh and easy on the palate, it becomes fuller-bodied on the mid-palate, where fruitiness blends with hints of honey and boiled sweets. A dry finish with an attractive citrus twist makes it especially drinkable.

I have used this wine many times as a reception wine at dinner parties. It should be served at a temperature of 46 to 50 degrees.



Approx. retail: $18-21

One of my favorite wineries! Rod Strong was among the modern pioneers of California wine country, settling in Sonoma to fulfill his vision of planting Pinot noir in the Russian River Valley. Today, the region is known as one of the premier Pinot noir growing areas in the world. Strong later sold the winery to the Klein family, who has continued his commitment to producing outstanding, award-winning wines.

This wine can be paired with many foods. A couple of my favorites are grilled portabella mushrooms and roasted chicken. It is always on the Thanksgiving table for a grand feast of turkey and dressing! My son-in-law, an avid hunter, enjoys this wine with roasted duck. Very delicious!

Some of the terms referenced by Benoit include:

Apéritif. A light alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.
Bouquet. The complex fragrance that develops in a wine through barrel or bottle aging.
Meritage. A compound of the words "merit" and "heritage," it is a certification mark registered with the U.S. Department of Trademarks and Patents. It was coined by a group of vintners who sought to establish standards for a category of American blended wines made with traditional Bordeaux grape varieties.
Mid-palate. The part of the tasting experience between when the wine first enters your mouth and its aftertaste.
Mouthfeel. The texture of the wine.
Tannin. An astringent substance found in the seeds and stems of grapes, the bark of some trees and in tea. Tannin is important in the making of good red wines, aiding them in long and graceful aging.