Pair wine, citrus dishes with care

Citrus fruits and flavors are popping up as Americans experiment with dishes inspired by Asian, Latino and Mediterranean kitchens. But what do you drink with these colorful and sassy ingredients?

White wine is the answer for many wine sellers, and sauvignon blanc or riesling are classics. Efrain Madrigal, wine director of Sam's Wines & Spirits in Chicago, goes for a more unusual one.


"I recently had a 2005 Parrillada Torrontes with chicken and preserved lemons and it was the perfect wine for that entree," he said. "It was definitely dryer than a lot of rieslings, but a little more exotic."

Acidity is important. It's a bracing, zippy quality that can make wines, especially whites, seem so crisp and alive. Acidity also balances sweet, meaning you could drink a wine with surprisingly high sugar levels and never feel you are stuck with a liquid lollipop.


But given that you may be cooking with lemon, do you really need an acidic wine?

"There are two camps: the contrarians and the similars," said Larry Kaplan of the Wine Cellar in Palatine, Ill.

Those looking to match acidity might choose a sauvignon blanc or a French Chablis - wine "that adds acid and thus allows the drinker to discern different types of acid flavors," he said. "Contrarians" would go for a riesling or a buttery chardonnay or a sweet style of viognier.

Diana Hamann, owner of Wine Goddess Consulting, is in acid's corner. "Anytime you're cooking with citrus, be it lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat or yuzu, you want your wine pairing to match the food's inherent acidity," she said. "Foods high in acidity will reduce the perceived sourness in wine and make the wine taste richer and rounder."

Match exotic citrus fruits to exotic wine choices, bottles with "generous acidity and tropical fruit characteristics," Hamann said. Her picks: Spanish verdejo and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Generally, the advice is to steer clear of reds with these dishes (although a pinot noir is suggested for lemon-based sauces in the book What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, and a soft red would surely work with duck a l'orange).

"Card-carrying red wine drinkers will bemoan the fact that citric acid and red wine is one of the nastiest food/wine combos out there," Hamann said.

Bill Daley writes for the Chicago Tribune.