Off the Vine: Chose the wine, then pair with food

November 28, 2012 

Just like our personal relationships are not a one way street, neither is the pairing of food and wine. In the same sense that two people who make up a couple have to complement each other, the same is true of a food and wine pairing.

Most times, a person decides what they are preparing for dinner and then chooses the wine to drink with the meal. I find it interesting to choose the wine or grape varietal, and then determine what type of food will provide the most enjoyment to the palate.

A favorite choice of mine comes from the Robert Keenan Winery -- usually in the form of a Merlot. Keenan is a winery in the Spring Mountain district of Napa Valley, Calif. In 1974, Robert Keenan purchased approximately 180 acres of land that had long ago been planted with grape vines. On the property was the dilapidated walls from a winery building that had been abandoned for many decades. Mr. Keenan rebuilt the winery, and within a few short years, began producing top-quality wines. Today, Keenan produces a number of different wines that use Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay grapes.

On a recent evening, after choosing a 2008 Robert Keenan Merlot, I paired it with a grilled flank steak that had been marinated in olive oil, garlic, Worcestershire, lime juice and rosemary, among a few other ingredients. This Merlot is deep ruby in color and has the backbone to stand up to all the flavors in this flank steak. As usual, the 2008 Keenan Merlot is somewhat full-bodied, containing significant flavors of black cherry and

black currant, along with hints of chocolate.

The 2008 Merlot is a blend of 80 percent Spring Mountain grapes, with the other 20 percent coming from the Napa Carneros region. I have generally found that Merlot based wines that come from the Spring Mountain region are quite intense, with Cabernet Sauvignon like qualities and flavors allowing for broader pairing opportunities, unlike the Merlots that are made in other parts of the world.

The Keenan winery building and tasting room is quite unique -- its walls are made from stone and mortar and the friendly smiles from the staff inside make you feel like part of the family. On my first visit to Keenan several years back, I recall being met in the parking lot by a black lab that couldn't wait for my group to enter the tasting room, as if I we were long lost friends. Today, the same attitude and feeling still resonates when you visit the Robert Keenan Winery and, each time I pair one of their wines with a home-cooked meal, it kind of seems like there is just a little bit of Spring Mountain on the dinner table.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at

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