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Picks for Pairing Wine and Beer With Food

We talk to experts at Bacchus, Balzac and Hinterland

May. 18, 2011
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What would be a good choice of wine to go with a rack of lamb? How about with ahi tuna? Or would I be better off with a beer? Some choices are simple. The general rule says to go with red wines for red meat and whites for seafood. But today's menus are often complex, and a pricey meal should not be marred by inferior choices.

When it comes to the expert pairing of wine with food, I immediately think of Bacchus—the Bartolotta Restaurant Group's jewel in the Cudahy Tower. General manager and sommelier Katie Espinosa is a fairly recent addition to Bacchus, but she brings years of experience at Mr. B's (the Bartolotta steakhouse in Brookfield). To say that Bacchus has a large wine list would be an understatement. Diners will find around 1,000 choices. Wine Spectator has labeled it an award-winning list since 2004, the year Bacchus opened.

Espinosa is clearly the expert, but the entire staff is very knowledgeable. We asked Espinosa to pair some items from the menu. For the porterhouse, Espinosa suggests one of the cabernets or perhaps a syrah—sound picks for gamier meat. The veal chop is a different matter, as it is prepared with mustard vinaigrette. For this, she recommends a pinot noir. The acidity of pinot noir will play well with the vinaigrette. Tuna au poivre is another challenge: What matches with pepper? Espinosa is up to the challenge, and settles on falanghina, a very old variety of Italian grape that has returned to favor in recent years. It produces a dry white wine. For the best experience, she suggests one of the special wine-themed dinners frequently held at Bacchus. For these dinners, the chefs truly focus on a proper pairing of individual courses with the wines served.

Balzac wine bar, just off of Brady Street, offers a less expensive experience. The menu features small plates and snacks like Wisconsin artisanal cheeses. The extensive, descriptive wine list is the brainchild of Pete Bressert, who has worked at Balzac since day one. The list mentions wine attributes such as the flavors of smoky bacon fat, scents of acacia flowers and even blackberries and chocolate. Just let the servers guide you here.

Bressert suggests a few pairings with items from Balzac's menu. For the duck cassoulet, he selects the Pierre Amadieu Grand Romane 2007. When it comes to tuna tartare, he leans toward a dry aromatic white wine like a Riesling, pinot gris or Henschke “Julius,” or an Australian white. For the kimchi quesadilla, Bressert suggests a Scrimshaw Pilsner from Balzac's large beer list. If you prefer wine, he offers up the Bodegas Palacio Glorioso Rioja from Spain.

Beer pairings are a more recent concept. Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, with its contemporary menu that follows current trends, is one local place that offers beer dinners. The gastropub's interior is an urbane, renovated loft look that feels a bit Western. The wine list is decent, but Hinterland is known for its beer, which it brews at its original Green Bay location.

We talked to Andrea Norris, Hinterland's party and events coordinator, for her thoughts on pairing beer with items from the menu. For the pan-seared Alaskan sablefish, Norris suggests the Door County Cherry Wheat Ale. This beer is sweet and a bit hoppy—the hops pair well with this dish's red pepper vinaigrette. The recommendation is Pub Draught Ale for the fried lamb shank terrine. This dish offers a light preparation that calls for a lighter ale. Thanks to nitrogen, Pub Draught Ale is a creamy brew.

Hinterland also offers one of the few local menus with sweetbreads. Here they are cooked on the wood-fired grill, which adds a smoky flavor that demands a bolder beer. Norris suggests the Amber Ale.

Diners should consider one of the special beer dinners, which feature items that are not on the regular menu and are crafted to match the qualities of a particular beer.

All three menus are worth exploring, and the servers are enthusiastic and very helpful about their wine and beer lists.

For information about special tasting events, stop in for a visit or check out the restaurants' websites:


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