Basic Techniques of Wine Pairing

Basic Techniques of Wine Pairing, by Irina Ponomarenko

In selecting a beverage to go with a meal, a diner is often faced with conflicting advice: recommendations for as simple a dish as a grilled steak range from a smooth Merlot to a tannic Tannat.  Suggestions for pairing chocolate run the gamut from Moscato d’Asti to Cognac.  If still unsure, the diner is instructed to simply select his or her favorite wine.  The majority of servers are still not well-trained in the concepts of pairing - one hopes for a trained floor somm to come to the rescue.

A harmonious pairing consists of finding the right balance between contrasting and complementary elements of food and wine.  The majority of sensations perceived in food require the opposite sensation in the wine, a contrasting pairing.

The WSA/NASA patented food and wine pairing system, used in sommelier curricula taught around the world for over 70 years, establishes the concept of hard and soft qualities in wine - hard being acids, tannins and minerals and soft comprised of sugars, alcohol and poly-alcohol (glycerines). The degree of any of these qualities in evaluating wine will determine food pairing.  We evaluate the foods in another system, which graphs the degree of fattiness, spice, minerals/salts - but still consider hard and soft qualities in the foods.

Then the concept of pairing in contrast OR concordance is revealed. It is a method that sounds unromantic, lacking in sensuality - but the principle helps students stop guessing and start training and trusting their senses.

Take for example sour, salty, spicy or bitter flavors in food; these create a certain aggressiveness on the palate. A smooth wine softens and balances the “hard” profile of such dishes.  

On the other hand,  a tannic wine, or a wine with high acidity and/or minerality accentuates the corresponding flavors in the dish making the combination one-dimensional.  A tannic wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Tannat, makes a spicy dish taste even hotter, and a piece of charred grilled meat somewhat bitter.  A softer wine, perhaps a Zinfandel, will dampen the flames and smooth out the bitterness.  Champagne, which is high in acidity and minerality, may emphasize the saltiness and mask the delicate flavors of caviar, while a smooth vodka will showcase them.

Wines with substantial alcohol content and high tannins produce a drying sensation in the mouth.  To balance the combination, we need juicy, succulent food: a beef stew with a Barolo.

Creamy, fatty, or starchy dishes will be dulled by a low-acid wine. To balance the softness of the dish, we need a more “angular” wine.  Acidity, minerality, or effervescence create the perception of removing the fat from the mouth.  Riesling is a great example of a wine high in both acidity and minerality, that goes well with a variety of German dishes rich in both starch and animal fats.

Sweet food requires sweet wine.  A sweet dessert will simply strip a dry wine of its flavors.  
Food and wine should be comparable in body and intensity of flavor.  A full-bodied or aromatic wine will dominate a light dish, and vice versa. For example, Moscato d’Asti is an aromatic but light-bodied wine that can be overwhelmed by the density of white chocolate.  A simple sponge cake is a better pairing.  -end-

Intrigued by this system? Talk to us about our Silver Pin Sommelier Certification, which includes a week-long pod on pairing food with wines.

NASA Presents...WEBINARS !

The North American Sommelier Association will be launching a series of monthly webinars as a benefit for its members. The first series will be accessible even to non-members as a means to showcase the quality of delivery and content that have always characterized our classes.

The 1st webinar on RIOJA wines was successfully completed on MAY 4th 2017. Each webinar will be recorded and archived for continuous access as part of your NASA membership.



Collaboration with VINO DIRECT established

NASA is proud to announce that an official sponsorship collaboration has been established for 2017 with the multi faceted company VINO DIRECT. 


VINO DIRECT is an importer / distributor of fine boutique Italian wines based in Southern California. They are also a developing online retailer as well as an active and innovative 'event planner', organizing wine dinners, seminars, tastings and high quality wine related events.

We look forward to a 2017 rich of events and benefits that will come out of this cooperation.

Los Angeles, class of 2015 graduates a new group of Silver-Pin Somms !

July 9th 2016 saw the graduation ceremony of the Los Angeles class of 2015 of newly "pinned" WSA/NASA Silver-Pin Certified Sommeliers. The ceremony and toast was held at the TERRONI restaurant in downtown LA, private room and featured sponsor Villa Sandi with their top-winning Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore 'Cartizze' "Vigna la rivetta" label. The only prosecco to consistently win 3 glasses Gambero Rosso !

"You have just bought yourself a whole deal of responsibility. Society will now look up to you to educate people on the ancient culture of wine, alcoholic beverages and fine dining, as well as the ancient discipline of the Sommelier. Your well earned pin is just the beginning of a life long journey that starts HERE and NOW." expressed Diego Meraviglia's (NASA Vice President & Director Of Education) opening speech - which was followed by NASA's traditional mingle and festivity.

Class of 2015 presented one of the highest average scores of any Los Angeles class.

The newly Certified Silver-Pin Sommeliers are :

CHERYL CARDEN (Distinction)
LAURA DONADONI (Distinction)
PAOLO CARCIONE (Distinction and "best in class")

We sincerely wish all the best in the future careers and lives of these bright individuals ! Welcome to the family !!


Partnership with Burgundy Wine Board Announced

NASA announces a partnership with Sopexa, the French wine marketing organization, to present Burgundy Seminars in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago this Summer. This marks the third year in a row for this partnership with NASA; previous seminars covered the Médoc region of Bordeaux, and Cognac.

Napa Valley Vintners Association eAuction Open Now

Auction Napa Valley is on through June 5th. Raising $150 million+ since 1981, all proceeds go to help localfamilies in need. Bid here!

See the action live!

Neighbors helping neighbors from American Canyon to Calistoga

  Since 1981, the Napa Valley Vintners has invested more than $150 million in local charitable causes through Auction Napa Valley.
  Funds go to Napa County nonprofit organizations with an emphasis on community health and children’s education - what’s raised here, stays here.
  Some tangible examples of the Auction’s impact on the community:
o More than 100,000 clients of local nonprofits were helped by Auction funding in 2014.
o Every child in Napa County has access to health insurance, thanks to the Community Health Initiative (NVV is the largest private funder of this program in Napa County).
o One in six residents use OLE Health as their primary care provider, the largest recipient of Auction funding and Napa County’s only nonprofit health clinic.
o Nearly 1,500 children and families were helped in the second year of our Napa Valley Early Learning Initiative, established in 2013. NVV has committed up to $5 million in Auction funding to this initiative to help close the academic achievement gap in our community.

The must attend charity food and wine event, for savvy wine lovers worldwide
  2016 is the 36th annual event taking place June 2-5. Tickets go on sale February 1, 2016.
  Auction Napa Valley is The American Wine Classic and is recognized as the world’s most celebrated charity wine event.
  Taking place in the beautiful Napa Valley, the iconic scenery and intimate time spent with vintners in their home sets Auction Napa Valley apart from other charity wine events - it is unlike any other.
  As it has been since the Auction’s inception, Meadowood Napa Valley is the host of Saturday’s Live Auction Celebration; Robert Mondavi Winery is the site for Friday’s Napa Valley Barrel Auction.

A collaborative effort by winery members of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) and the community
  More than 80% of the NVV’s 530 member wineries are expected to participate by donating to a lot, hosting a party and/or providing serving wine for the weekend - vintners not only generously donate their wine and hospitality, but many are also successful bidders.
  Napa Valley Vintners are committed to creating quality wines and ensuring stewardship of Napa Valley’s land and community; Auction Napa Valley exemplifies the spirit of cultivating excellence on which the NVV was founded in 1944.
  Nearly 500 local volunteers help with the Auction.
  From restaurants to hotels to transportation companies and more, dozens of local businesses support the Auction annually.

This year’s Auction will celebrate the generations that contribute to the wine community’s long tradition of nurturing health and wellbeing in Napa County
  The 2016 honorary chairs is Agustin F. Huneeus, following in the footsteps of his father, who chaired the event in 1996.
  Napa Valley’s extraordinary wines, evocative scenery, culinary wonders, legendary hospitality and nurturing generosity will delight our guests and sustain our community for years to come.
  95% of Napa Valley’s wineries are family owned and their contributions through Auction Napa Valley support Napa County families in need.

Learn more at – Join the conversation using #ANV16

Mauro Cirilli Interviewed by Eater Drinks Blog

Yesterday's Eater National "Ask a Somm" series featured NASA San Francisco delegate Mauro Cirilli on young Barolo. Mauro is one of the original key members of NASA, and oversees the wine programs at Press Club and Schroeder's.

EATER DRINKS by Kat Odell, August 26, 2015

Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Wondering about a bottle? Drop us a line.

Italian-born Mauro Cirilli heads up drinks at San Francisco's Press Club wine lounge and Schroeder’s restaurant, splashing his lists with both local and international juice. In 2011, Cirilli helped found the North American Sommelier Association wine school (linked with The Italian Sommelier Association), and with it he created the first ever "Italian Wine Specialist" certification program. So, it's safe to say this guy knows a few things about Italian vino. Below, Cirilli considers Barolo wine and great young bottles to try.

Q: Is there any good Barolo that doesn't have to be aged for 10 years or more before drinking?

Cirilli: Absolutely, yes! Not all Barolo bottles needs to aged 10 years before opening.

It’s true that Barolo is a wine that needs time to reach balance and complexity, but not all Barolos are the same. This is what makes these wines so fascinating.

It’s true that Barolo is a wine that needs time to reach balance and complexity, but not all Barolos are the same.

To understand and identify different Barolo styles, many aspects need to be considered: vineyard location (village), soils, winemaking and vintages —all of these are going to deeply affect the final product.

The most common way to identify different styles of Barolo is by the location of the vineyards. There are five key sub-zones (villages) that make up 85 percent of all Barolo production. These are La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba and Monforte d'Alba. The soil types divide these regions into two zones: the Central Valley to the east, made up of Tortonian soil (creates more approachable wines with fragrance, softness and elegance); and the Serralunga Valley to the west, consisting of Helvetian soil (generally creates long-lived, powerfully concentrated wines).

Barolos from La Morra are more perfumed and graceful, aromatic and feminine. On the palate these wines are suppler and usually the easiest of all to drink young. This is due to the soil composition in La Morra that has a higher concentration of younger limestone and marl, as compared to the Barolos from villages like Serralunga and Monforte where the older, chalky and heavier soil produces wines with a bigger tannic extraction.

Meanwhile, characteristics of Barolos from Monforte d’Alba are structure and depth of flavor. These Barolos are bold and rich, concentrated and firm. Barolos from vineyards located in Barolo are broader, open, plush and warm, sometimes more feminine, yet with considerable structure and concentration, overall very classic wines. Barolos from Castiglione Falletto have a very rich bouquet, quite aromatic. Ranging from medium-bodied to powerful, with a generous mouthfeel and a strong tannic extraction. Barolos from Serralunga d’Alba are powerful and can age for very long time. These wines are more extracted and more tannic, rich with depth and concentration, usually the most powerful Barolos.

We can add that more modern and international winemaking approaches produce wines ready for early enjoyment. Also, Barolos from slightly warmer regions will be ready sooner compared to more "classic" vintages whose tannins needs more time to integrate into the wine. Look for vintages like 2007, 2009 and 2011.

When enjoying Barolo, don't forget to open the bottle sometime before drinking, let the wine breathe and drink it from a large wine glass.


CONGRATS to the newly graduated Silver-Pin Certified Sommeliers in Los Angeles

July 24th 2015 saw the graduation ceremony of the Los Angeles class of 2014 WSA/NASA Silver-Pin Certified Sommeliers. The ceremony and toast was held at Obicá Century City and featured sponsor Villa Sandi Prosecco DOCG and sparkling rosé wines.

"You have just bought yourself a whole deal of responsibility. Society will now look up to you to educate people on the ancient culture of wine, alcoholic beverages and fine dining, as well as the ancient discipline of the Sommelier. Your well earned pin is just the beginning." expressed Diego Meraviglia's (NASA Vice President & Director Of Education) opening speech - which was followed by NASA's traditional sabrage of a magnum.

The newly Certified Silver-Pin Sommeliers are :


Christian Barion achieved the "Best in Class" award and walking away with a hand made silver tastevin.

The North American Sommelier Association and the WSA (Worldwide Sommelier Association) would like to congratulate these individuals on their brilliant achievement as well as those who did not make it this round.

Congrats to the new Certified Silver-Pin Sommeliers in LA!

NASA would like to send a most heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS !! to the newly Certified Silver-Pin Sommeliers in Los Angeles, class of 2014. We toast to you and the life achievement you have obtained ! Welcome to the family...


NASA Vice President Diego Meraviglia interviewed for grocery retailer giant, Kroger !

North American Sommelier Association Vice President and Director Of Education , Diego Meraviglia, has been interviewed to be featured on the shopping guide of one of America's grocery retail giants, Kroger.
The concise article focuses on suggestions for consumers to develop a palate and understand how they can navigate the overwhelming world of wine based on their food preferences.

Click on the image to read the article :


The NORTH AMERICAN SOMMELIER ASSOCIATION has been featured as one of the main sponsoring entities for the MASTER DEL SANGIOVESE 2014.

Thanks to NASA Marketing Director Giammario Villa, this showcases the international presence and connection of NASA's curriculum, efforts and professionalism.

Organized by the consortium of Romagna wines, this well respected event is a yearly contest where the best Sommeliers from all over the world meet to compete on anything and everything involving one of the world's most loved grape varietals, Sangiovese. A splendid itinerary and program is available for all the public attendees that attend the event. (click image)

NASA NorCal District Manager MAURO CIRILLI interviewed!

The North American Sommelier Association beloved MAURO CIRILLI, NorCal District Manager and San Francisco Delegate, has been interviewed for an Italian Sommelier journal based in Veneto called 'Il Sommelier Veneto' (The Venetian Sommelier).

Congrats and kudos from all at NASA!

The interview is in Italian (click image below). Can be translated with google.

The interview is in Italian (click image below). Can be translated with google.