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Sharon Xiao


Fun Wine Pairing for the Rio Olympics

TASTEnPAIR will be sipping cheerful glasses of frizzy red Lambrusco for the next two weeks!

Why pair red Lambrusco with the Olympics?

🍷It’s served chilled, very summer appropriate and a particularly fun shift from the quintessential white and rosé pours.

🍷It’s tannic, fruit-driven and has firm flavors that stand up to the athleticism and excitement of the high-energy games.

🍷It’s frothy and frizzante with just the right amount of celebratory bubbles as you cheer for your country and favorite Olympians.


To start, I picked up two bottles of quality Lambrusco – both are dry (11% abv.), deliver substantive red berries and spice notes while exhibiting noticeable balsamic quality.

Villa Castellazzo has softer tannins and a bit more residual sugar; I find it an excellent wine to enjoy on its own.

Vigneto Saetti is drier, a bit more tannic than Villa Castellazzo and pairs deliciously with saucy pasta dishes.

Although I have only seen larger wine stores carry Lambrusco, these wines are really enjoyable and worth seeking out.  Go Rio – Santé!


Ace Your Next “Wine List Test”

Have you ever been handed the wine list at an important group dinner? Was your response “I don’t know anything about wine,” followed by a nervous shuffling of the dreaded document to the person next to you? Or did you take it and, with noticeable hesitation and reluctance, mull it over for several awkward minutes before taking a random stab? Worse yet, you made a quick move by going straight for one of the most expensive bottles, thinking, “This has to work.”

While ordering wine at a business dinner is usually not the focal point of the evening, your handling of a wine list may very well be noticed and scrutinized by key people at the table. As with a case study interview, this is a great opportunity to showcase your poise under pressure, interpersonal grace and thoughtful decisiveness.

Charles Phillips, CEO of global software leader Infor, actually uses the “Wine List Test” to assess potential candidates for leadership positions. (See article: “We got 10 CEOs to tell us their one killer interview question for new hires — Quartz”).

Even if you know just a little about wine, there are ways to prepare for your next high visibility “pop quiz.” The following tips will put you in command of the moment whether you are dining with company leadership, courting important clients, or trying to impress your future in-laws:

  1. Do your research“You’re poised and well prepared.”

The dinner invitation should give you an idea of the venue. Look through the menu and the wine list online. Call the restaurant and chat with the sommelier about appropriate options. While not always possible, researching ahead of time could help you make a seemingly crisp and knowledgeable decision on the spot.

  1. Estimate the appropriate number of bottles“You think well on your feet.”

A standard bottle yields about 4 glasses. Start with roughly half a bottle or two glasses per person.

  1. Land at the right price range“You know how to identify value.”

This is not accomplished by choosing the most expensive bottle or ordering the house wine. Start with the mid price range, and dial up or down based on the flavor of the event and your best read of the personalities at the table. The “safe” zone, often falls slightly higher than the midpoint.

  1. Bring something new to the table – “You are comfortable introducing a fresh perspective.”

Don’t be afraid to suggest wines from less conventional wine countries. Chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud, for example, complements his Mediterranean menu at Boulud Sud with some wonderful Greek wines. Aldea, a Michelin starred restaurant in NYC, has an extensive wine list with lovely labels from Portugal for its Iberian menu. Grüner Veltliner, a refreshing Austrian white, has proven to be a versatile pairing to many lighter dishes and has earned a stable spot on many fine restaurant menus. Stepping outside of the conventional French / Italian / Californian habit could be a great conversational starter while delivering impressive quality and value.

  1. Select red or white, light or full body“You know how to define and manage scope.”

Keep in mind this is not a wine tasting event, and your mission is not to find the perfect pairing for every dish ordered. A quick around-the-table survey of “what will you be having?” or “do we prefer red or white?” provides ample information for making a decision while showing you are mindful of others’ preferences. Unless everyone is having steak, which calls for a hefty Barolo or a left bank Bordeaux, a bottle of white or a bottle of light red plus a bottle of medium bodied red should cover a wide range of tastes.

  1. Take care of the special guest“You consider all key stakeholders.”

With people becoming increasingly health conscious, it’s likely that one or more of your guests would have special dietary preferences. They probably know what they want. So be sure to ask them or suggest a wine by the glass, a beer or a non-alcoholic drink.

  1. Consult the sommelier“You are able and willing to leverage subject matter experts.”

The sommelier is there for a reason. Maximize his or her contribution by indicating the meal selections and red/white preferences. You could say something like, “We are having…, and would like a medium body red / white around this price range (subtly point to the preferred price range on the menu), what would you suggest?”

Paradoxically, spontaneity is often enhanced by a little bit of pre-orchestration. With these strategy tips and some preparation, you will ace your next “wine list test.”



Sweet and Sensual Valentine’s Day Couplings … for EVERYONE!

Did you know that history’s most famous ladies’ man, Casanova himself, made a habit of consuming chocolate before his romantic trysts? Or that the great Aztec emperor, Montezuma, gulped a goblet of liquid chocolate before visiting his harem?

No? Well, you’ve likely stumbled upon many recent articles about the health benefits of dark chocolate – bursting with powerful antioxidants and flavonoids to help to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, protect against sun damage, increase cognitive functions, improve mood, etc. Similarly, countless modern studies have also documented health benefits of wine (Yes, white wine as well). Many doctors agree that it’s possible that antioxidants, such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol, provide profound anti-aging and heart-healthy benefits.

Chocolate and wine share other fun similarities beyond these oh-so-welcomed health and beauty revelations. Perhaps surprisingly, they are described using a very similar vocabulary of taste characteristics such as “tannic, acidic, sweet, floral, fruity, spicy, earthy, etc.” And they both have earned an association – together or alone – with romance, sensuality and epicurean sumptuousness. Dessert wines, in particular, have been paired with chocolate by chocolatiers and sommeliers alike in delightful feats of palate alchemy.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t just give chocolate – step it up and bring along a bottle of elixir d’amore! (Don’t know much about dessert wine at all?  Check out my recent post, Sweeten Up Your Wine Repertoire for a quick primer.)

A few things to keep in mind when pairing chocolate with wine:

  • Choose a wine at least as sweet as or sweeter than the chocolate; otherwise, the taste may quickly veer towards sour.
  • The darker the chocolate (usually less sweet), the more full-bodied the wine should be. For example, a dark chocolate tends to pair well with an intense fruit driven red, such as a late harvest California Zinfandel or jammy Syrah.
  • Wines may provide either matching or complementary characteristics. A wine with fruity and floral notes, for example, could work well with either a fruit-infused truffle OR a dry, earthy chocolate block.
  • As with any food and wine pairing, your personal palate is the your most trusted guide, so be creative and have fun. Santé!

TASTE n PAIR pocket guide:

Chocolate and wine


Sweeten up your wine repertoire – Basics for appreciating dessert wines

“Sweet wines are for amateurs.” This is obviously a misconception, but many people immediately shun sweet wines due to either unfamiliarity or, perhaps, an unfortunate White Zin experience. In truth, crafting serious sweet wines requires rigor, patience and care. It’s an artful interplay between achieving desired levels of sweetness (residual sugar) and alcohol, while also celebrating the full range of the grapes’ flavor and aromatic characteristics.

By way of comparison, dry wines are products of full fermentation, wherein yeast converts all sugar in the pressed grape juice until no residual sugar remains. Sweet wines, on the other hand, are produced to ensure a desired amount of residual sugar remains in the final product. This end result can be achieved through a few different variations in the wine-making process:

  • Adding a sweet component, such as unfermented grape juice, to sweeten the wine (This is often considered a less sophisticated approach.)
  • Interrupting the fermentation process by removing the yeasts with filter, or killing the yeasts using sulfur dioxide or by adding alcohol. Fortification (adding alcohol), where the grape juice is stopped short of full fermentation, is used to produce Port and Madeira.
  • Concentrating the sugar level in the grapes, themselves, before they are crushed

Of the above three, concentration methods are often considered the most artful and are employed to make some of the world’s most exceptional dessert wines. They include the following intricate techniques:

1. Late harvest:  Leaving the grapes on the vine longer than usual for harvesting at extreme ripeness boosts sugar level.

  • Grapes destined for late harvest are not only sweet but are often naturally high in acidity, which keeps the wine from being cloying.
  • The result could be a refreshing compliment to light desserts.

2. “Raisin” the grapes:  Drying the grapes causes them to shrivel. This could occur on the vine in warm climates or by laying the grapes out in well-ventilated, dry conditions that encourage evaporation.

  • This method adds a distinct oxidized character to the the final product.
  • This process gives uniquely condensed flavors of cooked and candied fruits, honey and spices.

3. Ice the grapes:  In cold climates, healthy grapes are sometimes left to freeze on the vine for winter harvesting. Crushing the grapes while still frozen allows the ice crystals to be removed, leaving an intensely concentrated grape syrup that is used to make sweet Eiswein or icewine.

  • Because these are made with intensely concentrated juice from healthy grapes, the wines have very pure, pronounced, varietal flavors, high acidity, full body and syrupy sweetness.

4. Botrytis (aka Noble Rot):  Botrytis is a “welcomed” fungus that sometimes develops on healthy, ripe grapes. It weakens the skin and speeds up the evaporation of water. This technique is vital to the production of certain highly prized dessert wines, such as Sauternes and Tokaji. These wines usually command a much higher price because:

  • Nobility is not guaranteed. If the conditions are not right, the rot could turn into a normal grey rot, which is a guaranteed crop destroyer.
  • Handpicking is essential as Botrytis rarely affects all the grapes evenly. Several passes may have to be made through the vineyard to pick all the grapes at the perfect stage of rottenness – a laborious selection process that makes production very expensive.
  • They age well, and Botrytis adds its own unique flavors with expressions of honey, stone fruits lemon.
  • The product is a lush, unctuous sweet wines, with complex flavors of honeysuckle, spice and exotic fruits.

Serving and tasting:

  • Dessert wines are best served well chilled at 6-8oC or 43-45oF.
  • Dessert wine glasses should be smaller with a bowl that’s curved to emphasize the fruit aroma and direct the wine to the back of the mouth so the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm.
  • As the name implies, dessert wines can provide a perfect standalone conclusion to a meal
  • For pairing with desserts, keep in mind that, in general, the wine should be at least as sweet or sweeter than the dessert.

  TASTE n PAIR pocket guide:


I invite you to trust your instincts and enjoy a luscious journey of sweetness and sensations. Santé!


“Women Are Like Fine Wine” – A witty way to detect and remember top wine descriptors

Ever had difficulty describing a wine? Don’t know exactly what tannin, body, acidity, dry and balance really mean? Describing the general style of a wine is not as intimidating as you might think. By associating these primary wine descriptors with some of the most beautiful traits of women, you might find detecting and remembering wine descriptors to be quite fun and easy.

  1. Sweetness

A wine could be described as dry, medium or sweet (dessert wines). Dessert wines aside, most red wines and the majority of whites are dry – the opposite of sweet, in wine parlance – because all the sugar has been converted to alcohol during fermentation. A Chablis from France is crisp and bone dry. Wines that are medium will usually be white or rosé. To make a medium wine, a winemaker could either remove the yeast from the juice before all the sugar has been consumed or add unfermented sweet grape juice to dry wine. A medium wine should have sweetness but not be cloying. Many popular wines from Germany are good examples of medium wine.

In a woman ♥ : An appropriate level of sweetness in a woman often adds to her charm. But think of someone who is too sweet too often. Could that make her appear too sticky or clingy with no personality? I think so.

  1. Body

This is the wine’s weightiness or general feel in the mouth. The grapes used or being aged in oak barrels are key contributors to the body of the wine. Light bodied wines are usually refreshing and easy to drink (e.g. Pinot Grigio from Italy, Baujolais from France). Medium bodied wines will feel more substantial, richer (e.g. Burgundy from France or Merlot from Chile). Full bodied wines seem more concentrated and weighty; they feel more powerful (e.g. oaked Chardonnay from California, Shiraz from Australia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from France).

In a woman ♥ : Light bodied is NOT necessarily better than heavy bodied or vice versa. What do you prefer and what can you handle? A rubenesque beauty to wrap your arms around, an athletic companion to trek the trails with, or perhaps a delicate goddess to put on a pedestal? Yes, some women are all of the above, but let’s stay focused.

  1. Acidity

Acidity comes from the grape and is detected by the mouth watering sensation. Too much, a wine is tart, too little, a wine is flabby and flat. Acidity is very important, particularly in sweet wines – it cleanses the palate in each sip and makes the wine balanced, stopping it from being cloying.

In a woman ♥ : Acidity in wine is like humor and sharpness of tongue in a woman. Her humor wakes you up, and her tartness grabs your attention. However, what about someone who constantly pokes at you or is too bubbly all the time? Such nonstop liveliness could have a short shelve life and become annoying very quickly.

  1. Tannin

Tannin is the drying sensation felt on the teeth, gums, tongue and inner cheeks (not to be confused with dryness/sweetness). It comes from the skin, seeds and stems of grapes. Think of drinking dark black tea without any milk or sugar. The right amount of tannin is a good thing. It gives structure and complexity to wine and anchors it through maturity.

  1. Oak

Some winemakers choose to age their wine in oak barrels to impart additional flavors and texture into the wines. White wines can take on a buttery feel and gain vanilla flavors through aging in oak. Red wines can become smoother and gain spicy characters. A cheaper way to age wine with oak is by adding oak chips and staves in stainless steel vessels. This method is not used to produce high quality wines, but can be found in some popular mass-produced labels.

In a woman ♥ : This is a fun one and I will talk about tannin and oak in unison. Tannin is like dry wit in a woman. An appropriate amount makes her interesting and complex, but too much of it would probably rub you in the wrong way and turn you off. Oak is like the environment in which the woman is brought up – her education, hobbies, experiences, etc. As she matures, her life experiences and environs impart a lingering essence of upbringing. Her once unpolished harsh personality takes on the subtlety of her surroundings. She is sophisticated and can stand her ground; she’s tactful and appropriate.


The ULTIMATE GOAL of a winemaker is to strike a balance of sweetness, tannin, acidity, etc. when the bottle is ready to be uncorked. The characteristics are all present, but one does not overpower the other. When we start to experiment with tasting, there are elements we get excited about and those we cannot get enough of. “Boy, this is a very SWEET rosé…I love how FORWARD this wine is…this FULL BODIED wine can really stand up to my T-bone…” As we gain more experience, we will also come to appreciate a balance of traits and complexity of flavors. We find this balance offering a nostalgic lingering finish, and the complexity gracefully charming. We discover something new each time we taste, finding the experience ever more alluring and mysterious…wanting more.

Next time, when you want to describe a wine, simply think about how wonderful women are…Santé!


East vs. West Coast oysters and Wine Pairing: 8 things you need to know to charm your date

With an increasing number of restaurants and bars serving fresh bivalves, NYC has become a heaven of oceanic goodness for sophisticated diners. Whether you are looking to slurp dozens over $1 oyster happy hour or entice your taste buds with a selected few, knowing the difference between East Coast and West Coast oysters and some wine pairing basics is key to enjoying nature’s offering and impressing your date. Like understanding wine, ordering oysters is an acquired skill. Here are the eight things you need to know:

Know the difference

  1. Terroir

Living oysters get their food by constantly filtering water, thus acquiring unique flavor profiles and morphing varied shell shapes according to their environs. It is important to understand how oysters’ native terroir contributes to differences in appearance, texture and shape.

East: East coast oysters are gown sub-tidally, lying always below water and in colder temperatures.

West: West coast oysters are grown inter-tidally, exposed above water in low tide and submerged below water in high tide. 

  1. Shell size, shape and coloration

East: Having been nestled in relatively calmer waters, East Coast oysters develop smoother shells with rounded edges. They are bigger, 2-6 inches in diameter, with relatively shallower shells. They come in shades of brown, green and white.

West: With the frequent tossing of intertidal waters, West Coast oysters have rougher shells which are fluted with jagged edges, points and ridges. They tend to be smaller, 1-2 inches in diameter, with deeper shells. You will find them in shades of black, purple, green, with white and pink hues. 

  1. Flesh texture and flavor profile

East: The colder waters slow down the metabolism of oysters, producing crisp-textured bivalves with higher salinity, brininess and minerality.

West: Warmer waters speed up metabolism, producing creamier and thicker-textured oysters.  Overall, West Coast oysters are sweeter, taste inkier and have more notes of seaweed, melon and cucumber. 

  1. Examples of the most prized oysters

East:  Naked Cowboys (NY), Blue Point (NY, CT), Melpeque (PEI), Misty Point (VA)

West:  Kumamoto (WA), Kushi (BC), Totten Inlet (WA), Fanny Bay (BC), Nisqually (WA)

Tasting and Pairing

  1. Inspect before you slurp

Fresh oysters should be glistening in their own “liquor” (briny seawater in the half shell) and smell like sea breeze with sweet notes. If an oyster appears dry, submerged in cloudy water, or smells fishy, toss it and let the waiter know. 

  1. Accoutrement pairing

I like my oysters naked – pure and unadulterated. The most I might add is a splash of lemon juice.  Some people like to drizzle a bit of spicy and tart mignonette (a condiment commonly made with minced shallots, cracked pepper and vinegar) to wake up the flesh. No right or wrong answers here, it’s all about your preference, but I highly recommend you to try at least one or two without any accoutrements! 

  1. Wine pairing

Raw oysters are very delicate. A wine that’s too sweet, complex in flavor, oaky or tannic will overpower or destroy the subtlety in both taste and texture. With this in mind, you should avoid pairing raw oysters with most reds, sweet wines or Chardonnays that are oaky and buttery. Crisp, dry, light-bodied whites are your best options.

  • Classic pairing: Champagne and dry sparkling bubbles, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Muscadet
  • Fun pairing: Spritzy Txakoli from Basque country is a fun option if you want to try something new and really impress your date.

Note: Stay tuned for more insights into different wines to pair with oysters. 

  1. Ultimately…

As with wines, the flavor profiles of oysters depend on where they come from, the conditions in which they are grown, and your personal palate. A bit of technical understanding is sure to enhance not only your menu confidence, but also the experiential beauty of tasting and pairing which lies in curiosity, open-mindedness and creativity. Santé!

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