My guiding principle for food and wine pairing is that a great pairing is when the wine makes you want to eat more IMG_1078of the food, and the food makes you want to drink more of the wine. You know it when you taste it. But how do you know which wine to serve to achieve a palette pleasing pairing?

For optimal pairing results, a wine should mirror the profile of the food. Matching things like weight, mouth feel, sweetness, or acidity are keys to success. Interestingly, when pairing foods in a menu or recipe, sometimes opposites attract. A great recipe is often the explosion of different flavors and textures coming together in the mouth. The simplest example of this is sweet and sour sauce, or creamy texture combined with a crunchy finish. A good wine pairing matches the dominant flavors of a dish with the dominant notes of the wine.

Around mid summer, I start thinking about summer food and wine pairings that are a bit off the beaten track. I want something a bit more interesting than pasta salads, corn and barbeque fare. But I still want dishes that meet basic picnic, potluck and al fresco dining criteria.

This week, I suggest three wonderful food and wine pairings, each feeds a crowd, can be prepared in advance, and can be served at room temperature. All pair with wines you can find locally. Here are my three top summer food and wine pairing picks.

1) Roasted Figs with Prosciutto and Goat Cheese. Figs are in season. They’re a rich fruit that holds up to the salty prosciutto and creamy goat cheese in this recipe. They get gobbled up quickly, so plan on making twice as many as you think you’ll need! Serve them with Spanish Tempranillo. The decadence of red fruit flavors and just a hint of leather makes Tempranillo a great pairing for rich and somewhat exotic flavors like vanilla, clove, and fig. If you like Cabernet, you’ll enjoy a good Tempranillo.

2) Then, there’s my Cheesy Cauliflower and Fennel Dip. If you like cauliflower you’ll love this dish. If you’re not sure you’re a cauliflower fan, this recipe will turn you into one! A crisp Viogner pairs nicely with buttery flavors, the soft cheeses in this dish. Citrus, fruit and floral flavors like the anise in fennel pair well too.

3) Last but not least, I love Eggplant Caponata. I’m always looking for unique ways to serve eggplant! Caponata is a fragrant Italian country dish that’s a bit sweet and sour. It melds several flavors together, much like a tapenade. In addition to eggplant, our Caponata includes onion, fennel, blond raisins, balsamic and red wine vinegars, anchovies, and pine nuts. It’s a sauté of flavors! Pair Eggplant Caponata with Pinot Noir, which is a good all around wine. Pinot Noir bridges the gap between a white wine and a bold red. It’s medium weight pairs well with medium weight food, including meat, or rich vegetables like eggplant. While Pinots vary from fruit forward intensity (my preference) to earthy tones, you can have a lovely food experience with a good Pinot Noir.