In honour of National Wine Day, we spoke to Deborah Murray, the writer and photographer behind the food and wine blog, Year in Wine.

Deborah is located in Langley, British Columbia, and is a Radiation Therapist at the B.C. Cancer Agency. She has a Bachelor of Technology in Radiation Therapy and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography.

Deborah’s interest in wine began to flourish in 2010 during a trip to the Okanagan. Deborah found that she really enjoyed learning about “the people behind the wine,” which led her to attend more wine tastings. Over time, family and friends began asking for wine recommendations, and she was encouraged to start a wine blog.

In 2017, she took her WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 1 through Fine Vintage Limited. This course provided her with a great introduction to well-known grape varietals, how to analyze wines and knowledge about food and wine pairing. While taking the course, she began her blog in order to document her wine journey and focus on wine education. Later that year, Deborah also got her WSET Level 2 certification.

When creating wine pairings, Deborah begins by searching for suggestions online, then locates a recipe. She recommends using Wine Folly as a starting point.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, more people have been cooking from home. This has encouraged wineries to provide recipes from local chefs that pair with their wines. Deborah has certainly taken advantage of these offers and created some beautiful, restaurant-quality pairings from the comfort of her own home. Some of the recipes she absolutely loved making include: 

  • Teatro Restaurant’s Baked Calamata Pasta, Cocoa Braised Short Rib and Creamed Leeks from Chef Matt Batey, paired with CheckMate Winery’s Black Rook Merlot. 
  • The Butternut Tree’s Beef Wellington from Chef Scott Downey, paired with Little Engine’s Gold Pinot Noir.

Another way to find pairing suggestions is by asking wineries! For instance, Deborah reached out to Melissa Giesbrecht, proprietor of Whispering Horse Winery, about what to pair with their 2019 L’Acadie. Melissa proposed making mussels in a rich, creamy, apple and bacon broth. Deborah said that this pairing “really brought out the briny notes in the wine and highlighted the wonderful citrus flavours.”

Additionally, books such as Jennifer Schell’s “The BC Wine Lover’s Cookbook” have also been a source of inspiration for Deborah. She has experimented with various recipes from this cookbook and as a result, has made many successful dishes. One of the most memorable pairings was Florence’s Tarragon Chicken paired with CheckMate Winery’s Little Pawn Chardonnay.

If you would like to avoid the mess of cooking and skip right to the pairing, Deborah has a few favourite combinations for takeout orders. For starters, “pair an off-dry Riesling with Thai cuisine; the sweetness will mitigate any spice and the higher acidity will cleanse the palate of oils.” If you are craving something with more of a kick, Indian cuisine and off-dry Gewürztraminer is another one of Deborah’s favourites. “The sweetness of the wine softens any spices and the acidity cuts through the creaminess.” Lastly, sushi and charcuterie boards pair very well with Rosé or sparkling wine.

If you have a sweet tooth, desserts can be a little more challenging to pair with. This is because you generally “want your wine to be sweeter than your dish.” So rather than creating desserts to compliment a wine, Deborah will prepare dishes that emphasize a wine’s tasting notes, such as flavours of rhubarb in Rosé. 

When it comes to pairing red wine with a sweeter dish, the sugary flavours will give the wine a lighter body and make the tannins more intense, therefore creating a bitter-tasting wine. With that being said, Deborah recommends replacing red wine and chocolate pairings with Port and chocolate tarts.

To develop your own pairing skills, Deborah recommends enrolling in WSET Level 1, doing research, and of course, experimenting. Even if a combination is unsuccessful, you still learn from that experience, and “experience truly is the best mentor!”

Since it is National Wine Day and all, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the joy that wine and food bring to our lives. In Deborah’s case, she works with and meets “incredible people who are fighting cancer” on a daily basis. “Their courage is an inspiration and their journeys are a reminder that we cannot take life for granted because you never know what’s around the corner.” So on that note, “drink the good wine (within moderation) and live your best life!”