GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Are you wrapping up your New Year’s Eve shopping? Before you head to the store and grab a bottle of wine, two Grand Rapids wine experts are sharing their tips and tricks for finding the best bottle for you.


The first rule: Don’t overthink it.

“You want your wine to be complimentary,” Chris Leon, owner and wine director of Leon & Son Wine, said. “In the best-case scenario, the wine makes the food taste better and the food makes the wine taste better.”

Leon explained that he thinks of wine as an ingredient in the food. For example, if a fish dish calls for lemon zest, you could pair a wine with a citrus note.

“I always think about ways that dishes are finished in a recipe or a really impactful garnish and think about those flavors being reflected in the wine you’re choosing,” he said.

Co-owner of GRNoir Wine & Jazz bar Shatawn Brigham said it’s important to think about what you’ve eaten in the past when drinking wine to find a good pairing.

“(They should) think back and recall what they’ve had to eat before and apply that to wine tasting and pull out the tasting notes that they may taste while sipping wine,” Brigham said.

He added that everyone has unique taste buds, which means what he likes to drink isn’t necessarily what you might like.

“We can be drinking the same wine (and) you may pull some different tasting notes from that wine than what I got and vice versa. However, that doesn’t mean that any one of us is right or wrong. That’s just what makes wine so fun and unique…” he explained.

Champagne is a classic: Many pop the bubbly to toast to the new year. Leon said while while the world of sparking wines very diverse, there are some hard and fast rules to consider.

“One of them is that fried things are just absolutely delicious with sparkling wine. It’s just one of those things that’s just hedonistically good,” he explained. “Everything from as simple as a potato chip and like a high-low situation — if you have a bucket of fried chicken and a bottle of Champagne, you’re going to find yourself being really happy.”

If you have a sparkling wine that is very fresh and zesty, Leon said you should consider a fatty dish because it will help “cleanse your pallet.” If the wine is lusher, he said you should look at salty or acidic dishes.

“Sparkling wines are great in that you want something that’s balancing in a way,” he said.

A tip to get the most out of your sparkling wine: drink it in a white wine glass.

“One of the great joys of drinking wine is smelling it. There’s absolutely no way to do that in a Champagne flute. My recommendation is to put it into a white wine glass, even a red wine glass. You’re not going to lose the carbonation… and you’re going to be able to smell it and enjoy it like you would any other wine,” he said.


News 8 staff has curated a list of commonly eaten dishes on NYE. Here’s what the wine experts suggest pairing with them.


For wings, Leon recommended a chilled red that is veering into the rosé category, specifically something that is refreshing and juicy.

“Typically you could find a couple of different parts of the world that do that consistently. My favorite is Beaujolais,” he said. “A really basic Beaujolais is not very expensive. It’s juicy, it’s joyful, it’s one of those wines that you want to drink and don’t think too much about.”

On the flip side, he said to stay away from tannins.

“What you don’t want with anything that has spice is tannins — something that drys your mouth out — because tannin and spice fight. It will make something spicier and really dry your mouth out,” Leon explained.

Brigham said that the pairings really depend on the sauce.

“When I think about your traditional buffalo wings with celery and a side of ranch sauce, the first one I think about is a riesling,” he said. “…The buttery notes that you get, the creaminess that you get on a riesling actually works really well with those buffalo wings.”

Other recommendations would be a Vouvray or Gewürztraminer.


When people think of meat, they think red wine, but Leon said he thinks white wine pairs well with charcuterie.

“You’re dealing with a lot of fat, and if you find a really brisk white wine, that can kind of get you back to center and get you to want to take your next bite,” he said.

His recommendation is a Vermentino which is known for its saltiness, replicating a seaside quality.

With the wide variety of charcuterie boards, Brigham said there are a number of options.

“…People tend to go to a nice crisp white wine,” he said. “A Sauvignon blanc or a Pinot Grigio if they want to do something white… Personally, I would do something white because of the cheese and the meat that we have on there, the fresh fruits (and) vegetables. I think it just pairs really well.”

For red wine, Brigham recommends a lighter red like Pinot Noir or Gamay.


This is where Leon said we get into sparkling wine territory.

“When you get geeky about wine pairings, you start getting away from flavor and start getting into texture. The texture of a hard-boiled egg with a whipped yoke in the middle is so specific that I actually think you’re going to want something that is going to tighten everything up and sort of get you to want to take that next bite,” he said.

Leon recommended a “really nice bottle of sparkling wine or what is called a Pét-Nat… the bubbles are a little softer. It’s a little juicier, a little fresher sometimes than Champagne.”

With the flavor of the deviled eggs, Brigham suggests a chardonnay.

“(It’s) a nice, bigger, fruitier, bolder white wine that I think would go really well with the deviled eggs,” he said.


For stuffed mushrooms, Leons said you can go with either white or red wine and recommended looking for wines from Burgundy.

“It’s sort of the spiritual home for Pinot Noir and chardonnay. Both of those grapes, all they want to do is hang out with mushrooms because a really good Old World Pinot Noir can kind of have an earthiness to it that matches with mushrooms and there’s also that meatiness with mushrooms that goes really well with rounder, more textured white wines,” he explained.

Brigham agreed that Pinot Noir is a good option.

“It’s light. There’s good acidity on a Pinot Noir, especially if you’re looking at a Pinot Noir from Oregon. I think it does really well with the acidity of stuffed mushrooms,” he said.


“Something zesty, snappy and fresh,” Leon said.

He recommended riesling, which can get a bad rep for being sweet, but Leon assured us that good dry riesling comes from all over the world, including Michigan.

“I’d recommend a bone-dry riesling. For me, I love the ones from Germany, specifically an area called the Mosel,” he said. “Again aromatic, fresh, and it’s one of those things that you want to keep drinking.”

If the shrimp cocktail is the spicy variety, Brigham recommended a sparkling wine like a prosecco or sweeter wine.

“I think a sweeter wine like a d’Asti does really well with any spicy dish,” he said. “The sweetness, the fruitiness of that wine helps coat the palate… it helps balance it out really well.”


While thinking about the cheese and breading of the mozzarella sticks, Brigham said a good option would be a chardonnay.

“The body, the structure of the chardonnay; the creaminess, the buttery feel would mesh really well with the creaminess of that mozzarella stick as well as the buttery-coated breading that’s on the outside of that mozzarella stick plus the marinara sauce,” he explained.

For Leon, fried food means a bottle of champagne.


For a buffalo chicken dip, Leon suggested a sparkling, dry red called Lambrusco.

“The flavor will do the thing you want it to do for the buffalo sauce but you’ll have the effervescent,” he explained.

For Brigham, he’s going with a malbec or a tempranillo.

“Depending on how heavy the buffalo sauce is, I think that tempranillo because of how it’s structured: how bold and how fruit forward it is. I think that along with the buffalo sauce would do really well,” he explained.


For bruschetta, Leon recommended looking at Tuscany wines.

“A really charming bottle of sangiovese would be great but also the white grape that grows in Tuscany is one that I would mention is called vermentino. It comes off the coast of Tuscany and I also think that would be really beautiful,” he said.

At GRNoir, Brigham said they tend to go with a rosé or any acidic wine.

“The acidity in the tomatoes and a really acidic wine would go really well together. I’m thinking a nice rosé from Provence, France… or we’ve done it where people come in and have a nice sparking (like) prosecco.”


“This is one where I think you can get a slightly bigger red,” Leon said.

There are a few places you can look at.

“Obviously a California cabernet, but if you wanted to be a little more adventurous, you could do southern Rhône, like a Côtes du Rhône would be really nice or something from Sicily. I love the wines that come off a volcano in Sicily called Etna Rosso,” he said.

For something lighter, Brigham said a Pinot Grigio is a good option.


“This is one of those dishes that you could go either way,” Leon said. “I think a more textured white wine would be really nice, a richer white wine.”

He suggested a wine called Pinot Blanc that gives almost an orchard or ripe apple flavor.

For red wine, he recommended a fruited, pretty red wine.

Mencia comes from the coast of Spain, which for me is one of the more exciting varietals right now. The wines can be really peppery and still be fresh. It can stand up to that bacon and still not overweigh and overpower that scallop,” he said. “Actually I’d drink the hell out of a mencia with that.”

Brigham recommended malbec or carménère for a red wine pairing.

“(It’s) not as big or as bold as a cabernet or something along those lines but I think it would do really well with that bacon,” he said. “The savoriness of that bacon, the fat of the bacon.”


While the obvious choice is a fresh dessert wine, Leon said you don’t have to pair a dessert with a dessert wine.

“Typical ‘dry wines’ have a little bit of sugar in them, so if you’re talking to someone in a wine store who knows what they’re doing, they will be able to help you find a nice pairing because what you don’t want is sweet on sweet on sweet,” he said.

For a dessert like cheesecake, Brigham recommended a d’Asti.

“It’s like a party in your mouth,” he said with a laugh. “It brings you back to when you were a kid like, ‘Oh my God,’ like sugar overload, but in a good way. It really does well.”


Walking into a store that sells wine, whether it be a supermarket, specialty store or wine shop, can be overwhelming.

“That’s how we got started. You go in, you want wine, you have no idea (what to choose). There’s a thousand bottles of wine on the shelves and you grab the first one,” Brigham said.

Instead, he said to start with what the wine is for. Is it for social drinking? For dinner? Is it a gift? Once that is determined, it’s easier to choose.

“The other thing is read the labels… There’s a lot of apps out there. Vivino is one app that you can download for free. They have a camera on there and you can take a picture of the label and it will give you right there in real time the region that wine is from, the grape, the tasting notes, etc.,” he said.

Another option is asking the employees.

“Good wine stores want to help,” Leon explained. “They want to answer your questions. Come with your whole menu and go talk to an employee. They should hopefully want to hold your hand and walk you through a really exciting way to pair your wines.”

He said that since the label doesn’t always specify which grape is used in the wine, especially for European wines, so don’t be afraid to ask an employee for more information.


News 8 Daybreak went to Fratelli’s in Grand Rapids for some holiday cocktail and mocktail recipes, including a cranberry margarita and polar express. Watch the video above for the recipes.