Forget about that old red with meat/white with fish wine pairing adage. Instead of pigeon-holing proteins and pours, it’s time to embrace the “what grows together, goes together” philosophy.

This terroir-based approach can be seen in all of the world’s great wine-growing regions, from Piedmont to Paso Robles, where the J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot is made. On weekends, Brenden Wood, Assistant Winemaker at J. Lohr, never misses the Templeton farmer’s market for local produce to pair with his wines. “Pairing our wines with food that’s in season is a fun part of life,” he says.

One of Wood’s preferred pairings is a couple of glasses of Los Osos with a roasted chicken that’s been rubbed with rosemary and lavender. Lavender grows up and down the coast of California, in neatly landscaped gardens as well in purple patches that grow wild. The fragrant herb is commonly found in herbes de Provence blends alongside savory and marjoram. It’s also a tasting notes for many Merlots.

The bountiful agricultural enclave that is the Central Coast doesn’t just make for happy grapes. Goats happily graze on acres of sweet grasses all over the area, producing milk that goes into some of the nation’s top cheeses. Walnuts are another bumper crop in California, making this goat cheese, grape and walnut spread an edible tableau of the area’s wine-friendly flavors.

Simple roasted carrots with sea salt and olive oil have an earthy sweetness that’s boosted by the bright notes of Los Osos Merlot. For a more colorful take on the side dish, this roasted carrot salad brings in California native orange and avocados, and dresses them up with bright lime and cilantro.

One of Wood’s more recent discoveries involves an unlikely pairing involving tandoori chicken, a dish typically matched with a cold beer or creamy lassi. The robust and juicy nature of Los Osos Merlot can stand up to a spice blend of coriander, cumin and ginger, a punchy combo that would overpower more delicate pours.

Fruit-forward Los Osos Merlot has the magical ability to seamlessly transition from mains to desserts, especially when high-quality chocolate is involved. A dish such as orange chocolate truffles is cut with a splash of blood orange caramel, an element that adds just the right amount of bitter brightness, complementing the smooth oak notes of the wine.

Of course, a glass of Los Osos Merlot is a pleasure on its own, but finding a compatible dish or two to pair with the wine offers a truly dynamic culinary experience. Even if you don’t have the good fortune, as Wood does, of living amid the idyllic surroundings of Paso Robles.

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