Monday, February 11, 2013

When You Don't Know What to Serve

Dale and I were invited to a dinner party the other night and I wanted to bring some wine for it.  The trouble was, I didn't know what was being served, so I had no idea what to select.

Most wine drinkers, I'm convinced, think wine pairing is a bunch of hooey.  They drink what they like no matter what is served, because they like the wine, period.  Wine "pairing" is as alien to them as zither music.  It's a frivolous pursuit among snooty people, they think.

And they may be right, judging by the stupid pairing ideas I've read in food magazines and the like. When it comes to people's perceptions of taste, there truly are as many variants as there are people.  You are unique in that respect, and I'm not about to disuade you from purchasing a wine you know will make you happy.
But matching the taste and texture of wine with the taste and texture of the food I'm eating isn't an affectation, at least for me.  I noticed many, many years ago that certain foods ruined the taste of the wine I was drinking, so I began experimenting with drinking different wines with different sauces, meat, fish and poultry.  Sometimes I'll serve a glass of red wine and a glass of white wine with the same dish just to see if either or both could succeed.

As I began to learn how regional European wines came to be, I developed a greater understanding of the relationship of the indigenous food to the historical wines of the region.  That's how I discovered that Chianti seems to take to tomato sauce better than other red wines, and that Beaujolais tastes good with salamis and vinaigrette salads when other reds do not.  The crisp white wines of the Loire Valley taste great with rich foods cooked in butter and cream sauces in the north of France, while the Cotes de Provence roses and reds taste better with foods cooked with olive oil and Mediterranean herbs. 
And I can go on and on.  I once tried a German Riesling and an Alsace Riesling together alongside an Alsace choucroute garni.  The Alsace Riesling was right, and the German (usually my favorite Riesling) was not.  Modern California Cabernet Sauvignons diminish when I eat a steak while the Cabernet Francs of the Loire Valley seem to get better and better with each bite of seared meat.

I have more success drinking white wine with cheese than red wine.  And high alcohol table wines taste hot and clumsy with most food.  And spicy food kills the complexity in wine.

So for me, selecting wine for dinner is more than just drinking my favorite wine.

But what happens when I don't know what's on the menu, like this past weekend?  What then?

In such situations there are a handful of wines I turn to that have proven themselves more versatile at the table than others.  Pinot Gris (from Alsace or Oregon) is one variety, Vouvray is another.  Dolcetto, Montepulciano and red blends from Puglia are what I turn to when I want an all-purpose red wines for Italian food.  Semi-sweet German Riesling when I don't know how spicy the dish is.  Sauternes with Roquefort.  Stilton with ruby Port.  Always.

But the red wine that offers more chances for harmony with the widest selection of food on the table has to be Beaujolais.  I've drunk it with the aforementioned vinaigrette salad with success as well as Thanksgiving turkey, loin of pork, salami, sausages, prime rib, chicken, duck and even omelets. 
Not knowing what was on the menu last weekend, we brought our last remaining magnum of the 2010 Dupeuple Beaujolais, one of the mainstays of the Kermit Lynch Import portfolio.  As it turned out, our hosts served a wrapped, peppery roasted pork loin.  The Beaujolais was much better than an O.K. choice...the magnum emptied quickly.  At only 12.5% alcohol, there were no brakes on it.

But that's me (and everyone else at the table that night).  It's not necessarily you.

For those who prefer to drink fuller bodied red wines than Beaujolais, I understand.  If  you're happy drinking them with tapioca pudding or chocolate bars or chile verde or sushi, go for it.  If you don't mind the burn on your tongue, drink 'em up.  If they make you feel good, great.  I'm into feeling good.  Always have been.

So I won't try to force you to drink wine you won't like, even though I might love that wine with the meal you're about to eat.
Helping you find the perfect wines for your chocolate truffle collection?  That's where I draw the line.

You're on your own.

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