When wine meets food
While each can stand on its own, when wine and food come together, magic happens. Here are a few ways to bring together your favorite dishes and drinks.
Drinking wine by itself is enjoyable. Eating food by itself is a daily and frequent treat in my house. But when wine meets food, it can be — magical. Food changes the way wines taste, and it’s as simple as that. Take a slice of lemon and squeeze it on your tongue. Now take a taste of Sauvignon Blanc. The wine tastes terrific. Reverse the order. Taste the wine, then the lemon. It doesn’t have the same balancing effect.
There are a few food and wine pairing rules I frequently use and that will help you:
1) Match the weight of the food to the weight of the wine. A light Pinot Grigio white wine goes well with a simple, bland piece of fresh mozzarella and not with a heavy grilled lobster with butter sauce. You would taste the lobster and lose the wine in this pairing. Strive for balance between the food and wine, each complementing the other.
2) Refreshment. Use the wine to refresh the palate after every bite of food. A white wine with high acid (as you would find in a lemon) will cleanse your mouth after a bite of fried calamari.
3) Transformation. Use your food as a tool to make your wine taste even better. If you have a very young and tannic Cabernet Sauvignon that is not ready to drink, pair it with a juicy, grilled rib eye steak or stuffed portobello mushroom. The protein in the meat or buttery mushroom will coat your tongue and act as a buffer to the tannin in the wine. It will make the wine feel softer in your mouth.
4) Notice “synergy” flaring up in a few of your wine and food pairings — 1+1=3. Teaming up a rich, sweet fortified dessert Port wine with a pungent, salty, strong piece of Stilton blue cheese gives you a third completely different flavor of butter in your mouth. Sauvignon Blanc and capers can give you the taste of licorice in your mouth.
The best food wines, in my opinion, are wines with high acidity, such as Riesling, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Muscadet and (sometimes) Pinot Grigio. They cleanse the palate as a lemon often does (i.e., lemon on salmon). If you have an off-dry (meaning slightly sweet) style of Riesling or Chenin Blanc, serve this with a spicy, hot dish, such as Schezwan chicken or hot-chili shrimp or Indian, Asian or Mexican food. The sweetness in the wine tames the heat in the food.
Lighter-styled red wines can go well with many appetizers or main courses, including duck, chicken, hen, pheasant; heartier fish, such as salmon and swordfish; and foods such as pizza, hamburgers, ribs and pork. These wines with thinner grape skins include: Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Grenache and Gamay.
Finally, when you want a full-bodied red wine that is not as heavy as a Cabernet Sauvignon and that goes well with grilled and smoked foods with a little spice, look for a juicy, rich Shiraz or Shiraz blend, red Zinfandel, Malbec or Petite Sirah. The peppery notes in some of these wines are a great match for the spice in many foods. Smoked brisket, pulled pork and baby-back ribs slathered with Lotta Bull barbecue sauce just scream for a glass of The Ball Buster Barossa Valley Shiraz listed at right.
When food meets wine, make sure you are ready, with glass in hand, to reap the benefits.
Sips at home
Red wine dressed up
O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir, Oregon, 2009 — $18.99
O’ really? An Oregon Pinot under $20? Relatively new to our market, the O’Reilly is jammed with ripe raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate flavors. Light in body, heavy in flavor, it’s the best food partner to grilled pork tenderloin, beer-can chicken and grilled salmon.
The fire extinguisher
S.A. Prum Blue Riesling Kabinett, Germany, 2007 — $19.99
This off-dry Riesling from Germany is the perfect foil to any ultra-spicy dish. It has gorgeous flavors of baked apples, lemon zest, sweet bosc pear and loads of slatey minerality. It is easy to drink and cleansing, sip after sip.
The Ball Buster Shiraz/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Tait, Barossa Valley, Australia, 2008 — $16.99
This jammy, juicy, ripe blend of red grapes will bust up any meager dish with which you try to pair it. So, pull out the smoked brisket oozing with juice, fall-off-the-bone spare ribs or crispy-crusted pulled pork that melts in your mouth. A succulent, juicy-lucy hamburger or pizza will score a perfect 10 with this Tait fruit bomb. If you’re not hungry after reading this, at least I know you’ll be thirsty.
Sips around town
Blue Dome Diner
Bartender Majda Al-Amoudi says she serves a ton of the Smoking Loon Pinot Noir with the herb turkey burger for $6 a glass and $24 a bottle. Sounds like a new destination for me at night, because I’ve only had Blue Dome’s great breakfast before. 313 E. Second St., 382-7866
Manager Chad Stanger adores Riesling with the majority of PF Chang’s dishes. “It goes with everything and calms down anything spicy,” he says. He loves the Kung Fu Girl Riesling for $7.50 a glass and $24 a bottle and also the SA Prum German Riesling for $7.75 a glass and $25 a bottle. 1978 Utica Square, 747-6555
*Wine columnist Randa Warren is a Certified Master Sommelier; Certified Wine Educator; has earned a Diploma of Wine and Spirits, granted through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in England; and is a Certified Specialist of Spirits.