Friday, November 30, 2012

What to drink with that home-cooked meal

A delicious dinner party rarely depends just on the food. As I've mentioned before, my mom is a fount of entertaining wisdom about entertaining, and she believes that a successful dinners are built by plenty of booze, preferably wine. 

But volume isn't everything. Serving the right wine with whatever you're cooking will keep everyone sipping and in good spirits. How to know what to pour? Lately I've been spending my commute reading my company's recent ebook publication, Wine Simplified, and I'm loving its tactical lessons. Here's what I've learned about wine pairing: 

1. You CAN get it wrong. Especially if you blindly pick your old favorites, depending on what you're serving. I love bone dry white wines. They do not go well with sweet, rich foods, like a brown-sugar glazed brisket. Book author Marnie Olds compares it to that toothpaste and orange juice combination--the flavors contrast in a way that sets your teeth on edge.

2. But it's not hard to get it right. A pretty good rule of thumb is "like goes with like." Light acidic foods, like tomato salad, go with low alcohol, acidic wines. Rich, fatty foods go with bolder, high alcohol wines. (Alcohol content averages 13.5% in wine, and deviates from there by several percentage points. We usually perceive high alcohol wine as more assertive and bolder in flavor overall.) One of the cool things about wine is that when you pair it with similar tasting foods, the obvious flavors neutralize each other and you start to taste more subtlety, especially in the wine.

You can really taste this with sweet wines and dessert. You'd think the combo would be a sugar bomb. But try it for yourself: grab a sweet Riesling and pull out a bottle of honey. Taste the wine on its own. Then cover your tongue with a bit of honey and taste it again. It probably tastes much fresher and crisper and way less sweet. I did this experiment early this week at a wine tasting that Marnie led, and it totally worked. 

3. Knowing a little can get you a lot. You don't need to know what kind of wine pairs perfectly with your food--there's no shame in seeking advice at your local wine store. But if you don't know what words to throw out when you're asking for help, you may be led astray. Example: I helped organize a bachelorette dinner party two months ago. I asked for some help at the wine shop across the street from my apartment. I described the night: 12 young women, dinner and embarrassing bachelorette games followed by dancing. He recommended a sugary sweet off-dry red that I knew tasted like glorified Manischewitz. Instead, I should have told him what we were eating and, more importantly, how it was being prepared: 
  • Beef short ribs
  • Vinegar
  • Braised
Those few words could have him to the rich, high alcohol Pinot Noir that a knowledgeable friend recommended after I texted her for help.

Takeaway: Wines taste dramatically different depending on what you're eating with them. If you think you dislike certain types of wine, you may just be drinking them with the wrong companions. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post

    Thoughts on California wine?

    What's good too go with fish tacos?