Thursday, September 29, 2011

Five Ways to #*@% Up a Wine Pairing

In the August issue of Food & Wine Magazine is an article by Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor titled, Five Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing. It was a clever article and much I agreed with, but with a few exceptions.

1. Artichokes. Artichokes hate wine. They grow on their little stalks thinking, "I hate wine. Ooh, I hate it. I'm gonna grow here for a while, then I'm gonna go mess up some wine." The reason they do that is that artichokes have a compound called cynarin in them that basically makes wine taste awful. If you're dead set on eating artichokes and drinking wine with them, the best option is a light-bodied, unoaked white wine like a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. But you'd be best off with beer: a nice brown ale ought to work just fine.

I do not agree that artichokes actually hate wine. I think they are really just misunderstood. Artichokes really wanted to grow up and be a pretty thistle-type flower and adorn winemaker dinner tables. However, somewhere they got shorted in life. So yeah - - they may hold a grudge against wine, but I don't think they exactly hate wine. I mean, does anybody ever truly enjoy an artichoke without the butter, Bearnaise, mayo or pickled and spiced? The little leaf of the 'choke acts as the perfect shovel to allow us to look civilized so we scoop all of those delicious condiments to our lips instead of using our fingers.

Wine should be paired with the artichoke condiments of choice. I would try any of your favorite whites that are known for acidity like an Italian Pinot Grigio. Be brave and go Brut or when in doubt go Chenin Blanc.

2. Serve your wine too warm (if it's red) or too cold (if it's white).Warm red wine tastes alcoholic and flabby. Serve reds a little below room temperature and they're not only more pleasant to drink, but they taste better with food (throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes before you pour them). Icy cold whites don't taste like anything, so pull them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving.

I certainly agree with this one, especially about the icy cold whites. In fact, yesterday I tasted a very cold Oregon Pinot Gris that just put me off. The nose was "stiff" and a little dusty. The taste was bleak and flat. I later returned to the wine and the nose gave me citrus and stone fruit notes accented with a little bit of yeast. The flavors brought in more citrus, vanilla cookie and a bit of sea salt.

3. Try to make two stars share the table. This doesn't work in Hollywood, and it doesn't work at your house, either. If you have a truly extraordinary wine to pour, serve it with a simple dish. If you're spending 15 hours trying to re-create one of Thomas Keller's intricate recipes from The French Laundry Cookbook, pour something good—but not equally spectacular.

Ahhh - the star is in the eye of the beholder. One man's Julia Child boeuf bourguignon may be another man's canned Dinty Moore stew.

I like being adventurous when it comes to food and wine pairing. Pair Tim's Cascade potato chips or KFC with a pretty bottle of Perrier-Jouet or even a Leonetti Cellar Reserve with your local Ice Burg Drive-In cheeseburger deluxe (don't forget the fry sauce). I bet Beyoncé Giselle Knowles pairs anything she wants with Shawn Corey Carter's (Jay-Z) stash of Armand de Brignac Champagne.

4. Serve oily fish with tannic red wine. Fish oils react harshly with tannins, so don't, for instance, serve mackerel with Cabernet—unless you like the taste you get from licking a roll of pennies. With oily fish, skip the reds entirely and go white. Any of the crisp, minerally seaside wines: Albarino from Spain, Vermentino from Italy, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile's Pacific coast. All of those are good options.

Well, obviously Ray isn't from Washington State. One of the finest native northwest meals is a cedar-planked grilled salmon with a redux of a Washington State merlot, preferably a merlot from Walla Walla. Salmon is known as an oily fish and Walla Walla Merlot is often known as being a bit on the tannic side.

5. Overthink the whole thing. Really. This is the biggest way to screw up a wine pairing, not because the wine and food will taste bad together, but because you'll turn yourself into a neurotic mess who makes Woody Allen seem like a Zen buddhist. Most wines can happily live alongside most foods, in a kind of neutral you-go-your-way-and-I'll-go-mine state. Just stay away from those artichokes.

Hit nail on head. I don't know if I am becoming older and wiser about wine or just loosing patience and getting bored with the snobbery and name dropping about wine. Don't overthink. Just drink. Enjoy.

But about those artichokes - don't give up on them.

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