Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Food and Wine: Making Choices with Ease

You may have noticed that I haven’t talked much about wine on this blog. Time to remedy that situation. I am not a wine expert, as will be abundantly clear. But I love to pick wines I think will go with the food I’ve fixed and I don’t break a sweat over it. Honestly. And, of course, I love to drink them.

I’m not strict about whites with this and reds with that. It’s more intuitive with me than scientific. I believe it all depends on the flavors of the food I’m preparing and my own personal preferences. So let me tell you how I go about it.

First, a nice label. You may think I’m kidding. But I believe that if a winery has a good aesthetic when it comes to designing a wine label, it is more likely to have a good aesthetic when it comes to the wine. Of course there are exceptions. French labels are some of the most confusing and least attractive of any around and yet the wine in the bottles can be spectacular. Living close to and in the wine country of California, I’m willing to stand by my attractive label theory.

Second, parity. I want the food and the wine to have a reciprocal relationship, with a nice balance and complementarity. Light with light, spicy hot with cooling, complex with complex. I usually start with the food. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Grilled steak, I’d choose a merlot. I might mention at this point that I am not a big Cabernet Sauvignon fan—the so-called flavor bombs that are too high in alcohol for my taste and pretty much dominate any conversation.
Poached salmon, rosé. I think a really tasty pink wine is so pretty during the summer. It is the perfect brunch wine with eggs and cheese. A slow roasted salmon with a lot of flavor would work nicely with a light or medium red, as well as a good white.

If I’m cooking an Italian tomato sauce, even if it’s vegetarian, I’d choose a Sangiovese, the Italian Chianti grape. My rule of thumb: Whatever grape is grown on the land where the food originates is probably going to work with the food.

If my beef short ribs are perfumed with cinnamon and orange, I would choose a red wine that has some of the same spiciness, like a zinfandel or a syrah. For those who can’t drink red with this dish, an oaked chardonnay would work especially if it had some vanilla overtones.

If I’m cooking a spicy chicken curry or a bean thread noodles and pork with hot peppers, I might want to temper the heat with a nice riesling, the slight sweetness and the chill working well with the heat. A floral viognier is also lovely to balance heat.

Pork dishes can go either white or red or even pink depending on how it is prepared. Same with chicken. Tomatoes and mushrooms in the preparation almost always mean that a red might be drunk with the dish. I would choose a white if a cream sauce is involved.

Third, personal preference. I consistently love to drink a couple of different wines and will choose them again and again, whether or not they are in fashion or necessarily “go” with the food. Then pretty regularly I give myself a little tasting adventure and try something new and exotic, just for the fun of it. I try to avoid ruts.

Katherine and I drank and still love to drink oaky, creamy, bake-house-scented chardonnays. They are just so yummy, even though they have fallen from grace. I also love the unoaked crisp stainless steel chardonnays but the oaky ones are my wine version of “comfort food.” A glass before dinner, catching up on each other’s day, couldn’t be better.

I love pinot noirs, not because of the movie Sideways, but because they are often such great food wines. I’m not talking about the wimpy pinots that can’t stand up to anything, but the rich juicy kind that taste like plush velvet.

I stay away from anything called grassy, like some sauvignon blancs. And I don’t go out of my way to drink whites described as flinty or high in minerals. I am occasionally rewarded by a wonderful wine that has been so described and hope this means my palate is expanding.

Fourth, I try to trust myself, my taste, judgment, and intuition. I like to have a good time making the choices. I will ask a wine person for suggestions but it’s my money, my dinner, and my choice. The most expensive bottle isn’t necessarily the best.

How do you make your decisions?


Kristin Viguerie said...

Love to hear your wonderful wine advice Katherine...I, too am a sucker for packaging and that includes wine! but I have a few rules that I live by since moving here: 1) there are NO good Pinot Noirs under $25! Don't even try 'em! 2) The pinker a rose is, the sweeter it will be and the less I'll like it! 3) Most anything from Anderson Valley is gonna be yummy!

Geraldine said...

Thanks for your intuitive and helpful wine advice. I agree with Kristin that I have not had any Pinot Noir under $25 that is good, But if anyone finds one, please pass that info on.
Anderson Valley wines are great.I used to have a place there. This is making me want to take a trip up there and to drive on my favorite road, Greenwood Ridge, out to the coast. Quick road trip some day? Its only a few hours from Sonoma.