My dear friend Marcia Kellogg is one of the very few people I know who truly lives to eat…(and drink wine). The vast majority of our conversations hover around food and wine. Perhaps it’s because she’s a good Italian girl, and my French side simply cannot get enough. We just partnered, answering questions about the pairing of food and wine, which is posted below. Certainly, if you have any questions at all on this subject, please ask. Be sure to visit Marcia’s Blog, www.cookingandthecareergirl.blogspot.com. This post will also be on her blog.
What sorts of strategies do you use in pairing wine with a meal? (Asked by friend James Liska)
Charles Writes: The first this I do is look at the menu, no matter how large or small it is. Right then I have an idea of how many wines should be offered. The host’s personal taste is most important, but it also needs to conform to the foods offered. Usually for 2 courses, I recommend 1 white and 1 red. (I usually don’t recommend a dessert wine unless the host requests it.) For 3 courses, 3 different wines, and for 4 courses, usually 3 different wines. Unless it is a very long evening, most folks are tired after 3 different wines. Remember, 4-6oz. glasses equals a full bottle. When I recommend 2 or more wines for a menu, I always order the wines in degrees of lighter flavored to fuller flavored. If the menu requires a lighter wine to be served after a fuller one, I’ll ask the host to swap the order of courses. The reason for this is that the first wine jump-starts the palate and sets the tone for the evening. When the next wine is offered your palate is already used to the previous one, and you want to stimulate the palate up a notch. Thus, the fuller flavored wine. If this was done in reverse, then the following wine would taste watery and light…even a really good quality wine.
Marcia Writes: First, I start with the main course, whether it is meat, chicken or fish (I tend to take the more traditional approach), then take into consideration the time of year (season), which would dictate how light or heavy the varietal should be. Finally, the palate of who will be enjoying the meal, i.e., are they exotic? adventurous? mainstream?, etc. This will provide a pretty good idea of where to begin. For tracking purposes, although somewhat obsessive, you might want to create a historical database or matrix that includes the type of food served, the type of wine, tasting notes, etc.
How do you work your magic? What sorts of factors do you take into account when decided what wine would best go with a meal? (Asked by friend James Liska)
Charles Writes: As I love to cook, I like to dissect all the courses offered in the menu. I look at the main protein(s) offered, what herbs and spicing that will be used, and the method of cooking. Of course, also all the side dishes too. In some cases there may be a specific herb, spice, or accent used in the preparation of the menu and that will alter my wine selection for that dish. When I give wine class I always tell the folks that as the host of the evening, they will know at least 50% of the food/wine offerings. They will either make up a menu and then fill in the blanks with the wine, OR, they will know what wines they want to serve, and fill in the blanks with the food. Sooo…by knowing this, one always wants to never have the food overpower the wine, and the wine never overpower the food. With what is available in the wine world today, at all price ranges, it is incredible the selection. You may have a chicken dish (so of course we think of white wine), but if the herbs and spicing are fuller flavored, then you may want to go with a lighter red such as a Pinot Noir. For delicate white fish, one normally wouldn’t overpower it with too much seasoning because that would kill the delicate fish flavor…thus a delicate white wine would be in order that would also not overpower the fish. Grilled BBQ Ribs with a spicy sauce needs a hearty spicy red (such as a Syrah) to stand up to all the full flavors. Also certain foods are known to affect wine in adverse ways. An oily fish, such as salmon, bluefish, or mackerel, will make Chardonnay have a “steely metallic” flavor. Artichokes make most all wines show a sweetness. Asparagus is just too funky to marry well, but because it is so delicious most times we look the other way. For Southwestern spicy, chili based foods, forget wine…have a beer instead.
Marcia Writes: In addition to the answer to the previous question, the best bet is to find out where your ‘wine passion’ lies. As a true Pino-Phile, I tend to lead toward Pinot Noir (extra points if it’s from Anderson Valley, Sonoma or Napa Valley). Others may lean toward Cabernet, Bordeaux or (ahem!) Merlot. [Just had a flashback to the one scene in the movie Sideways] Once you know where your passion lies, the rest is relatively simple. Like I typically describe Charles attentiveness to his clientele: “He finds out what you really like and picks out the best option(s) for you- similar to how your hairdresser knows what hairstyles look best on you!”
How simple/complex is it to learn intelligently about food/wine pairings?
Charles Writes: If you make the effort to actually think about food/wine pairings, I would assume that you are someone who “lives to eat” vs. “eats to live”. That’s a good thing. You think about flavors, you like to cook. You like to shop for food and wine. The process is quite simple. Most likely, you already know what foods you like, but wine can be confusing. This is where your local wine merchant comes into play. I tell customers that I know nothing about diamonds, but when I want to buy one, I go to a reputable jeweler and learn from him/her, and make an educated decision. The same is for wine. A good wine merchant can be a wealth of knowledge. Bleed them for information. After every visit, you will have more information than when you first came in. Soon you will feel comfortable making an educated decision on your own. Stay away from wine snobs!!! There is no place in the wine world for them. If the merchant is a snob, don’t walk…run away…leave skid marks on the ground.
Marcia Writes: It’s relatively easy when you know what types of wine you prefer (and don’t), and what types of food you like to enjoy. Also, most modern day cookbooks (and cooking shows, for that matter) will tip you off as to which wine is best to serve with a specific dish, which makes pairing really very easy. You can also ask Charles for advice. I have been in his shop numerous times when someone would stop by to bring a hostess gift and ask Charles which wine would go best with a certain dish that was being served.
Food and wine pairings around the world.
Charles Writes: Look at the food of the region in the world that you are going to prepare. Ask yourself, what do the locals drink? As Marcia says below, if it’s a Tuscan dish, serve Chianti, Sangiovese, or the like. Look at Southwestern France, the land of Cassoulet, and the monstrous reds they enjoy. Look at The French/Italian Riviera, with all it’s seafood, veggies, olive oils, herbs…and what do they drink? Dry rosé, lighter reds, crisp whites. In Northern Italy, game meats, truffles, mushrooms, hearty vegetables, richer sauces…and what do they drink? Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, earthy, leathery, rich reds. Japanese food, which is elegant, refined, and pure…beer or sake. It’s very easy to go on-line and search what wines are served in very particular regions of the world. Then go to your trusty wine merchant and find something in the style and price range you like.
Marcia Writes: When preparing or ordering ethnic food, the best way to enjoy the experience is to have wine that would typically found in that particular region. Pair Italian food with a good Chianti, Sangiovese or table wine; French food with a Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Rhone; Spanish food with a Tempranillo or Albariño; and so on.
Talk to me about wine and chocolate.
Charles Writes: I adore Julia Child and her amazing recipes, but this is once where I will disagree with her. She has said that red wine and chocolate are a fabulous pairing. Here’s where I disagree. Most all red wines have a “fruit” component, and an “acid” component. The fruit is the ripeness of grapes that you taste, and the acid is usually a tannic acid. If you don’t know what tannic acid is, you do if you have ever had a very strong cup of tea, or have ever bitten into a grape seed. It’s that drying feeling left in your mouth. So, when you match chocolate, that has a sweetness with red wine, that sweetness cancels (on the palate) the ripeness of the red wine, and all you have left is tannic acid…which can be quite bitter. If you are a fan of chocolate and red wine (as many are), buy the darkest chocolate with the highest cacao percentage you can. 55%-70% is good.
Marcia Writes: My best pick would be champagne, but that’s the romantic in me. However, I adore dark chocolate paired with a deep, dark wine with fruit undertones. Milk chocolate does not work because it is too sweet and overpowers the nuances of the wine. For me, the bigger and bolder the wine and the chocolate, the better. Some brandies, congnacs and cordials work too, but too much sweetness tends to cancel out each other. P.S. try Espresso vodka if you are not a wine fan!
How wine and seafood can sometimes be tricky.
Charles Writes: As I mentioned above, certain oily fish don’t go well with Chardonnay, but can go beautifully with a Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Gavi, Pinot Grigio, etc… Swordfish is meaty enough so that when it is grilled, it can handle a decently full bodied red, like a Zinfandel…(the red, not the pink stuff). As Marcia writes below, the more delicate the flavor, the lighter the wine, the richer the flavor, the richer the wine.
Marcia Writes: My rule of thumb is, the lighter the seafood, the lighter the wine, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Sancerre, and the heavier the seafood, the more heavy the wine should be to accompany it, like a California Chardonnay or Pouilly-Fuisse. Oysters, Clams, halibut, cod and tilapia are lighter, while calamari, salmon and swordfish tend to be on the heavier side. Shrimp and lobster on the other hand, could swing both ways in my book.
What foods are simply not wine-friendly?
Charles Writes: Southwestern chili based foods, spicy Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican. The locals would drink beer, so should you. I agree with Marcia about breakfast foods. On the other hand, I love “breakfast for dinner”, and a nice Macon-Villages (crisp Chardonnay), or Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, or even a dry crisp rosé would work beautifully with a cheesy omelet or Eggs Benedict……Oh and don’t forget the bacon.
Marcia Writes: Hotdogs, wings, nachos and other similar snack type foods are best paired with your beer of choice. Breakfast foods are best paired with mimosas for Bloody Mary’s, depending on your preference.
Really Good “Wine” movies to enjoy:
Bottle Shock (Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine)
A Good Year (Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard)
Somm (For wine geeks only.) Follows 4 men who study for, and take the Master Sommelier exam. One of the toughest in the world.
(Personally did not care for “Sideways”)
Kings of Pastry (For you food heads)
Don’t be afraid to cook with wine and beer- they add that extra something in spaghetti and bolognese sauce, braised meats, chicken, baked fish and chili as well as other sauces and salad dressings. Many cultures do this and there is a reason they do…because it works. France would not be what it is today without Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin. Nor would most any other country without fermented beverages in their cuisine.
Experiment and try new wines, particularly when recommended with various foods- you just might be pleasantly surprised. Visit local wineries and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Drinking wine with a salad dressed in a vinegar-based dressing isn’t the best choice because the vinegar clashes with the wine and tends to overpower it. Make your own vinaigrette and use lemon juice instead of vinegar. Then it would be wine-friendly.