Ask a Wino – September ’08
September 10, 2008 by Christine Go
With Christine Go
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “which wine should I serve with dinner?” After all, some food and wine pairings are made in heaven (e.g. dark chocolate and Port), while others (e.g. fish and Cabernet Sauvignon), well, let’s just say that they are suboptimal. Here’s what I learned in my Food and Wine Pairing class (thanks Lenny!): the trick is to match the overall body of a wine (e.g., the weight or percent alcohol and flavor intensity) with the overall body of food (e.g., the weight or percent fat and flavor intensity). What does that mean? Here’s an example: rib-eye steak (very heavy, rich and high fat content) paired with a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon with 14.5% alcohol. The Cab holds up to the steak, and the fat in the meat softens the tannins in the wine. Compare that to grilled chicken (light and low fat) paired with a dry Riesling with 12% alcohol. The light body and crispness of the Riesling pairs well with the chicken, while the Cab would overwhelm it. So what food and wine pairings do you recommend? Send your comments and questions to email@example.com. Go ahead and experiment with different pairings; just don’t serve me a Cab with my halibut!
When I’m ordering wine for the table at a restaurant, and my guests have all ordered different types of entrées, what type of wine should I order that will pair well with a variety of foods?
This happened to me recently: friends ordered seafood, steak, pasta and chicken, then asked me to choose the wine—as long as it wasn’t white. After mulling this over, I finally decided on a bottle of newly-released Washington State Sangiovese (which is the primary component of Chianti). Why? Young Sangiovese is fruity, light-to-medium bodied, with moderate alcohol and enough acidity to make it a good partner for lots of foods. Plus, it’s not as tannic as a Cab, so it can work with seafood. The Sangiovese was a success; my reputation as a wino was preserved. Incidentally, my other “go-to” wines for similar situations include: Pinot Noir, a dry rosé, or even a full-bodied but not too oaky Chardonnay.
As red wine drinkers, we’d like to know why people would want to drink white wine. We just don’t like them, but we know that there are “reasons” or some rules about when to drink whites (in warm weather, with certain foods). Any suggestions on which whites to try to “turn” a hardcore red drinker around?
My advice is the same: forget about reasons or rules, and drink what you like. If you don’t like white wines by themselves, try pairing them with different foods. We’re lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest with access to fresh Dungeness crab, so next time you have some, try a Washington Chardonnay; it’s a delicious pairing. Maybe it won’t turn you into an avid white wine drinker, but perhaps you’ll appreciate the complementary flavors. There are lots of free wine-tastings around town, so take the opportunity to try some other, less well-known whites, such as Roussanne or Viognier. Another suggestion, try a Sauternes, which is made from botrytized Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It’s full-bodied, sweet, but with good acidity to keep it well-balanced, not cloying. The classic pairing for Sauternes is foie gras, but try it for dessert. You may find that you like some white wines after all!
What is “noble rot?”
“Noble rot” is the familiar name for botrytis cinerea, a fungus that infects ripe white grapes. Before you say “ugh, gross,” let me tell you that there are some amazing dessert wines made from these moldy grapes. If you’re ever lucky enough to try a Château d’Yquem Sauternes, you’ll know what I mean—that’s probably the most famous wine made from botrytized grapes. Botrytis needs the right amount of warmth and humidity to form, usually on thin-skinned grapes, e.g. Sémillon. In order to germinate its spores, botrytis punctures the skin of the grape, so the grape dries out, concentrating the sugars. Who would ever think of making wine from moldy grapes? Well, you can thank a Hungarian priest from the Tokay region, who started experimenting with Furmint, a native grape, back in the mid-1600’s. One year, the harvest was delayed, botrytis took hold, and the priest decided to harvest the moldy grapes anyway—a leap of faith!—and the dessert wine, Tokay Aszú, was born.
Besides being a passionate wine consumer, Christine N. Go has a certificate in Wine Marketing from the Wine Academy at SSCC, and has worked at several wineries. Most recently, she was the director of marketing at Apex Cellars. Christine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .