Well forget about it, 'cause that's never gonna happen.
This perfect-with-everything wine is as elusive as the Holy Grail -- virtually impossible to find. Different foods prefer different wines, depending on the sauce, spices and other ingredients. The proliferation of bogus, color-coded "rules" doesn't make the quest any easier. I recently heard a tantalizing rumor that the rigid red-wine-with-red-meat myth (yes, myth) originated after World War II, when American beef producers had excess stock, and the French had excess red wine. The two factions got together, made the pact, and a fallacy was born.
I'm not sure how much grain this rumor holds, but to test the myth, try an experiment: Prepare a piece of red meat (beef, lamb, game), seasoning only one half (salt, pepper, garlic). Broil that sucker, and try a chilled Chardonnay with separate bites from both the seasoned and unseasoned sides. Then try it with red wine, maybe a Cabernet, traditionally a "perfect" match to steak. Taste the difference, stake your claim and see if the rumor mill is right.
But other, more common-sense rules are good ones. First off, start with a wine you like. More than likely, you'll be consuming it before the meal and between courses, so thirst-quenching appeal is a necessity. Secondly, you don't want to overpower the flavor of the food, so match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. Light, dry white wines like Sauvignon Blanc pair well with light, delicate cuisines like sauteed seafood. But throw in a heavier tomato-based sauce, and a fragile wine will drown. In that instance, choose a heavier yet fruity wine, like Sangiovese (Chianti). Treat charbroiled, grilled fish -- especially fatty salmon -- to a glass of medium- bodied Pinot Noir. Thirdly, strive for contrasts and complements and you won't go wrong. Rich, cream-based sauces call for something lighter and sharper, like an oaked Chardonnay. |But an earthy mushroom sauce poured over a grilled steak is a perfect companion for an earthy Cabernet. Spicy foods are always difficult to match, but their contrasting partner is sweetness. Hot peppers and curries can be tamed with sweeter Gewurztraminer or Rieslings.
To explore how acids and fats from foods affect your wine palate, try the apple and cheese comparison. Choose a highly acidic, white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy a sip, and then take a bite of a tart, green apple. Try the wine again. Notice how it tastes different. Follow up with a bite of creamy, fatty cheese such as brie. Taste the same wine and remark the difference. The apple is loaded with acidity, so after the wine, your mouth might pucker. The cheese, high in fat and protein, should highly contrast the acids, and be an excellent food and wine match.
And lastly, one final rule: Sparkling wine pairs well with everything. Somehow, this stuff makes friends with all food, and most people. So, when in doubt and every- one is ordering something different, reach for the bubbly. Try some of these wines with your own experiments:
Fetzer Echo Ridge 2000 Johannisberg Riesling ($10) : A touch of sweetness that is perfect for balancing with Indian curry. It's blended with 18 percent Muscat grape that gives it quite a perfumey aroma.
Buena Vista 2000 Sauvignon Blanc ($9) 1/2: Light and refreshing with grassy flavors and aroma. And, at this low cost, the price is really easy to swallow.
Dry Creek Vineyard 1998 Meritage ($26) : Medium-bodied, earthy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Loads of berry fruit. A great food wine to match with mushroom sauces, and pretty damn good all by itself too.
Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy. Comments? E-mail email@example.com, write to Corkscrew, 1310 E. Ninth Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call 1-800-341-LOAF.
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