PULL THAT CORK
UNSCREW THAT TOP
Wine makes me happy: I am long overdue in sharing my wine ideas. I’ve cooked several dishes and not mentioned a thing about the wine I drank (or would) with the dish. For that, please accept my apology. If any of you have waited for my recommendations to drink wine, then you owe me an apology. Wine is not an exact science. I can’t tell you absolutely this wine goes with that dish. I can however tell you what I like and what I don’t like. I can also tell you I do not have an unlimited budget or unlimited storage capacity. So that being said, I am just an ordinary wine guy. So if you like wine with your meals, or, think you might like to try wine with a few dishes, try a few of these.
Complement, contrast, or just plain tasty: I prefer wines that complement the dish. If there’s lemon in the dish, I like lemon in the wine. If the dish is spicy savory, I like a spicy red. If the dish is spicy sweet, I prefer an off sweet spicy white. For example: we’ve cooked ribs. My ribs have a chili powder based rub and sauce. With that spicy red flavor I like a spicy Zinfandel. I like a Zinfandel with spicy red chili too. I’m not a big fan of the big, jammy, fruit bomb Zinfandels. Maybe with a hunk of Stilton or other stinky cheese but I prefer the peppery, spicy style. I’m lucky to be close to the “foothills” in California, famous for Zinfandel. There are dozens of fine producers but producers like Renwood, and Ravenswood, to name a few, are readily available.
Sweet and hot: Not the wine you bring home to mom but fun none the less. We made some red shrimp curry. This is a sweet and hot dish. The first time I had Thai I was convinced I’d have to drink something besides wine. What could possibly offset the heat? The wine selections at my local favorite Thai restaurant are very limited. They have one chardonnay, one Riesling, and one Gewürztraminer. What the heck please bring one of each? Much to my amazement these wines worked great with my hot curry. I’m not a sweet wine fan by any stretch but the sweet of the wines cut right through the heat of the sweet coconut and curry. Next time you order up that red or green hot curry, try an off sweet white. Good news about these wines, they can be very inexpensive.
Cover your bets: Realistically there are thousands of wineries in the world with literally hundreds of thousands of wine choices. There are mass producers readily available most everywhere, and little cult wineries that make only a few cases that only friends and family get to enjoy. My personal rules are really simple. If the food is delicate don’t overpower them with a big wine. If you’re having scallops, have a nice light white wine. If you’re having a big, fatty rib eye, match it with a big red like a cabernet based wine (or similar). A little more delicate like salmon, try a Pinot Noir or light red like a Syrah, Grenache blend. Tomato based Italian food, a stout Chianti or Brunello, red wines that can hold up to the acid in the tomatoes. Complement the garlic, lemon and anchovy of a Caesar salad with a full bodied white, a chardonnay with lemon and some oak. Pull out the grapefruit, lemon flavors with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris (or Grigio). Try those shrimp with a dry Rosé or even some sparkling wine. Lamb is wonderful with a Spanish Rioja or even some Australian Shiraz. Meritages or blends work well too. Sauces and spices may dictate the direction you take. The licorice taste in Tarragon may push you toward a wine that tones down that flavor. The earthiness of mushrooms pairs well with the earthiness of a Malbec or Mendoza, an Argentinean wine. Try a big Chilean red. Maybe one of the most undervalued and improved wine producing regions (in my humble opinion) in the last 20 years. Try a Washington State cabernet, some great wines at great prices.
Tips: Try an amber or dark beer with spicy barbeque. It pairs well. It’s in the sauce, goes well with the dish. It’s hot outside and you’re barbequing, have a beer. Don’t be afraid of the quality of wine in a bottle just because it has a screw top. Some fabulous wines come with a screw top. Australia and New Zealand have embraced the screw top. California has many. Not as sexy as the cork but we’ll be seeing more and more use of the screw top. Start trying wines in your price point. If it’s $15 or less, buy some and compare. You may stumble upon a “sleeper” that is head and shoulders above the others. Only way to know is to start tasting. The recession has been good for wine consumers and brought many producers back to earth. Wine is often on sale. Keep an eye out for specials and loss leaders at your store or supermarket. I found a Pinot from a reputable producer for less than $7 a bottle. Recommended retail, $28. The label was changing, not the quality. Be a wine hawk. Keep an eye out for specials and sales. Have no fear.