White wine with steak? Red wine with fish? A few varietals that really swing.
by David Marglin
One of the great wine myths of this past century (wine writers
like to muse upon a grand span at its close) was that red wine goes only with
red meat and white wine goes only with "white" meats, including fish and fowl. Like
all myths, this one offered a simple way to get a handle on the extraordinary
-- much as the myth of the sun god, Helios, driving his shining chariot across
the sky explained the light of day to the ancient Greeks. But pairing wine and
food goes to the very essence of being a wine lover, and there are few rules.
It's true that red meats, for the most part, work best with red wines,
especially big wines like cabs, merlots, syrahs, and zins. Big chewy reds go
best with red meat, and vice versa. But you can find white wines that
make a steak taste better or complement a succulent lamb chop. For example, a
few sémillon-chardonnay blends and some straight chards can stand up to
bloody meat, and even some rieslings and pinot gris will rally if necessary.
And so many red wines work so well with so many "white" meats and fish, it
isn't even funny. When you order chicken, think zinfandel, like any of the 1998
Ridge Vineyard offerings (especially Pagani Ranch and Paso Robles Dusi Ranch),
or those beauties from Mendocino like Mariah or Lolonis. With salmon, I love
pinot noir, especially those from the Sonoma Coast like Wild Hog, Flowers, and
Littorai, as well as the new batch of 1998 Oregons, including Torii Mor,
anything from Ken Wright, Hamacher, Adelsheim, Willamette Valley Vineyards, or
Willakenzie Estate. The 1998 Oregons are pretty much all good, and they're so
fruity they work beautifully with Thai and Indian cuisines. Big pinots are
grown and made all over the world, and many of them work wonderfully with less
delicate fish (sauce depending, of course). I love Coldstream Hills from
Australia, and Martinborough's New Zealand pinots have wowed wine critics for
years. South African pinots are also coming on strong.
And other red wines swing too. I've recently fallen in love with grenache, and
I find a lot of 1998 Southern Rhônes are bold accompaniments to fried
chicken, paellas, fried seafood, even Jasper's signature pan-roasted lobster.
The key is to think about the flavors of the wine, but the problem with this
advice, alas, is that most folks do not know the flavors of most wines from
memory. And you almost never know exactly how even the most well-prepared dish
is going to taste. So, to me, it's all about ballpark figures, and observance
of these five simple rules.
* Some foods are wine-proof. If you get that spicy-lemony beef
salad at Elephant Walk, don't expect any red to like it. Red wines don't care
for citrus, nor do they like vinaigrettes. Or raw fruit. So you just have to
forget about finding any good wine to pair with certain dishes. Drink beer.
* There is a red wine for almost any food that goes well with white
wine (although the reverse does not hold true). The trick, of course, is
finding it. In most instances, there's someone out there who can help. You can,
for example, e-mail us here at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can make some
recommendations. If you are at a restaurant, someone can almost always suggest
which reds cross over nicely. Any of your many local wine merchants can show
you a few options.
* Softer, fruitier reds generally work better with foods that
traditionally pair well with whites. Use common sense: don't serve a big
merlot with Dover sole, or a massive shiraz with some delicately spiced chicken
* Plonk won't work. Plonk means your basic under-$10 wines, very
approachable, with names like Turning Leaf or Ecco Domani. They are decent
enough, but they are so clean-cut that, in my experience, they don't excite the
palate in an experimental crossover moment. If you wanna swing, spend money or
choose very wisely, with the help of a professional.
* Learn from mistakes. If you try to match a red with something
that's usually paired with white, you're likely to succeed if you have help or
know what you are doing. But sometimes, the combo won't work. If you like the
wine itself, I think that if something doesn't click, itthe varietal that isn't
working. Assuming the dish is not wine-proof, remember what was off, and go
back to your wine professional for another match.
The trick when pairing red wine with not-red meats, fish, and vegetables is to
keep an open mind with your open wine. It may feel a little kinky to drink a
red in a white situation, but to each his or her own, right? The magic of wine
is that it gives you so many choices and such staggering variety.
Save the date: in addition to hosting the Boston Wine Expo on January 20 and
21, the World Trade Center is also the site of the annual Spinazzola gathering
(for those of you who keep your money in your mattress and do not invest in the
stock market) on January 19, at a cost of $175 per person.
David Marglin can be reached at email@example.com.
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