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WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Robin Garr » Wed Aug 16, 2006 12:38 pm

More weird wine and food

Monday's discussion about a few particularly bad food-and-wine pairings prompted more than the usual flood of E-mail comments and questions, enough to justify staying on the topic for another day.

A few of you pointed out that even the worst examples I could come up with (with the possible exception of chocolate-covered catfish) aren't really so repulsive as to be inedible. That's worth repeating: Although an inky red like Shiraz will certainly overwhelm delicate white fish, just as a robust haunch of game will likely overpower a frothy little white wine, neither combination creates a <i>disgusting</i> flavor. The combinations may not be awe-inspiring, but they're not actually fatal.

This reinforces the fundamental point that I try to emphasize every time we talk about matching food and wine: Although many people find it daunting, even frightening, to be asked to choose a wine to go with dinner, it's really almost impossible to go completely wrong.

For most wine enthusiasts, pairing food and wine isn't an exercise in avoiding disaster; it's more about finding the combinations that go exceptionally well. The occasional match that sets off gustatory fireworks - including such classics as lamb and Cabernet, grilled steak and a bold, peppery Syrah, or lobster and a fine White Burgundy - stand out because they work so well. But wine is made to go with food, and if every combination doesn't make us shiver with ecstacy, it still washes down our food and whets our taste buds.

But, some of you asked, don't a few foods set up chemical reactions that "destroy" wine? The venerable Hugh Johnson seems to think so, issuing a stern warning in a short list of wine-and-food combos in his <I>Pocket Wine Book</I>, "Avoid peanuts; they destroy wine flavours; olives are also too piquant for many wines."

Um ... I don't <i>think</i> so. As much as I admire Mr. Johnson, I think he's off-base on this one.

Let's take a quick look at these and a handful of other foods that the conventional wisdom considers non-starters with wine in your glass:

<B>Peanuts:</B> Contrary to Hugh Johnson's wisdom, I've got no problem with a bowl of salted peanuts (or, for that matter, a bag of hot popcorn) with a glass of bubbly. It's a combination so enticing that your primary concern lies in over-indulgence because it tastes so good.

<B>Olives:</B> I'm blaming Johnson's editors for sneaking this in when he wasn't looking. I've probably eaten more Niçoise olives than are really good for me as snacks with Provence rosé; I've enjoyed olives as palate cleansers at the Sydney International Wine Competition, perhaps the world's leading event in the realm of matching wine and food.

<B>Asparagus:</B> Like other relatively strong-flavored vegetables, the flavor of asparagus can seem a little strange with wine, but remember the wine-pairing rule, "Match likes with likes." A grassy, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc can be stellar with asparagus. Remember, too, that an awkward ingredient can often be introduced to wine through intermediaries: Pour a rich Hollandaise on your asparagus and bring it up to meet a similarly rich and buttery Chardonnay; stir the asparagus into a risotto and don't spare the grated cheese, and it suddenly becomes friendly with a variety of wines from Sauvignon Blanc to Chianti.

<B>Artichokes:</B> This is another vegetable that's often falsely accused of being an enemy to wine, but I find this tasty cousin of the thistle a delicious wine match. Remember the Italian theory that artichokes make whatever follows taste sweeter, and err on the side of a dry, appropriately acidic wine - a Soave, perhaps - that will benefit from a hint of natural sweetness in the match.

<B>Eggs:</B> Some say eggs are a wine no-no, an opinion that's an absolute mystery to me. Fluffy, buttery scrambled eggs ring my chimes with fruity reds or crisp whites; add a filling of cheese, mushrooms or any other wine-friendly ingredient to a well-made omelet and you've got a brunch or light dinner that begs for wine.

<B>Blue cheese or goat cheese:</B> This seems to be a matter of personal taste, or possibly even genetic differences: Some people find that these cheeses create a bizarre "metallic" taste with red wines. I am not one of those people. In any case, either cheese should be fine with a dry white.

<B>Hot chile peppers:</B> I'm in the "barely possible" camp with this one; although I love fiery fare and am willing to risk an occasional "five-pepper" dish at my favorite Thai eateries, I'm not convinced that very hot food works or plays well with wine. In my opinion, a sip of wine turns the pleasant endorphin rush of hot chile peppers into something more like the pain of pouring alcohol on a burn. If you insist, though, I recommend a sweeter, lower-alcohol wine - an off-dry German Riesling, for example - or a sparkling wine. One of the few wines that will actually pair well with truly fiery fare is the lightly regarded Italian Lambrusco, which brings together low alcohol, light sweetness and palate-scrubbing fizz in one very modest package.

<B>LET'S HEAR ABOUT YOUR FAVORITES:</B>

In contrast with your many E-mails, I was surprised and a little disappointed to see so few votes in our Netscape WineLovers Community poll on "Worst food-and-wine match." The poll will run all week, so there's still plenty of time to vote. I hope you'll take a moment to do so: Click the preceding link to vote; then click "Results" to see how your opinion stacks up against other wine lovers around the world. Then come on back here and tell us about the wine-and-food matches you've enjoyed ... and those you haven't.
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Gary Barlettano

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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Gary Barlettano » Wed Aug 16, 2006 12:55 pm

Robin,

You mention the guideline "match likes with likes" and I'm certain most folks adhere to this guideline. For some reason, however, I seem to enjoy opposites, e.g. a nice tart or higher acid wine with a dish having a creamy, buttery sauce. It's kind of like what my mom used to say, "We're having applesauce with the pork chops to cut the grease." It's the contrast that interests me. I'm wondering how many other folks share this particular taste.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Sam Platt » Wed Aug 16, 2006 1:31 pm

My favorite all time "odd" food-wine pairing was Elk jerky and a low end CdP. A friend had given me some home-made jerky from an Elk that he got on a hunting trip. I'm not a big "jerky" fan, but I felt compelled to try it in order to offer an educated comment on the performance of his dehydrator. The CdP was left over from two nights prior. The spices and gamey/smokey flavor of the jerky created a real synergy with the leathery/earthy/peppery backbone of the wine. This accidental pairing was perfect in a way that planned pairing rarely are.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Robin Garr » Wed Aug 16, 2006 1:42 pm

Gary Barlettano wrote:Robin,

You mention the guideline "match likes with likes" and I'm certain most folks adhere to this guideline. For some reason, however, I seem to enjoy opposites, e.g. a nice tart or higher acid wine with a dish having a creamy, buttery sauce. It's kind of like what my mom used to say, "We're having applesauce with the pork chops to cut the grease." It's the contrast that interests me. I'm wondering how many other folks share this particular taste.


All kidding aside, Gary, "likes with likes" is one good rule, but "seek interesting contrasts" is a good one, too. And the "cut-the-grease" character of acidic food accompaniments - wine *or* applesauce - is a culinary tradition of long standing.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Robin Garr » Wed Aug 16, 2006 1:43 pm

Sam Platt wrote:My favorite all time "odd" food-wine pairing was Elk jerky and a low end CdP. A friend had given me some home-made jerky from an Elk that he got on a hunting trip. I'm not a big "jerky" fan, but I felt compelled to try it in order to offer an educated comment on the performance of his dehydrator. The CdP was left over from two nights prior. The spices and gamey/smokey flavor of the jerky created a real synergy with the leathery/earthy/peppery backbone of the wine. This accidental pairing was perfect in a way that planned pairing rarely are.


I can easily see that one, Sam ... game is great with red Rhones. Smoky flavors are great with red Rhones. I'd say that both of these characteristics fit into the broad "likes with likes" category. Sounds like a great flavor experience.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Howie Hart » Wed Aug 16, 2006 1:56 pm

Under the Egg category you could add souffles. Another food category that has been overlooked here is general breakfast items such as pancakes and waffles. About the only wine I have had with these are bubblies - I'm thinking Christmas morning brunch type of meal after the kids opened their presents.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Lisa Roskam » Wed Aug 16, 2006 5:53 pm

Robin - I vigorously applaud your determined food and wine pairing attitude. I am definitely feeling inspired and am thinking I will start off with the souffle (in restaurant of course) and work my way up to the artichokes.

Red wine and cheese with a fresh baguette is a frequent Saturday lunch at our house, and who could turn down a 20-year-old Saint-Emilion with some nice stinky Camembert as an after-dinner treat? Mmmm!

Lisa
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Thomas » Wed Aug 16, 2006 6:18 pm

Gary Barlettano wrote:Robin,

You mention the guideline "match likes with likes" and I'm certain most folks adhere to this guideline. For some reason, however, I seem to enjoy opposites, e.g. a nice tart or higher acid wine with a dish having a creamy, buttery sauce. It's kind of like what my mom used to say, "We're having applesauce with the pork chops to cut the grease." It's the contrast that interests me. I'm wondering how many other folks share this particular taste.


As far as my palate is concerned, contrast is the more interesting way to go. I don't shun Chianti with acidic tomato sauce, but I don't think to do it as often as I think to pair a lush southern Italian red with the stuff. And the acids in wine are perfect for "cutting the grease" of many foods.

But then, I am 100% Italian stock who married a Welsh/Irish woman. You wanna talk about contrast...sheesh.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Thomas » Wed Aug 16, 2006 6:21 pm

Lisa Roskam wrote:Robin - I vigorously applaud your determined food and wine pairing attitude. I am definitely feeling inspired and am thinking I will start off with the souffle (in restaurant of course) and work my way up to the artichokes.

Red wine and cheese with a fresh baguette is a frequent Saturday lunch at our house, and who could turn down a 20-year-old Saint-Emilion with some nice stinky Camembert as an after-dinner treat? Mmmm!

Lisa


Lisa,

If you are near Paris, there is a restaurant not far from the Tul. Gardens that is called simply: Souffle. Four souffle courses can be had with some interesting wine pairings. Expensive, but was a heavenly experience that I have had three or four times.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Shannon Bordelon » Wed Aug 16, 2006 6:31 pm

My favorite easy food matches that I suggest for my hosts at my wine tastings are M&M's with Merlots, Dark Chocolate with Cabernet & Red Zinfandels. Popcorn with buttery chardonnays or smoked gouda, Potato chips with Pinot Grigios, anything with goat cheese for Sauvignon Blancs. Moscato and cheesecake or we have a red Moscato with Italian Cream Cake (die and go to heaven with this pairing!) and my last easy food pairing - Alsatian Riesling with Funyons. Andrea Immer wrote a great book called Great Food Made Simple. She said that Alsatian Rieslings go with onion rings, garlic and leeks. That is when I came up with Funyons. It fun, easy and no one expects it at a wine tasting. It is a great match!

I look forward to seeing what other people like to pair together! :D

Cheers,

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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Lisa Roskam » Wed Aug 16, 2006 6:34 pm

Thomas wrote:
Lisa,

If you are near Paris, there is a restaurant not far from the Tul. Gardens that is called simply: Souffle. Four souffle courses can be had with some interesting wine pairings. Expensive, but was a heavenly experience that I have had three or four times.


Thanks for the restaurant rec Thomas. I do live in Paris so maybe I'll have to save up for a treat and try Souffle. I'm sure they have an interesting wine list and a sommelier to help out with wine selections. It might be informative to hear how the sommelier in a souffle-centered restaurant recommends wines.

Lisa
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Shannon Bordelon » Wed Aug 16, 2006 6:41 pm

My favorite easy food matches that I suggest for my hosts at my wine tastings are M&M's with Merlots, Dark Chocolate with Cabernet & Red Zinfandels. Popcorn with buttery chardonnays or smoked gouda, Potato chips with Pinot Grigios, anything with goat cheese for Sauvignon Blancs. Moscato and cheesecake or we have a red Moscato with Italian Cream Cake (die and go to heaven with this pairing!) and my last easy food pairing - Alsatian Riesling with Funyons. Andrea Immer wrote a great book called Great Food Made Simple. She said that Alsatian Rieslings go with onion rings, garlic and leeks. That is when I came up with Funyons. It fun, easy and no one expects it at a wine tasting. It is a great match!

I look forward to seeing what other people like to pair together! :D

Cheers,

Shannon
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Robin Garr » Wed Aug 16, 2006 7:17 pm

Lisa Roskam wrote:who could turn down a 20-year-old Saint-Emilion with some nice stinky Camembert as an after-dinner treat? Mmmm!


Not me! Thanks for your comments, Lisa, and by the way, welcome to our forum! I've enjoyed reading your recent posts, and I'm glad you felt comfortable about jumping right in to our conversations.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by James Roscoe » Wed Aug 16, 2006 7:51 pm

Welcome to both Lisa and Shannon who have jumped in with some excellent posts. I wonder why people balk at the peanuts and champagne idea. It seems like a natural to me.

Robin, with Thai food, aside from your Riesling suggestion I would also throw out Gruner as a great wine with Asian fare. It's been a hit with people I have gone out with. Gruner tends to be easy on the pocket book too. Of course there is nothing wrong with a cold draft or a nice lager or pils to wash down the spicey food too. That's a pretty easy pairing in most cases.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Kevin Glowacki » Wed Aug 16, 2006 9:42 pm

Here are a few of my favorites:

Sparkling - sushi (especially rosé sparklers), fried chicken, omelettes

Zinfandel - dark chocolate, burgers, sweet-n-spicy sauced beef ribs

German Spätlese Riesling - Asian dishes (spicy or not), Étouffée

Alsatian Gewurztraminer - Another favorite with Asian cuisine

Vouvray (off-dry) - Asian again

Brachetto d'Acqui - anything chocolate

Malbec - ribeyes

Sauternes / Tokaji Aszú - apricot fried pie
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Shannon Bordelon » Thu Aug 17, 2006 12:52 am

I like peanuts with sparkling wines - I just didn't comment. :D
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Shannon Bordelon » Thu Aug 17, 2006 12:52 am

I also like Malbec with a Rasberry Chipolte sauce poured over cream cheese and served with wheat thins!
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Thu Aug 17, 2006 1:35 am

Nice one, welcome to the forum. Interested to know about your business. I hooked up with your website but all sorts of computer problems after that so switched off.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Thomas » Thu Aug 17, 2006 10:44 am

A strawberry in each glass of sparkling wine--deeeevine!

Ruby Port with 80% cacao--deedeeevine. (Ruby on its own is, to me, rather boring.)

And, NOT WINE, but a rich espresso with just foam from steamed milk, paired with deep, dark cherries is as good as it gets.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Paul B. » Thu Aug 17, 2006 11:13 am

My strangest and most unexpected workable odd food/wine match was between a German-inspired recipe for Hasenpfeffer that called for a bacon and rosemary reduction sauce, and my 2002 homemade dry Concord. I never thought it would work, but the bold acidity and strawberry musk of the wine somehow harmonized with the delicate white-meat nature of the rabbit, notwithstanding the savoury bacon/herb component that would suggest otherwise. Normally I either pair a northern Italian red or Château des Charmes' Gamay Droit with that particular dish.
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Bill Spohn » Thu Aug 17, 2006 11:42 am

A note on the old Asian hot (spicy) foods with Gewurz.Riesling idea.

One can say that these combinations work not badly or very poorly, depending on which way you approach the question.

If you are really saying "What wine is the least altered/harmed by submitting it to food like this?" then the Riesling/Gewurz answer is acceptable.

If you come at it from the point of view that asks "Is there any wine that will be complemented by this food?" or even "Will having these wines with this food not damage the wine experience (compared to drinking them without food)?" Then the answer is a dismal negatory on that theory!

My answer is that if you absolutley HAVE to drink wine with spicy food, drink something you don't really care about, or better yet, drink beer.

Frankly Charlotte, wine doesn't go with that sort of cuisine - not if it is WAWKI (wine-as-we-know-it).
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Robin Garr » Thu Aug 17, 2006 12:09 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:A note on the old Asian hot (spicy) foods with Gewurz.Riesling idea.

One can say that these combinations work not badly or very poorly, depending on which way you approach the question.


That's pretty much where I was headed when I wrote "For most wine enthusiasts, pairing food and wine isn't an exercise in avoiding disaster; it's more about finding the combinations that go exceptionally well."

If you are really saying "What wine is the least altered/harmed by submitting it to food like this?" then the Riesling/Gewurz answer is acceptable.


I'm not sure I'd evaluate Riesling and Gewurz together in this context, though. To me, Riesling works better with fiery fare if it's off-dry and low-alcohol. Gewurz has a distinctly different flavor profile.

My answer is that if you absolutley HAVE to drink wine with spicy food, drink something you don't really care about, or better yet, drink beer.


Frankly Charlotte, wine doesn't go with that sort of cuisine - not if it is WAWKI (wine-as-we-know-it).


Which brings us right back to my Lambrusco recommendation. It's not WAWKI, but it actually works ... and the food improves the wine. :D
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Bill Spohn » Thu Aug 17, 2006 12:45 pm

Robin Garr wrote:Which brings us right back to my Lambrusco recommendation. It's not WAWKI, but it actually works ... and the food improves the wine. :D


Maybe you have found THE use for wine from hybrid grapes, Robin! (Well, that and distilling it down to make paint thinner, or using it to make sauerkraut) :P
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Re: WineAdvisor: More weird wine and food

by Thomas » Thu Aug 17, 2006 3:09 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:
Robin Garr wrote:Which brings us right back to my Lambrusco recommendation. It's not WAWKI, but it actually works ... and the food improves the wine. :D


Maybe you have found THE use for wine from hybrid grapes, Robin! (Well, that and distilling it down to make paint thinner, or using it to make sauerkraut) :P


Bill,

It's Lambrusco Robin is talking about, an Italian, "frizzante" concoction that is light and on the sweet side, not Vitis labrusca, a vine species, which isn't exactly a hybrid.
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