Some people, and maybe you are one of them, have avoided wine for all of their drinking life because it just seems like it’s way too complicated.
Beer is easy to deal with. And it tastes good. You just open the can, or pull the tap, or unscrew the bottle and get with it. It does not ask for much in return, and there are no rules for pairing beer with food. Steak? Yep, it goes with that. Hot dog? Oh yeah, works nicely. Taco chips and cheese? I’m there.
Mixed drinks are also along the same lines. You find something you like, and you determine when you want to have it, more than what you have to have it with. The occasion becomes the driving point rather than wondering if that quality of vodka goes with the trout.
But wines, good gosh, not only do they come in a wide variety of flavors and colors from all over the world, but they also seem to come with a set of rules that are not consumer-friendly. Hell, often the labels can’t even be understood, unless you are a linguist with an appreciation of geography.
Then you have to know rules and regulations from remote rural areas in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Austria. Being a botanist will also be a plus for you, and having a grasp of vinification techniques can be important.
When all you really want to do is choose a bottle of fermented grape juice from a menu and open it with good friends and a bowl of pasta. Give me a friggin’ break!
Look, modern society is complicated. You did not just walk up to the computer and suddenly know what to do. You did not just climb behind the wheel of your car and realize how to work the cruise control, or even know how to set the push buttons to the radio station you want to hear. Your cell phone is … well, you get the point.
Just about anything worth your while is worth a bit of preparation time.
At least, however, let’s try to lighten up about wine. Yes, you can devote a lot of effort and time to the topic, but then again, you can pull the cork, or unscrew the cap, and get into it. You don’t have to know the mechanics of power steering to appreciate what it brings to your automobile experience. So, with wine, you don’t have to know so much in order to enjoy it.
Let’s spend a moment here to get over the food-pairing issue. Many folks drive themselves, and maybe those around them, crazy finding just the right wine to go with food. At its most basic level, it’s not that complicated.
A few of the factors that can help you create a pairing:
- If you are enjoying ethnic food, like Italian or French, what are the people of those areas from which the dish originated drinking? Northern Italian is lighter fare, not with heavy tomato-based sauces, so consider a crisp white wine or a lighter red style. Around Tuscany, they enjoy some whites, but mostly heavier-style reds made with the sangiovese grape from the area of Chianti. These pair well with the heavier-style “red gravy,” a New Orleans term for marinara sauce.
- If you are enjoying New Orleans cuisine, think in terms of color and spice. Are you having shrimp remoulade? Consider a white wine from Germany, like a dry riesling, or a white wine from the Loire Valley in France, like sauvignon blanc. These crisp wines have a strong acid backbone which helps them work with the spice. How about a trout with a heavy garlic-butter sauce? Look to a lighter red, like pinot noir.
- If you have a taste for Oriental food, again, look to dry, not heavy alcohol, red or white wines from Germany, Spain, or France, or their American cousins.
- Desserts are usually laden with sugar. There are wines that complement those aspects, like port, zinfandel or even heavy cabernet sauvignon.
None of these guidelines is absolute. If you are having a Creole-styled fish, and you want a red wine, don’t be timid. Try it. The old rules about “white wine with fish; red wine with meat” are still acceptable, but times have changed. Some white wines today, like certain chardonnays from California, are high-alcohol, big oak, lots of butter components that really can overwhelm a delicate fish dish. Then there are the lighter reds that may not be the best match for a ribeye steak. Those big, jammy, high-alcohol cabernet sauvignons are truly not food-friendly, except maybe for a major t-bone steak, but if your palate says those are what you want to drink with whatever, full speed ahead.
Importantly, go with what you like. Anyway, our cuisine around here does not conform to what folks in other parts of the country are eating. As far as I am concerned, that’s a free pass. We can pretty much do what we want.
There are, of course, marriages made in heaven. A delicate salmon, poached and topped with a light butter sauce, is grand for a pinot noir from Burgundy. A pork chop, stuffed with a spicy pork dressing, literally sings with a northern California merlot. An over-achieving Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon takes to dark chocolate like ducks to water. And that reminds me that duck confit and syrah from the Rhone region are bringers of happiness. Oysters on the half-shell, lemon only, and champagne will have you thinking about everything good that ever happened to you. And fresh crab, again lemon only, with a Sancerre from France completely lights up your world.
That being said, and as I noted earlier, the topic is deserving of a little of your time to consider the big universe out there. You can’t get the most enjoyment possible if you are not a curious and knowledgeable, at some level, consumer.
Besides, there is a lot of fun awaiting you just doing the research. Let me know when you want to study together.