Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Pair like a (semi) Pro | September 1, 2009

Having duped a few folks into thinking I’m an oenological expert via the awesome power of the interweb, I was recently charged with wine pairings for a meal my mom-in-law was preparing.


First course: Simple mixed greens with a mustardy vinaigrette

Second course: Maple-glazed pork tenderloin, chantilly potatoes gratin, Grand Marnier carrots

Dessert: Peach cobbler a la mode

Plans laid out, I went to work. While I’m by no means a pairing expert, there are a few I guidelines I subscribe to that can make the experience more enjoyable. While the #1 pairing guideline is “drink what you like with what you like to eat, and ‘rules’ be damned,” I like a lot of different wine and a lot of different food (it’s my cross to bear), so I opt to go a little further. Here are a couple pointers I keep in my back pocket when trying to find the perfect “food” wine. Remember: these are “pointers”, not rules. Like Outback Steakhouse, there are no rules…

…I bet there really are rules at Outback Steakhouse. Do you think I could walk in there, eat, then leave without paying? Upon being confronted by management, I’d simply claim that I chose their establishment because I didn’t have time for “rules”, such as paying for said meal. I also wonder if someone has ever taken their pants off while eating at Outback…

…anyway- blokes and shielas- onto the pointers:

Very loose pointer #1) Very high alcohol wines are better drunk on their own than with food (exception being very hearty and robust red meat…venison, NY Strip and Ribeye steaks, lambs, and stews)

Very loose pointer #2) High alcohol makes spicy food just taste “hot”

Very loose pointer #3) High acidity heightens the flavors of food, and balances the richness of fatty foods. High-acid white grapes (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc) and red grapes (Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel) can be great with food

Very loose pointer #4) Wines with “floral/spice” profiles- like Gewurztraminer- can really work well with highly-spiced foods (i.e. Pacific Rim cuisine)

Very loose pointer #5) Red wines with lots of jammy fruit flavors work well with smoky, sweet dishes like BBQ

Very loose pointer #6) Desserts need wines that are as sweet or sweeter than said dessert

Using these nuggets of info, I went out and selected 5 different bottles with the meal:


I thought about naming the selections from right to left, but wouldn’t that just be downright silly? Anyway, here they are (from left to right, throwing no curveballs your way):

Trimbach Gewurztraminer (Alsace, France)
Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris (Columbia Valley, Washington State)
San Fabiano Conti Borghini Baldovinetti Chianti (Tuscany, Italy)
Clos LaChance Zinfandel (Central Coast, California)
Rudolf Müller Eiswein (Rheinhessen/Pfalz, Germany)

Okay, we took the Gewurz and the Pinot Gris to go with the salad. Just in case you didn’t know, Pinot Gris and the more market-prevalent Pinot Grigio are the same grape. However, often when grown in Oregon or Alsace, France, the resulting wine is richer and heavier than a crisp, light Italian Pinot Grigio. Regardless, it was still a little light for the mustardy vinaigrette, which overpowered it. The Gewurz, on the other hand, had a spicy, floral nature to it that just worked with the dressing. Furthermore, Gewurz is a low-acid grape, so the lower acidity in the wine did not clash with the vinegar in the dressing. Winner = Gewurztraminer, and I’d try it again anytime with a mustard-based sauce.

Next, the plates of maple glazed pork and cheesy potatoes captured our attention. I opted for a Chianti (made from the Sangiovese grape) and a California Zinfandel. Why? Sangiovese has this hard-to-describe rustic quality to it: I always think it tastes a ton like dried cherries, and it also tends to have some herbal quality (and some say orange peel). Mostly, it has very high acid. It’s also low in tannin, so it’s not too structured for a mild meat like pork. Lastly, the Italian wines tend to be lower in alcohol (this one was I think 12.5%), so they really are food-friendly. So, this mild, rustic pork- a meat that works so well with fruit flavors- paired well with the cherry. The high acid cut through the richness of the pork and potatoes, and it also balanced the sweetness (think of how much sugar you put in lemonade, but it never tastes “too” sweet…same thing).

The Zinfandel was kind of a rare find. It only had 13.5% alcohol, which seems rare…you can always find ones that are 15%, 15.5%, sometimes even 16% (has to do with the uneven ripening of the grapes…another post). So, the lower alcohol helped with the food. Also, I LOVE Zinfandel with BBQ. It’s got huge berry flavors and lots of spicy black pepper character. It’s also got pretty good acid by nature. However, this one was a little subtle. A good pairing, but the nod has to go to the Chianti.

The last pairing was a peach cobbler in a hot, flaky crust with vanilla ice cream. Good enough by itself, but if you haven’t been pairing desserts with dessert wines, you’re definitely MISSIN’ OUT. And Eiswein is especially ballin’. German for “ice wine”, the grapes- usually Riesling- are left on the vine until very ripe; so late into the season that they freeze. They’re picked and pressed while still frozen, the ice is removed, and all that is left is super-concentrated grape juice. Low in alcohol, syrupy-thick, and very sweet, you’d think this would just over-sugar the dessert. However, that’s where the beauty of the Riesling grape comes in. Since it’s naturally INCREDIBLY high in acid, even the very ripe grapes maintain enough acidity to balance the substantial sugar. What’s left is an apricot, tangerine nectar of goodness. The acidity balanced the richness of the pie crust and ice cream, and just heightened the sweet flavors of the peaches. Bottom line: this pairing was “punch a Jonas Brother in the face” good. Try it. Try it now!

Okay. I know this post may have come off a little snobby. Sometimes, wine pairing can seem that way. But, if you consider yourself quite the gastronaut- with a great love for good food- you can have some fun pairing. When it works, both the food and the wine taste better. Even if it doesn’t, you gain a little experience. And always remember that what works for you may not work for others. That’s okay! You’re taste buds ain’t my taste buds. However, I’ve found my “pointers” to rarely let me down, so I hope you take them into consideration. You may find yourself cooking more at home and searching for great new combinations, rather than following the unwritten rules at the local Outback. And, at home, there really are no rules.

So, to clothing-optional meals, Cheers, Sláinte, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!
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