The Event
Pairing Wines With Food
© by Sheral Schowe
The most frequently asked question I get when consulting with restaurants is "Which wines will make my food taste the best?"

While it is true that wine enhances food, and vice versa, not every wine will bring accolades to the chef if it is poorly matched with the menu item. Certain wines will make a plate of food seem like a masterpiece. Others will create a disaster on the taste buds, which will result in complaints to the kitchen - or even worse, complaints about the entire dining experience.

When I select a wine from a restaurant list, I search the menu for a dish that will bring out the individual flavors and character of the wine. The last thing I want the food to do is to mask the delicate nuances that the wine portrays. Sure, thats what all the wine geeks do. But what if you want to select your menu item first, before you look at the wine list?

Consider the wine as a condiment. For instance, if you order veal or chicken picatta, a light fish in a white wine sauce, or chilled shellfish, you will want a white wine that is slightly herbaceous, with a tart acid balance. The best condiment for such foods would obviously be fresh lemon juice. A sauvignon blanc comes the closest to fitting this flavor profile.

If the dish has a light butter sauce, consider white bordeaux, which is a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon. The semillon rounds out the tartness a bit and adds some interesting flavor as well. I recommend three, each with their own personality and style. Merryvale Vignette 1997 ($21.40) from Napa Valley, Carmenet Sauvignon Blanc Semillon ($17.85) from Sonoma, and Chateau Rieussec R 1996 ($17.40) from Bordeaux.

A common mistake that is made with matching the right wine to a spectacular dish is to simply order the first wine that comes to mind, using the myth that any white wine goes with fish and chicken. Always consider the preparation first. If you choose a buttery, rich, oaky chardonnay from Napa Valley to pair with your oysters on the half shell, it will be a waste of both the wine and food. Who wants butter on raw oysters or chilled shrimp? What seafood would you want the butter on? If you are considering lobster, you have made a perfect match with chardonnay.

Next time you order seafood or poultry in a rich, creamy sauce, try ZD Chardonnay 1998 ($26.75) from Napa Valley, or if the sauce is a little lighter, or for lobster or monkfish, a Verget Macon Tete Cuvee 1998 ($15.30) from Burgundy. Both are beautiful wines without malolactic fermentation or an overabundance of oak.

Jan. 20, 2000

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