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.
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 Pocket Wine Book, "Avoid peanuts; they destroy wine flavours; olives are also too piquant for many wines."
Um ... I don't think 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:
Peanuts: 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.
Olives: 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.
Asparagus: 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.
Artichokes: 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.
Eggs: 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.
Blue cheese or goat cheese: 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.
Hot chile peppers: 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.
LET'S HEAR ABOUT YOUR FAVORITES:
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, then click "Results" to see how your opinion stacks up against other wine lovers around the world.
Then please drop by this topic in our WineLovers Discussion group and tell us about the wine-and-food matches you've enjoyed ... and those you haven't:
Today's article is cross-posted in our Netscape WineLovers Community, where we also welcome comments and questions.
To contact me by E-mail, write firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.
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Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006