Wining & Dining 101

“I will drink no wine before it’s time.” —Orson Welles

Well, that didn’t exactly end well, did it…

BTW, Skinny Girls & Mayonnaise can now be followed on Twitter at skinnygirlsmayo — cooking tips, humorous asides, farmer’s market reports, fab ingredients, various little surprises, stealth restaurant reviews… and absolutely no taco trucks whatsoever.

Here’s a fun little quiz before we begin. Answer correctly, and you’ll make me feel better about my own drinking habits.  : )

In Europe, it’s normal to drink with lunch. In America, unless there’s football on, people look at you funny if you drink during the day. Of course, eating a 1,200 calorie hamburger is somehow better…

The object is not to get drunk. It is to enjoy a finely crafted, fermented beverage. Budweiser and Sutter Home wines do not count.

Since well before Christ performed his most famous party trick and turned water into wine, men have been fermenting liquids and enjoying the frivolity that ensued. But drinking wine, beer or other libations with food can be serious business.

Having a family wine business, I’m often asked what wines and drinks go well with what foods. I answer that zinfandel goes well with everything. (That’s the only wine we make!) It’s really a matter of taste. But you do want to choose to drink something that complements your food, or to flip that — choose food that makes your wine taste better. I once had a gooey, stinky French cheese that made the zinfandel we were drinking unfold like a symphony in our mouths. That’s an experience you want.

I try to remember to include wine suggestions with most of my recipes. But here’s some very basic thoughts on food/wine/beverage pairings:

I almost hate to give recommendations with cheese, because this is one of the funnest areas to experiment and find your own favorite pairings. Stronger cheeses like cambembert or La Tur will bring out the characteristics of large, bold red wines. More subtle cheeses — aged parmesan, asagio, brie, gruyere — often pair nicely with white wines. Try farmstead cheeses from England, Ireland, California or Vermont with a malty beer. My mom swears that coffee and cheddar is one of the world’s greatest combinations. Never tried it myself…

Tomato/Meat pastas:
Medium bodied red wines (zinfandel, sangiovese, syrah). Possibly chardonnay.

Lighter pastas:
A refreshing white such as viogner or pinot grigio, or a light red — gamay or a pinot noir. A light lager beer would work well, too.

Depends somewhat on sauce, but you’ll usually be okay with a dry white like sauvignon blanc or a French chardonnay. The exception is if it’s an Asian-style fish with a citrus or vinegar sauce. Then you’ll want something sweet like a good saké or a reisling/gewurtraminer. With fried fish, I would recommend a hoppy beer such as Anchor Steam.

Depends on the poultry and the preparation. But in general, with chicken or duck, you want a lighter red, white or rosé. If you’re a fois gras eater, one of the world’s great pairings is fois gras with a sweet sauternes from France — the sweetness beautifully cuts the fatty richness of the liver. Lager beers and Trappist-style ales go well with chicken, especially if its fried.

Ah, pork… be still my beating heart. There may be nothing better than a warm summer evening, a sweet, smoky rack of ribs cooked on the grill, and a big blackberry-filled zinfandel. In general, pork will benefit from medium-bodied reds, such as pinot noir, Spanish tempranillo or sangiovese. A good sauvignon blanc will work well with lighter dishes, such as proscuitto and melon. Crisp, slightly sweet whites like a Central Coast viognier would do well with barbecue or pork chops. And for a BLT, drink Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Go for size and flavor here. Obviously cabernet sauvignon or petite syrah. Also good is a big, fruity zinfandel — especially with burgers. Big Italian barolos would pair nicely with steak, too.

This is one of the trickier pairings, especially when you’ve got a lot of acidity in the dressing. Softer, less acidic whites tend to do well — a buttery chardonnay, a reisling or a French Pouilly-Fumé.

Chocolate and port is one of the world’s great pairings. In general, you’ll want a sweet wine with your dessert. There are many good late-harvest wines being made domestically which bring a lovely finish to your meal.

If you have specific pairing questions, leave a comment with your question and I’ll do my best to answer it.

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