Given the wide world of wine at our disposal, we naturally want to make the choice of what to open for dinner as simple as possible. We try to narrow the field to what might work best with dinner. As a self-admitted food-and-wine-matching wonk, I do it myself. But how critical is it, really?
These days, I end up questioning such widely offered rules of thumb. We are long past the long-held belief, for example, that we must drink red wine with meat and white wine with fish or chicken. I am not alone in having consumed Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels with fish such as salmon, swordfish and tuna, or any fish dish involving mushrooms or a red wine sauce. Happily.
My latest bugaboo involves the oft-heard admonishment to pick a wine from the same region as the food. Does that really mean anything any more? First of all, how often do we eat strictly traditional dishes these days? Sure, if you're following a treasured recipe, or if you're in a restaurant that specializes in a specific region that excels at both food and wine, the old red Burgundy with coq au vin or Chianti Classico with bistecca fiorentina might hit the spot.
But so may many other wines. With chicken braised in red wine I prefer heartier choices than Burgundy or a New World Pinot Noir. I usually gravitate to Zinfandel or Syrah. It's hard to go wrong with any red wine next to a juicy steak. So why limit things?
I think many of us still sweat over which wine to choose because we are afraid to be wrong. My first rule of wine and food matching is to choose a wine you like to drink. If you try to match the weight of the wine to the heartiness of the food, you can't go too far wrong. The chances of a clash that ruins the wine or the food are slim. I can think of plenty of exceptions, but sticking to this one suggestion plays it safe enough.
Those of us who love to play with food and wine matches can talk endlessly about the magic that can happen when you get it just right. It's fun, but it's really just fine-tuning. It can vex us unnecessarily if we buy into the idea that the fine-tuning is required.
So next time you're in a bistro looking for a wine with moules marinière, the traditional seaside French dish of mussels stewed in white wine with garlic and parsley, go ahead and reach for a Muscadet, the traditional match. But if you prefer, drink a Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Gris, Vermentino, Falanghina, Albariño or Verdelho. Your taste buds will rejoice.
John Jorgenson — Seattle, — January 26, 2011 1:52am ET
Jeremiah Morehouse — Sacramento CA — January 27, 2011 4:07pm ET
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