It's blasphemy, I know, but I don't always drink the perfect wine with my food.
Forget perfect: Sometimes I don't even remotely drink the right wine. This isn't a radical idea for old wine hands, but I think it's worth restating for new wine lovers. The right wine with the right meal remains the ideal, but who lives in an ideal world?
Pairing food and wine doesn't require a master class. Our ABCs of Matching lays out the basics. Some of the concepts are fairly apparent: A big red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon is best with your steak and a crisp white like Sancerre is a must for oysters on the half-shell.
When I'm eating at a good restaurant, I follow the rules rather strictly. Why drink a wine that wastes your money and the chef's hard work? I don't care how much you like young Barolo, if you want to have it with a nice pan-seared halibut, spare us the pain of watching your crime and eat at home.
And yet there are challenges even in restaurants, particularly if you order wines by the glass. What do you do, for example, if you know that the only Chardonnay by the glass is a stinker? (There's usually at least one cash cow on every menu.)
Do you order it just because it's the "right" wine with your dish? I wouldn't, particularly if the glass of wine costs almost as much as the food. I'd go with something similar, either a lighter-bodied white like Pinot Blanc or a lighter-style Pinot Noir.
I'm more laidback about matching food and wine at home and with friends. The wine in those situations is usually more important than the food, or at least equal. There are exceptions, like Dungeness crab season on the Sonoma Coast, when it's sparkling wine only at our house.
In casual situations, even wine lovers are more apt to drink what they feel like drinking, not what they think they should. You think they only eat beef and lamb in Napa Valley? Of course not, but that doesn't stop them from drinking a lot of Cabernet.
We're red wine drinkers in our house and Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are among the favorites, with rosé a popular third place during the summer. Pinot is especially versatile, and we've been known to drink it with just about everything. If I'm grilling fish, for example, I'll open a good white, plus a Pinot to hedge my bets, particularly if we have guests.
So, I've told you one of my big wine secrets: I'm something of a wine-and-food pairing anarchist. My general rule is relax, try your best, but don't sweat it. Where do you stand on the issue? And what are some of your dark secrets?