Last time we discussed some of the basics of wine knowledge. Now let’s take a similar approach to putting wine and food together. Most of the time, folks are going to drink wine at a meal or with some kind of snack. There is a lot of voodoo about what wine goes with what food and how to order wine in a restaurant. Let’s look at some of these issues and provide some clarity.
This wine list is huge!! How do I pick one to drink with my dinner?
There are times when I think the wine list at some restaurants is longer than a classical novel. There are a few steps you can take to navigate the waters. First, have a price point in mind that you are comfortable with. The prices on the list will have a wide range, and remember that expensive is not always the same as high quality. Share the price point with your server to help guide the discussion. Second, share with your server a wine you have had previously and enjoyed. That will help the server know what styles you generally enjoy to guide the selection. Third, decide if you want an adventure or something safe. Sometimes it’s fun to get out there and try something new. Other nights you might want to go with something familiar. Finally, ask to try the wine before you buy it. Depending on how the list is structured, sometimes the restaurant can offer you a sample. You won’t be able to try the wine every time, but it’s worth asking.
I ordered my bottle, and it just came to the table. The server poured me a tiny sample and is now waiting by my chair. Now what?
When you order a bottle in a restaurant, they will often pour you a sample to try before you accept the bottle. This process is designed to give you the chance to try the wine and make sure it hasn’t gone bad by accident in the cellar. The waiter is waiting for you to try it and give him or her the go ahead to serve the table. Usually, the server will let the person who ordered the bottle sample it, but it’s ok to let someone else at the table try it. When you give the all clear, the server will begin with the ladies at the table from eldest to youngest. Afterwards, the gentlemen are served, also from eldest to youngest.
Do I always have to drink wine ‘X’ with food ‘Y’?
Absolutely and positively not. The only unbreakable rule when pairing wine and food is to drink what you like. There are some wines that naturally pair well with certain foods (more on that to come). These natural affinities have created the ‘rules’ everyone thinks of when pairing wine and food together. In reality, there will not be a knock at your door from the wine police if you drink white wine with steak or red wine with fish.
So why do some wines go better with some foods?
Some wines pair well with certain foods because of chemistry. The physical process of tasting involves a lot of chemical reactions from the tongue all the way to the brain. It begins with how the grapes are grown and are made into wine. The different kinds of soil add various chemicals (i.e., flavors) to the grapes. The process of making wine then adds other flavor chemicals and enhances others that were already there. Once the wine is finished, it has a distinct collection of chemicals in it. This is why different wine styles taste different and why they don’t all taste like grape juice with some alcohol thrown in. These flavors then interact with the flavor-causing chemicals in the food to create natural pairings.
Are there some easy go-to pairings I can use?
When you are unsure of what wine to put with your meal, turn to bubbles. Any kind of sparkling wine is probably going to go well with your food. If you are not a huge fan of the bubbles, try for either a Sauvignon Blanc (white) or Beaujolais (red). Both of these wines have high levels of acid in them and those high acidity levels will go well with most any food. They are also fairly inexpensive wines, and so won’t break the bank. Usually when I have guests for dinner, and I’m not sure what their wine preferences are, I will have a bottle of each white and red. That way the guests can make the decision themselves.
I’m at the grocery store trying to pick some wine. How do I know what I should buy?
Buying at a grocery store can be a bit harder because there is often not anyone knowledgeable to help guide you. Keep some of the same basic ideas for navigating the wine list in mind. Set a price point you are comfortable with. Keep in mind that the grocery store will often place their most profitable bottles at eye level. Be sure to look up and down in the display to find other options. Know if you want an adventure or something safe. When I want to go down the road less traveled, I will often choose a bottle based on the label. If I like the art on the outside, maybe I’ll like the art on the inside!
As with all things in the world of wine, the best way to learn what wine goes with what food is to try pairing them together. Next time you have folks over for a party, turn it into a wine potluck. Have everyone bring their favorite appetizer and a bottle of their favorite wine. Then mix and match the different dishes with the different wines. You might just find a new favorite!
Upcoming events to consider:
5K Wine & Beer Run – March 18
San Antonio Flavor – March 23
Paella Challenge – March 26
Poteet Strawberry Festival – April 7-9
Fiesta – April 20-30
22nd Annual Taste of the Dominion – May 11, 2017
Zoo-La-La! A Taste of San Antonio – May 11, 2017
Culinaria Wine & Food Festival – May 18-21
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