Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Food and Wine Pairing: Ethnic Cooking and its Natural Fit

What Wine Should You Pick When You Know What You're Eating?  

This is one of the most asked questions among people who enjoy wine with food. And after all, wine is meant to go with food most of the time. Most Europeans wouldn't think of having it any other way. Let's get straight to it then.

Point 1: The real reason most wine consultants advise to drink white wine with seafood, is that the tannins in red wines combine with the oils in seafood to create unpleasant metallic tastes. This is a biochemical reaction, and while it varies person to person, drinking red wine with seafood tends to produce a less pleasant experience. There are clearly exceptions (Pinot Noir with salmon is considered THE choice), and a minority of people may be impervious to this phenomenon, but largely, it's true. 

Point 2: Adding a wine that has the same characteristics as the food you're eating does not always produce the best match. For example, a particularly peppery Zinfandel when added to a spicy peppery meat dish might result in an overload in pepper flavor on your palate. Also, the exact type of pepper flavor may not match and actually diffuse and make unclear what you are tasting. 

Similarly, a pet peeve of mine: Having oaked Chardonnay with steamed Maine Lobster, which is usually enjoyed with drawn (melted) butter. That's just too much butteriness in my opinion. I prefer an unoaked Chardonnay with lobster. The fruit enhances the dish, not pumps up the butter flavor so it's over the top, and all you can taste is butter.

Point 3: Once in a while, try 2-3 different wines that you think you might like with a certain dish. Listen to others' opinions, like a friend who has enjoyed wine for years, and that wine salesperson you run into sometimes at the store. Combine this input and get some of each so you can try them side by side with the food. Pay close attention. It could be a revelation!

To The Main Point Here's a secret about successfully pairing a wine with ethnic food: Ask yourself, "What nationality most influences this dish?" Does it resemble Italian cooking? French? German or English/Irish? Latin American? Chinese or other Asian?  We are lucky in America to have easy access to most of the world's cuisines. Enjoying them with the right wine turns up the experience to a virtual gourmet event

Start by looking at wines that come from the country that the food seems influenced by.

Pasta with cream sauce?   Italian (red or white)

Hamburgers?   American, Chilean, Argentinian  (red)

Lasagna?   Italian  (red or white, depending on the ingredients)

Dover Sole?  French (white)  note: Dover is in England, but the choice of English wines is, well, in its infancy.

Thanksgiving Dinner?  French or German (white and red; both ideally for a crowd)

Chinese Takeout?  OK this one is tough, I admit. I really like beer with Chinese food, at least the typical takeout type we get in the US. If you have access to spicier forms, like Szechuan and Hunan dishes, try German white wines with a touch of sweetness (i.e. Riesling) 

I'll write some more about this subject in later posts. Use this to get started. 
Pay attention to your wine choice, and with practice, you will get good at it. 
You'll amaze your friends and you'll enjoy life more. I promise.

'Till Next Time,

Marc Soucy    


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