Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Food & Wine

Food and wine...meant to go together, like Laurel and Hardy, Fred and Ginger, yin and yang...... Though pairing food with wine may seem intimidating if you are new to entertaining/cooking/drinking, you really don't need any fancy degrees to make a wine selection. But if you need help, there are a ton of websites and books available out there should you need some suggestions. While those are a great place to start, I think doing your own homework will take you even farther.

Deciding what to serve with which foods comes from experience. When you one day hear yourself utter these words, you will know you have arrived: "We should open that bottle of ____ to go with this ____ I just made." (You fill in the blanks). When that day comes, you will have a good understanding of the marriage between food and wine.

Though I'm certainly no wine expert, I can tell you what I like. Ultimately it really does just come down to this: no matter what anyone tells you, either you're going to like it, or you won't. 

Often, I hear people say they only like Cabs or Chardonnay or whatever. While I think that's great that they know what they like, I think they are limiting themselves. There are so many wines out there from so many different parts of the world, and each offers new taste experiences. Be open to the differences in, say, a wine from South America or Africa. Consider different grape varietals from what you are used to. Have you ever heard of Gruener Veltliner or Nebbiolo? You may find one downright fabulous. Consider trying varietals that have been rescued from near extinction and are making a comeback, such as Viognier, or the Carmenere grape once grown in France but now thriving in Chile.

Over time, too, our tastes may change. I once drank Chardonnay. Now, I can't stand it. I had to give it up because no matter how many I tasted, I found that only the really expensive ones had the butteriness I was longing for. Most of them left me pucker-mouthed from their ueber-acidity.

These days I'm into Viognier and Pinot Noir. Interestingly enough, though one is white and the other red, they have similar characteristics. Both grapes are finicky and require a great deal of care in their handling. Both do best with climates that offer warm days and cool nights. Both are difficult to grow. I think that's one reason I appreciate them so much. They are also quite versatile with a broad range of foods and can even be enjoyed alone.

My sister introduced me to an Italian grape she enjoys: Nebbiolo. I recently found such a wine for a real bargain and keep going back to get more. I hope the store doesn't run out!

Take advantage of the wine tastings at your local wine shop, or head to a big retailer like Total Wine for a huge range of wines of every conceivable price point. I found a French wine for under $4 there once, which I really liked for an everyday wine. Don't let the price tag of some of these wines discourage you. Price does not necessarily always mean what you think. You may not like the expensive stuff and you may really like a cheaper bottle.

And why are some of them so dang expensive? A lot of factors can affect the price of wine. Limited grape production, for example, or the amount of special handling required. Ice wine, for instance, is usually pricey because the grapes stay on the vine several months longer than usual (most grapes are harvested in September/October). These hang on until the frost comes, intensifying their sugar content, and then the shriveled things have to be hand-picked in the dead of winter. Naturally the more care that goes into production, including the blending that the winemaker oversees, can drive up price, but more isn't always better. What if a $50 bottle doesn't taste good to you? 

Do not be intimidated by wine or the snobs who tell you what to drink. After all, it's just glorified grape juice!

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