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Wine and Food Wednesday
The Right Red Wine With Fish and Chocolate Cake

By Stephen Eliot

I can hear it now, the same old refrain; “drink what you like with what you like.” Perfectly good advice, I agree, but advice that proceeds from the simple premise that you, in fact, know what you like. Knowing what you like presumes that you have tried a good many wines and, with them, a good many food and wine combinations. I suppose I cannot argue with someone who has tried three or four wines and has summarily decided that Pinot Grigio is the answer, and that it is the ideal companion to barbecued ribs, carnitas burritos and chocolate doughnuts. If washing down grilled swordfish with a bottle of port is your thing, well, who am I to say that you are wrong. Then again, there are those who believe that prints of dogs playing poker and black-velvet paintings of Elvis are true works of art. You see the point.

The truth of the matter is that wine and its ability to work its own unique magic at the table is a life-long journey of discovery that, with experience and the increased knowledge that experience brings, inevitably leads to greater dining and drinking pleasure. Those of us who pursue pleasure in the world of wine and food have all had a revelatory moment or two of almost transcendent discovery and were astonished at just how good a wine and its union with food could really be. It is as if we suddenly saw color in a world that heretofore had been defined in black and white, and it made us wonder at just what else we might have been missing. I expect that most passions begin something like this. One discovery leads to another, and we find our own truths.

So, what of those who are just starting out, who have reached the point that they want to know more and understand that there are, in fact, things to know. Those who champion experiment without boundary or direction, of throwing all rules out the window rarely acknowledge that such a course necessarily comes with a need for fairly deep pockets in randomly trying this and that wine with whatever dish. I have heard it said that the millennial “click and go” generation is of just such a mindset, but as the parent of a card-carrying millennial, I would beg to differ. My very smart, very well-educated daughter has begun to ask the question upon being struck by the sheer deliciousness of a particular wine and food match, “how do you know?” It is also a question that I hear every day from my students at the California Culinary Academy, and a quick answer that you spend money, buy wines, pull corks and see what you think would not be well received. My response, instead, is that you taste, you ask questions and you read. And you read.

There are more than a few books on the topic, some good and some easily overlooked, but there are a handful that I recommend without qualification. Red Wine with Fish by David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson was one of the first to rethink convention and look at recurring ways that food and wine did or did not succeed together. Even though twenty-years old and now out of print, it remains an exciting and useful volume for those wanting to learn. Look for it in used book stores. One of the best, The Wine Lover’s Cookbook by our old friend, the late and sorely missed Sid Goldstein remains on the short list of must-read offerings for its wonderfully sensible insights on varietal character and what makes a great food-and-wine match. Tom Maresca’s lengthy and very intelligent The Right Wine is a thorough and thoughtful discussion of basic paring principles, and, while sometimes criticized as being a bit euro-centric, Wine With Food by Joanna Simon is a solid foundation for those with a serious eye to learning. Rounding out my list of five favorites, Evan Goldstein’s Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Pairing Wine and Food delivers just what it promises from one of the wine world’s more experienced voices, and its inclusion of some fifty recipes from chef/mom, the accomplished Joyce Goldstein, comes as a noteworthy bonus.

Books, of course, are only one resource in the building of real knowledge, and none of the works cited professes to be the door to truth. Their authors are all quick to point out that there are no absolutes, no immutable “Tao” of food and wine pairing, but each book very capably drives home the point that there are people who know what they are doing, and that what they have to say is worth listening to. If you want to learn more, if you believe in education and that perfection comes of practice, they are a great place to start.


No Subject
by Christian Miller
Posted on:3/16/2011 8:41:42 PM

Which red wine with fish or chocolate cake? Child's play! Let's really challenge ourselves - which fish with chocolate cake?

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