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Giving even ordinary meals extraordinary flavor, Immer shows readers how to bring the flavor alchemy of wine to everyday fare from burgers (with Zinfandel) to macaroni and cheese (with Rioja Crianza). She calls Pinot Grigio her “tuna helper” and likes barbecued brisket with Valpolicella. There’s also plenty of more sophisticated eating, including smoked salmon and Riesling; asparagus hollandaise and Champagne; wild mushroom risotto and California Pinot Noir, to name a few upscale matches. In fact, there isn’t a food or category of food–including a panoply of cheeses, ethnic foods, and desserts–for which Immer doesn’t provide a match and the reasons why they work so well. Chart of mouthwatering pairings and an easy-to-use index make finding wonderful wine and food combinations a snap.
Zeroing in on “wine-loving food”–those flavors, textures, and cooking techniques that truly dazzle when paired with wine–Immer demonstrates how to get the maximum enjoyment out of every food and wine encounter. A selection of twenty recipes–Low Country Shrimp and Grits (think Chardonnay), Beet Risotto (Pinot Noir), Short Rib Ragù (brawny reds), and Warm Chocolate Torte (Madeira)–provides delicious examples of wine-loving dishes and cooking techniques that will become part of every wine-loving cook’s repertoire.
Invaluable in restaurant settings and at home, this innovative guide can make every meal a cause for celebration.
“What wine should I drink with …?” remains the eternal question of consumers and wine professionals alike, about every food and at every level—from wary novice to wine pro. Why? After all, it’s pretty unlikely anyone ever ruined a meal with the “wrong” wine choice, isn’t it? I think the answer is as simple as this: most everybody loves to eat. (Many of us admit we live to eat!) And we spend a great deal of time thinking about enjoying food—not only in the here and now, but often long before and after the cooking (or ordering) and eating. In fact, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the taste and feeling of food have the power to inspire some of our most vivid memories, our wildest fantasies, and our noblest feats of creativity and collaboration. For example, H-O-M-E and all its comforts are captured in a single bite of Mom’s meatloaf. That glinting, inaugural plate of oysters, or first heady whiff of the cheese cart on your Paris getaway, consummates months of pre-trip escapist longings. And from the Barbecue Rendezvous in Memphis, to the Gilroy, California, garlic festival, thousands of far-flung strangers regularly manage, with masterful precision, the complex logistics of gathering to share a giant fix of a favorite food. Pretty impressive, really.
And it’s no wonder we’re so food-obsessed, because our first mind-blowing mouthful usually happens early on—perhaps a milk-dunked donut or a particularly well-constructed PB&J. When those flavor stars align, eating is no longer simply fueling. In terms of taste, you’ve blasted off. And thus begins a lifelong pursuit of that same ecstasy just about anytime the food and the time at hand permit more than simply a fill-up. We also happily discover that high-flying flavor potential isn’t limited to a luxury restaurant. It can be anything, from Mom’s macaroni and cheese to a celebrity chef’s signature lobster bisque. Good food, plain or fancy, can be a died-and-gone-to-heaven experience.
Then comes wine. Like food, it tastes good and feels good. For most of us, it’s new, vast, ancient, and mysterious. It offers us a taste of exotic places and flavors (though sometimes at exotic prices, too!). It also brings uncertainty. But still, we’re very intrigued because we’ve had those out-of-body food experiences. So we wonder, “Can wine make food even better?” It stands to reason, because we know that the Europeans, justly famous for their eating and drinking lifestyle, have been enjoying wine with their meals—daily, not just on special occasions—for millennia. And we’re talking lunch and dinner. I think every food lover and wine drinker yearns for a shot at those frequent flavor and pleasure possibilities. I also think that most of us feel stymied by one or more of these obvious hurdles: wine confusion, cost concerns, and, most frustrating of all, the rules.
The first snag, wine confusion, affects all of us, even Master Sommeliers, to one degree or another. While it is true that the typical wine label is chock-full of information, quite often the only bits with clear meaning are “alcohol by volume” and the price tag—hardly enough to clue you in to what the wine will taste like, or guide you to a potential food partner. And sometimes it’s just enough to prejudice you against it, too. I think it’s fair to say that few of us like to gamble a lot on whether we’ll like something we’re about to eat or drink.
Even fewer of us are willing to do so when the money stakes are high, and the fact is that for the average person, drinking wine with dinner represents a conscious choice to spend more than we’d have to for the typical alternative beverages—beer, milk, soda, iced tea, you name it. Of course it takes only one or two nice wine and food experiences to convince most people that the extra expense is well worth it! But still, the cost consideration is a real incentive for anyone to want to increase his or her odds of pairing success, and I’ve found that is true regardless of budget. Working in luxury hotels and restaurants, I’ve waited on my share of moneyed moguls, tycoons, and trust-fund types. They want good deals, too, especially if they’re trying something new to them, as is so often the case with wine. It’s universal: everyone wants to feel he or she is getting his or her money’s worth.
Finally, there’s just plain old rookie rule-phobia. We’ve all heard the “red wine with red meat, white wine with fish” rule. And the wine trade trumpets the so-called classic matches—luxurious partners like foie gras and Sauternes, prime steak and Cabernet Sauvignon, beluga and Champagne, oysters and Chablis. While these guidelines are certainly solid, their context is quite rarefied, when you really think about it: how many of the people you know define “dinner,” day in and day out, in terms of steak-house splurges and caviar? It doesn’t even sound appealing for every day, does it? But it probably explains why wine remains on the “special occasion” shelf for so many Americans. And for more down-to-earth dinners like pasta with pesto sauce (where’s the beef?), or an omelet (filled with eggplant caviar, if you’re an industrious cook), the rules leave us high and (literally) dry for a wine match.
What is needed when it comes to wine, food, and the daily dinner routine is a bridge, between the seeming necessity to “know what we’re doing” and just doing it; between the promise of frequent wine and food pleasure, and the actuality of pulling it off; between the rules of wine and food matching, and the reality of what normal people cook, eat, and spend. You can build that bridge easily within the context of your regular shopping and eating (in or out) routine, regardless of whether you are a casual consumer or a devoted foodie or wine lover. This book will be your blueprint.
How? In my first book, Great Wine Made Simple, we used easy, pace-yourself wine-tasting lessons to define in taste terms most anything you might find printed on a wine label, from “barrel fermented” to Zinfandel. In this book, we’ll take a similar approach using tasting lessons, or really pairing experiments, that let you explore wine styles, food flavors, and how they interact.
You might be worrying: what am I getting into here? If at first it sounds as if your relaxing dinnertime is about to be destroyed by drills and doctrine, fear not. These tastings are neither overloaded with tedious theory and analysis to be studied, nor fraught with execution challenges like expensive bottles, overwrought recipes, or marathon restaurant sessions. Rather, they are designed for utmost convenience, so that you can:
• Start enjoying wine and food more right now by turning the mystery of pairing the two into an everyday, useful activity; and
• Increase your pleasure in well-priced, accessible wines with easily accomplished meals. As you’ll see, the best “tuna helper” comes in a bottle labeled Pinot
Grigio. And my idea of Cheez Whiz operates under an alias: Chianti.
Simple, Simpler, Simplest:
How to Use This Book to Pair Great (-Tasting) Wine and Food
Think of it this way: you have to eat anyway. Now it can pay off in greater pleasure and gains in your wine-and-food-pairing confidence. Tasting, rather than “studying,” has enormous advantages, too. It’s both enjoyable, and keenly memorable. Principles read from a page can fly right out of your head (if they don’t put you to sleep first!), but smelling, nibbling, noshing, dipping, chewing, scooping, slathering, savoring, and—hopefully—sharing, each weaves sensory threads into the fabric of memory, providing the recall that you need to put wine and food together confidently the next time, and the next.
There are several different ways to use this book, depending on both the particular circumstances and your interest level, from just scrounging some weeknight chow to planning a “big meal,” from hungry and thirsty human to impassioned cook or collector—and all points in between. They are:
• Look up quick matches using the book’s Wine and Food Pairing Index, which will quickly point you to lots of specific food-and-wine-pairing recommendations that you’re highly likely to enjoy.
• Train your taste to develop your own pairing intuition and tap into what’s already there. As I’ll show you, it is much easier than you think, it’s a lot of fun,
and though you may not yet realize it, you are already well up the learning curve.
• Learn how to use the wine label to predict the style of a wine and its food affinity easily. That’s the insight you need to choose a wine especially suited to a particular dish, or to plan your menu to complement a specific wine.
You might employ just one or all of them at some point or another. Here is how they work:
Making Quick Matches Using the Wine and Food Pairing Index
What wines could you pair with a particular food? Or what foods especially complement a specific wine type? I developed this index because, as a sommelier, I get asked these types of matching questions constantly, not just by customers but by trade colleagues, fellow shoppers at the supermarket checkout, airplane seat-mates, you name it. The index is basically the book’s “search engine,” allowing you to look up pairing suggestions, by either food or wine. With food, you can look up key ingredients (like lobster or mushrooms), cuisines (Thai, for example), or dishes (gumbo, quesadillas), and find specific wine suggestions for them. Or, putting the wine first, you can look up a wine name—be it a region (Champagne, Chianti, and so on) or a grape (Pinot Grigio, Shiraz, etc.). Either way, when you look up a wine or food in the index, the boldface page numbers will direct you to the tasting tables in the book, where you’ll find specific pairings that work really well for the wine or food in question. You can put it to work immediately, by looking up and trying suggested pairings for all the wines and foods that appeal to you.
Where Do These Wine and Food Pairings Come From?
I have included a full range, from mainstream rule-of-thumb matches (like steak and Cabernet Sauvignon); to food- and wine-world classics (such as caviar and Champagne); to a completely original and focused palette of pairing ideas that I’ve had the chance to explore and polish in my work in restaurants, my professional culinary training, and throughout a life of committed cooking and eating.
Real-World Food, Wine-Loving Food: A Practical Approach to Wine Pairing
It is this last group of pairing ideas that I think is most exciting, because it spotlights the two “food groups” that will bolster your food and wine-pairing savvy and confidence faster than you might have ever thought possible: real-world food and wine-loving food. While they are the very essence of this book, there’s nothing “official” about these categories. I made them up—because as I’ll explain, they precisely describe the most practical and delicious launchpad from which to explore the flavor dynamics of wine and food as a duo, which is what you’ll be doing.
Real-World Food: Tuning In to Everyday Tastes, with Wine
Think about what you cook, order, serve, and eat most days. Take-out sushi, sandwiches, the extra chili you froze two weekends ago? This isn’t the fancy fare conjured up by wine-and-food-matching rules. These kinds of meals, reflecting the real-world tastes, time constraints, and budgets of the everyday table, are the “reality show” of wine and food, whose episodes play out everywhere, every day. For example, one of my friends, a Wall Street titan who lives at one of Manhattan’s most luxurious addresses (and dines out in any five-star palace he cares to), is also a single dad whose school-night menu standard is Shake ’n Bake chicken, served usually with a bottle of Meursault, a luxury French white Burgundy. (I can personally attest to both Shake ’n Bake’s wine worthiness and how good it tastes with Meursault.) That is a perfect example of one of wine’s most distinguished roles—a “life line” to turn any meal into a winner, no matter what your pantry presents. Now you’ll have ample opportunity to prove that for yourself, a process I’m sure you’ll greatly enjoy.
The tasting tables in each chapter of the book include wine matches for you to try with all kinds of everyday foods and dishes that are easy to prepare or buy and, by virtue of that fact, quite commonly eaten by a high percentage of people. That includes popular ethnic tastes like sushi and burritos, and ubiquitous dishes like roast chicken and Caesar salad (Remember when it was the exclusive purview of fine restaurants with tableside service? Now even Mickey D’s has Caesar salad.), and so on. With these matches, you’ll always be prepared to look up a wine to enjoy alongside, as often as you like, as you dial up delivery, fire up the stove, or heat up the leftovers. And you’ll discover what the Europeans know so well: that wine elevates every meal, no matter how simple.
Getting the Goods: Mouthwatering, Mind-Bending Matches with Wine-Loving Food
As a sommelier, it has been my pleasure and my job now for more than ten years to guide guests to delicious restaurant wine and food experiences, worthy of dressing and paying up for. For those of us who work in restaurants, the old saw that each and every one of us is as utterly unique as our fingerprint is proven nightly, with ringing clarity. I have been privileged to serve, and challenged to delight, wildly varied tastes, from wary traditionalists to flagrant foodies, nervous wine neophytes to inveterate oenophiles. In my restaurant and TV food career, I have worked with and, as a culinary student, trained under some of the most gifted chefs in the world, from seafood gurus like Ed Brown, to French classicists like Jacques Pepin and Alain Sailhac, to ethnic artists like Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. And of course, in working toward the Master Sommelier diploma, writing wine lists and training waiters, sommeliers, and consumers, I taste thousands of wines a year. If it sounds great, it’s not. Heaven is more like it.
The cumulative result of all these encounters—what I call wine-loving food, is the heart of this book. No, it’s not a marketing ploy from the wine “commission” cleverly disguised as a new food trend. (Or worse, a “wine” cookbook. Fear not, you won’t find recipes for Port-wine cheese balls or Shiraz-glazed short ribs in here.) Simply defined, wine-loving food is a family of flavor styles, textures, and cooking techniques that truly dazzle when paired with wine.
But more than just a list of delicious pairing suggestions (of which this book is certainly chock-full), wine-loving food defines a logic for putting food and wine together for maximum flavor mileage that I use in my work developing menus, guiding restaurant guests, and teaching consumers, waiters, chefs, and sommeliers. But if you’re thinking “uh-oh, sounds hard” for anyone without tremendous food and wine expertise, take heart. This logic is actually so intuitive that you are undoubtedly already applying it in your food and eating life.
Training Your Taste to Develop Your Own Pairing Intuition
In the train-your-taste approach, I will show you, with a few easy tastings, how to combine that intuition about food with wine. The process is simple: think of wine-loving food as a palette of food and flavor styles that go extremely well, virtually all the time, with wine. Any time you use this palette to devise a dish, construct a menu, or place a food order, your handiwork, whether plain or exotic, subtle or bold, home- cooked, waiter-served, or ordered-in, will be a natural and easy match for wines. Which wines? Pretty much any that you’d have the occasion to drink, and certainly the vast majority of popular styles that we all see for sale in stores and on wine lists. If that strikes you as awfully simple, then you are right.
Wine-loving food is in no way a “stretch” for anyone, because the flavors and ingredients, rather than being the elite territory of haute cuisine restaurants or accomplished home cooks, are literally everywhere in all food and cooking from normal to luxurious, and thus well within the grasp of the everyday person. And as you’ll see from the repertoire of wine-loving foods explored in this book (though I’m sure I haven’t spotted them all), they are common threads that weave together a huge variety of classic and ethnic cuisines.
The pairing suggestions for each flavor family are designed to clinch your sensory connection to these flavor styles and their wine affinities. But the truth is that you probably already can count in your experience at least a few wine and food matches as rewarding as those we’ll explore here. Though you perhaps lucked into them, and maybe lacked a lexicon richer than “yum” to articulate what was happening, you knew you’d gotten the goods. Here, with each chapter, we’ll just flesh out, through some simple tastings and matches that you can incorporate directly into your dinner, the repertoire of what you now know is wine-loving food and put a basic vocabulary to it that you can consciously apply (every day if you want) rather than waiting to luck into a serendipitous matchup.
How Sommeliers Do It
For years, customers have said to me, “What a great job you have, tasting all that wine and eating all that great food …”I’ve always smiled and nodded in agreement, because indeed I do often get to taste delicious stuff. But what eventually became clear to me was that many of my guests believed, to determine the wine suggestions I gave them, I had actually tasted every combination and permutation of our entire food menu and wine list (maybe it would have been fun to try, but I’m not sure I’d be around to tell this tale!).
The truth is that I, and all sommeliers, regularly turn to what we already know about different wines’ affinity with different food flavors, textures, and styles, as well as any preferences you express (taste, cost, etc.), in coming up with suggestions. In other words, we incorporate what we know about popular tastes, about our chefs’ menus—and food in general—and the wine style basics embodied in our lists, to zero in on the target: recommendations with a high potential to please.
With wine-loving food, the logic is identical. Wine-loving food is my term for a broad repertoire of wonderful, accessible foods that work a high percentage of the time with most of the wines people want to buy and drink.
For devoted foodies and wine lovers, I have included plenty of highly nuanced tasting and pairing guidance in these pages. This includes special attention to the noble foods and wines, the go-for-broke delicacies of wine-loving food whose truly monumental taste can achieve still greater heights with a more calculated wine choice, and whose cost warrants the extra effort.
And what if your dinner choice is not wine-loving food? What about that sinus-clearing wasabi dipping sauce for your California rolls, or the scotch bonnet marinade on your Jamaican chicken, or the kimchi condiment with your Korean barbecue? That takes us back to real-world food, where we cover the everyday demand for tastes both ethnic and convenient. (Honestly, I’m not so sure about the kimchi. I’m often invited to be on tasting panels by my friends at Wine & Spirits Magazine, whose office on West 32nd Street just happens to be smack in the middle of Manhattan’s Koreatown neighborhood. Kimchi is our long-running joke, because no one’s been able to come up with a suitable wine match. If you’ve tasted it, you know why we usually go for beer!)
Where’s the Wine?
The burning question by now, right? As a Master Sommelier, why on earth am I not devoting these pages to telling you how to choose foods and devise pairings, the better to enjoy the juice? It’s a conscious choice. In my first book, Great Wine Made Simple, I present a self-guided wine-tasting course that starts you off with baby steps in the shallow end, moving on from there until the wine immersion is as complete as you care to make it.
There are two main reasons why I took the food point of view in this book. First, I wanted to make it very clear that you don’t have to make a heavy commitment to wine knowledge to gain confidence with, and enjoyment from, pairing wine and food. Second, using food intuition to get to wine pairing makes perfect sense, for the simple reason that you already have that intuition. Do you butter and salt your corn on the cob before eating it? Toast the bread for your sandwiches? Squeeze lemon on your shrimp cocktail? Then you are well up the curve. As such, when we begin to explore the flavor families in wine-loving food, you’ll feel an instant connection to them.
From there, the choice is yours. You can explore all of the nuanced tastes and matches in every chapter; avid cooks and wine aficionados will want to do just that, and it will certainly be loads of fun. Or you can just focus on the chapters that deal with your favorite foods and flavor styles, to quickly zero in on the wines that will enhance your personal eating regimen, from daily meals to occasions like business dinners and holiday gatherings, where there’s more than your own taste at stake.
Learning to Use the Label to Choose a Wine Match for Your Food
For either approach, the basics in Chapter One are all the wine preparation you’ll need. To most people, predicting what a wine will taste like, and how it will partner with different foods just by looking at the label, seems impossibly hard. You didn’t need me to tell you that, but have you ever thought about why that is true? Think of the difference when it comes to food, with which most of us have a great deal of tasting experience thanks to a lifetime of eating. The happy result is that when you read Rosemary-Crusted Rack of Lamb on a restaurant menu, clip a recipe for curried chicken, or toss a can of New England clam chowder into your grocery cart, you have a very good idea of what those dishes will taste like.
With wine, you can develop this same skill quite easily, and without a huge investment of time or money, using the same principles and tasting lessons I use to teach waiters. First, we start right off putting wine and food together in a simple tasting that clearly and deliciously illustrates wine and food flavor dynamics. Flavor dynamics just refers to the fact that, when enjoyed together, wine and food change each other—a lot. Perhaps this doesn’t come as a surprise, but I suggest you do the component tasting anyway; the logistics are no more complex than putting together a quick snack, and the payoff is huge. Even when I do the tasting with chefs and very experienced waiters, it’s always a real eye-opener. From there, the wine basics in the chapter will explore the flavor and style elements in wines that most impact their food affinity, and the label cues to help you identify them.
The remaining chapters will explore, through tasting, how to use your knowledge to choose wine styles that make the most of what you’re eating. Natural flavor and style affinities exist in wine and food just as they do in food alone; examples like sweet lobster and sweet butter, or the fact that with chili-laced Mexican foods, there’s nearly always a squeeze of lime in the picture, come to mind. When it comes to wine and food affinity, wine labels often communicate in code. For example, “barrel fermented” can be read like the size tag for body style: XL. And a delicate Riesling might as well be labeled “coolant” for lovers of spicy food. I’ll help you decipher these messages.
Tools, Not Rules
When it comes right down to it, I guess I owe my very livelihood to the question “What wine should I drink with … ?” Although the seductive lure of food and flavor is pretty much universal, preferences are highly individual. For that reason, I thought long and hard about the very idea of tackling the topic of wine and food in a book. The existing templates are about picking the so-called right wine for your food, listing complex rules for pairing wine and food, or both. But enjoying wine and food shouldn’t be hard work. To me, the “right” wine can be as much about convenience, emotion, or both—whatever is handy or whatever you’re excited about drinking or serving from the shop, your cellar, the wine list, whatever—as about what “goes with” what. (Sometimes the right wine is whatever somebody else is paying for—who’d reject a proffered glass of world-class wine just because the rule book says it doesn’t “go with” what they’re eating?)
What this book is about is ramping up the flavor possibilities for all of your eating from everyday fare to major food experiences at home and in restaurants. Whether you are a restaurant pro, an avid cook, a foodie, or just hungry, you’ll find the tasty tools here to do that.