Everyday Dining with Wine

Everyday Dining with Wine

by Andrea Immer


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767916813
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/26/2004
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.89(d)

About the Author

One of only eleven women in the world to qualify as a Master Sommelier, ANDREA IMMER was chosen Best Sommelier in America in 1997. She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where she now serves as dean of wine studies, and was named James Beard Foundation Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year in 2002. She is also host of the Fine Living Network’s new show, Simply Wine with Andrea Immer. The author of Great Wine Made Simple, Great Tastes Made Simple, and the perennial favorite, Andrea Immer’s Wine Buying Guide for Everyone, she also writes a regular column for Esquire, has a series of CDs with BMG, and is wine consultant to Target.

Read an Excerpt

chapter one


Riesling Rundown

Home regions
Germany and Alsace, France

Other great Riesling sources
Austria, New Zealand, Australia, United States (Washington State, California, New York)

Light- to medium-bodied; elegant

Tangy-crisp like apples to juicy-
mouthwatering like peaches and melons

What is Riesling? As I've said to my culinary students, it's "the Riesling for living!" A fun pun, but in my book it's not a joke. I am passionate about this grape, for the simple reason that every time I pour one, it enchants me. The flavors and scents are so pure, so vibrant, and so thrilling that I'm drawn back to the glass again and again for more of that perfume. Sampled alone, Riesling's aromatic attributes certainly demand attention. But with food it is not a show-off. Like a perfect dance partner, it swirls and sashays lithely and elegantly across the table with virtually any dish. To put it plainly, I've never found a food that doesn't pair well with Riesling.

Yet, among average consumers, Riesling is the wallflower of wines, rarely getting a chance to show her charms. I think Liebfraumilch, the simple, sweet stuff we all discovered in the 1970s, is the reason. People see the traditional long, fluted bottle shape and think "sweet" and "not for me." Although Rieslings are bottled in the same distinctive container, the only other thing they share in common with Liebfraumilch is an original home base, Germany. To explore the wonderful world of Riesling, that's the place to start.

German Wine Labels' "New Look"

You might say the wallflower has had a makeover. Many of the top German wine estates have radically simplified their labeling, with easier-to-read lettering and simpler designs. Some of the top wineries have begun to simply label their wines as "Estate," meaning grown in the winery's own vineyards. Leaving off the long vineyard names or shrinking them to a less prominent position helps the buyer get to the most important quality and style indicators--the producer and the ripeness level.

German Riesling Basics

So you thought Germany was only tops at cars and beer? German Rieslings are awesome. Admittedly, they can also be confusing, because the labels can sometimes seem engineered with as much technical detail and precision as a Porsche. But all that detail actually slows many wine lovers down. The hard-to-read script and multisyllabic names, while traditional, can make it hard for non-German speakers to figure out what style of Riesling is in the bottle.
That style is dependent on the ripeness of the grapes at harvest. The riper the grapes, the fuller the body, and the richer the wine. Now, the most important point. That richness can come in two forms: Fruitiness or sweetness, or both. Here's the distinction: Fruitiness means the flavor and sweetness of fresh fruit, balanced by vibrant acidity; sweetness means the taste of fruit with sugar added. Think of the difference between a ripe apple (which is fruity-sweet) versus apple pie filling (which is sugary-sweet). The fruity wines are fabulous partners for savory food. The sweet ones are great with dessert, as dessert, or with cheeses and pates. Here are the different German ripeness levels from least to most ripe, and the fruitiness or sweetness associated with each:

Kabinett Fruity Light-bodied Spatlese Fruity Light- to medium-bodied Auslese Slightly sweet Light- to medium-bodied Beerenauslese Very sweet Medium-bodied and luscious Trockenbeerenauslese Very Sweet Medium-bodied and syrupy

The Fruit Flavor of Riesling

Of course, any exploration of the flavors in wine starts with fruit. Riesling is a virtual fruit-salad-in-a-glass, and the exact fruit flavors in any given bottling are a function of where the grapes were grown. The fruit flavors in any white wine range along a spectrum, from lean to lush. The "leaner," tangy fruit flavors are associated with cooler growing regions, while the "lush" riper fruits are associated with warmer, sunny climates, as follows:

Even in the same region, the fruit flavor can vary from one year to the next, with hotter growing seasons yielding lusher fruit flavors than cooler vintages. With this fruit flavor spectrum as a backdrop, here's a rundown of the other great Rieslings of the world, from leanest to lushest.

Austria. Try them! Although Austrian wines are labeled according to ripeness level like German wines, they are quite different because the growing regions get more sunshine. As such, Austrian wines are fuller-bodied, yet still have vibrant acidity and tangy fruit flavors of apple and citrus.

Alsace, France. Alsace was once a part of Germany, so it's no surprise that it, too, is a Riesling powerhouse. And while Alsace is a cool zone, it enjoys many more hours of sunshine during the growing season than does Germany, so the grapes get riper. They are fermented to a completely dry style (except for the late-harvest dessert versions; see Chapter 9, page 240, for details), and thus are fuller-bodied than German or Austrian Rieslings. Their fruit flavor ranges from Golden Delicious apple to lemon and peach, and the scent has a very distinctive "petroleum" quality that, while it may sound strange, is really great.

New Zealand. These wines offer great value and, not surprisingly, lip-smacking kiwi fruit flavor.

Australia. It always surprises my wine students that the land known for big brawny Shiraz reds also yields lively and elegant Rieslings. They are medium-bodied and dry, with zingy tangerine and peach fruit flavors.

United States. The desert growing conditions in Washington's Columbia Valley yield Riesling with vividly ripe, fragrant fruit, from mandarin orange to tropical. New York State also produces world-class Riesling, though in small quantities, and a few California wineries, including Fetzer, Wente, and Trefethen, produce juicy-tasting Riesling.

The Spice of Life: Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer,
Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gruner-Veltliner, and Viognier

I include these white grapes, often referred to by wine pros as "aromatic varietals," in the Riesling chapter because they have a style similarity, and because similar food matching principles apply. All of them share a prominent "prettiness" and spiciness to their fruit flavors and fragrance, such that the scent is every bit as exciting as the flavor, and keeps you coming back to the glass to breathe the perfume. Also, they almost never possess oakiness because winemakers, conscious of those compelling scents, don't want to mask them. And without oakiness to overpower, the wines pair better with both exotic and delicate food flavors. Also like Riesling, they have the juicy acidity to tame intense flavors and kick up delicate ones. That said, they are all so unique you must explore each of them. Here's what you'll find.

Sushi, Dim Sum, Tandoori, Tacos . . . Beer, Here?

The flavor of everyday dinner sure has changed since I was a kid. In those days, Chinese food meant La Choy frozen eggrolls and canned chow mein, curry was a flavor of boil-in-bag rice, sushi was something completely bizarre my dad had tried on an exotic business trip, and "Mexican pie" at my school cafeteria was canned chili ladled over Fritos. Now supermarkets coast to coast carry bagged and ready-to-stir-fry fresh veggie mixes and preskewered kebabs ready to be curry-marinated and grilled, and have sushi chefs on-site. Mexican restaurants are more common than pizza parlors were when I was growing up. These new tastes are all welcome at my table, and perfectly compatible with wine.

With the exotic flavors and often sizzling spices of these foods, your natural instinct is perhaps to reach for a beer rather than a glass of Chard or Merlot. Fair enough: An ice-cold brew boasts the scrubbing bubbles and hoppy tanginess to cool and refresh your palate. In contrast, the full-bodied, oaky profile of many popular wine styles, coupled with bold food flavors, can be overwhelming. This doesn't mean you have to pass up wine with your favorite ethnic fare. Rather, it means you have a wonderful excuse to branch out from the "banker" wine grapes and regions, to Riesling and beyond! Pairing the aromatic grapes with Asian and Mexican food creates some truly great flavor fireworks.

Why do they work so well? There are several reasons. They all share a vibrant acidity that invigorates and refreshes your palate, just the thing to enjoy with food that has salty and/or fatty components. The acidity in these wines also puts a spotlight on the complex and exotic flavor layers in the food. If you think about it, the cuisines themselves echo this principle--from citrus or lemongrass to vinegar to yogurt to salsa, each is engineered with an acidic nerve center to fire the food's signature flavors. The wines also have distinctive scents and tastes, from herbal to fruity to spicy, that complement and even mimic those tastes in the food. No wonder they're the toast of the sommelier set. Some wine-savvy restaurants even spotlight separate sections of Food-Friendly Whites or Aromatic Varietals on the wine list, to draw your attention and encourage you to try them. It's hard to go wrong with any of them, but here are some fun recommendations for your exotic everyday dinners.

German Riesling Kabinett or Spatlese

The touch of sweetness in this style acts as a coolant for your tongue with spicy dishes such as chips and salsa, Thai green curries, Indian vindaloo, and spicy Chinese stir-fries. This wine style also cuts through and complements the rich meatiness of Peking duck and Chinese barbecued spareribs.

Alsace or Washington State dry Riesling, and Austrian Riesling and Gruner-Veltliner

The minerally citrus fruit and racy acidity of these wines makes the sea-sweet flavors of sushi pop, and refreshes against the kick of wasabi and the saltiness of soy. These wines also lift the earthiness of miso soup, tame the brininess of seaweed salad, and mirror the yogurt-tanginess of tandoori cooking. That cut of acidity also softens the lime in ceviches, allowing the fresh fish flavors to take center stage.

Alsace, German, or Washington state Gewurztraminer, Alsace Muscat, and Viognier

The floral-spiciness and tropical-apricot fruit of these grapes is luscious with Thai coconut milk or peanut-laced dishes like satay, pad thai, and Chinese kung pao chicken and cold sesame noodles. I also love them with the soy-sweet flavors of mu shu, teriyaki, and fermented black bean sauce. These grapes also pick up the earthy-sweet backnote of Latin starches such as plantains, yucca, and corn (in tortillas and empanadas), while kicking up the chili and pepper spices with which they're seasoned.

Chenin Blanc. This is the grape of the Vouvray and Savennieres districts in France's Loire Valley, where its mouthwatering acidity and spiced apple and floral scents make for a wine that's at once exotic on the scent, lean and racy on the palate. While Savennieres is always dry, Vouvray may be sec (dry), demi-sec (off-dry), or moelleux (very sweet). Chenin Blanc is also widely planted in South Africa, where it is sometimes called Steen, and yields crisp, apple blossom-scented wines that are often value-priced.

Gewurztraminer. It's pronounced guh-VURTS-truh-mee-ner. Gewurz is German for "spice," and traminer means "grape." So there you have it--a delicious, spicy grape. The fragrance is a very complex blend of apricot, lychee nut, rose petals, and allspice. The palate oozes mouth-filling apricot-mandarin orange fruit and honey flavors. The best regions for Gewurz (the pro abbreviation) are Alsace, France, California, and Washington State. Although it is a German grape, not much Gewurztraminer wine is exported from there.

Pinot Gris. I include this here because the French Alsace version fits the aromatic and exotic flavor profile (while as the lighter-bodied and tangy Italian Grigio, it belongs with the crisp whites in Chapter 4). In Alsace, Pinot Gris yields succulent and exotic Asian pear and honey flavors, and a softer, "fatter" texture than Riesling. It achieves a similar style in California and in Oregon, where it's the signature white grape.

Muscat. Muscat has been a beloved grape since ancient times, I think due to the perfume and flavor: honeysuckle and orange-blossom, tangerines, cloves and honey. It is produced mainly in Alsace, France, and in California and Greece.
Gruner-Veltliner. In this grape, the most widely planted in Austria and, to my knowledge, produced exclusively there, the spice character is more savory than sweet: white pepper, mustard powder, and ginger. The flavor is tangy-grapefruit and lemon custard. It's really a treat!

Viognier. This beautiful grape is indigenous to France's Rhine Valley, where the main wine produced from it is the regionally named Condrieu. The fragrance is of lavender, lemongrass, and ginger; the flavor is like tropical fruit. Viognier is also grown successfully as a varietal wine in California.
Ready to start cooking with spice? Let the flavor fireworks begin!

Oven-Crisped Red Potatoes with Thyme and Pumpkinseed Oil

Serves four as a side dish Creamy red potatoes are best for roasting, because they hold their shape during the long cooking time. Instead of cutting the potatoes into uniform pieces, I like to cut them all different sizes--from 1/2 inch bits that get really crispy to bigger 1-inch chunks that stay waxy-starchy. Thyme--fresh or dried--adds to the potatoes' earthy wine-friendliness, but the pumpkinseed oil--a specialty of Austria--clinches it. I first tasted this earthy-nutty oil, drizzled on some pate, when I was in Vienna competing in the 1997 World Championship of Sommeliers. I love it so much I tend to drizzle it on anything starchy--bread, roasted vegetables, pasta, even lentils. Stir in the pumpkinseed oil and seasonings toward the end of cooking so that they perfume the potatoes but don't burn and become bitter. The garlic, herb, and pumpkinseed oil flavors are fabulous with the savory-herbal tang of Austrian Gruner-Veltliner and Riesling whites.

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil to coat. Spread them in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, turning once, until the small ones are very brown and the large ones light golden, 40 to 45 minutes.

2. While the potatoes are roasting, combine the pumpkinseed oil, garlic, thyme, and salt to taste in a small bowl.

3. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, drizzle the pumpkinseed oil mixture onto the potatoes, and turn the potatoes to coat them with the oil. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast an additional 5 minutes to allow the potatoes to absorb the seasonings.

4. Spoon the potatoes into a serving bowl and serve immediately.

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