Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wine 101 or Sprite on your Honeymoon

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Seashell Sal and I were married. We were living in the suburban Boston at the time; it was so long ago that the Celtics were really good, the Patriots were really bad and the Red Sox truly forlorn. After the wedding in Michigan (SS Sal's childhood home) we honeymooned in Bermuda.

We stayed at the Elbow Beach Hotel, along with seemingly every newlywed couple from the New York City tri-state area. Two things struck us on that trip. One, we were 5-7 years older than nearly every other couple. In fact, some seemed to have gone straight from their high school proms, to the church and then to Bermuda. Two, we seemed to be the only couple interested in drinking wine with dinner.

To this day I can remember a high-haired woman at the next table, in an accented voice reminiscent of
a swarm of bees attacking a mule, telling the sommelier that she didn't want wine with her lobster, but she wanted "diet Sprite, cold but with no ice". She went on to tell her already roving-eyed husband that, "they just try and rip you off with the ice". "Gawd".

We learned everything we know about wine through our friendship with Wine Wizard Bob. I'll fill you in on the details of how we got to know WW Bob before the next recipe post. Today is the first of many lessons on wine. You're going to be getting my rules and guidelines. You'll be getting insights from WW Bob as well. Today it's the basics.

Crabby Rule #1: Drink what you like. The old rules of wine pairings were established in simpler cooking times. French chefs weren't widely exposed to chili peppers 100 years ago, Italian chef never saw jicama in the 1800's, etc., so it's much harder today to follow old guidelines.

Crabby Rule #1a: Drink what you like but remember there are classic match ups: German wines with pork, Red burgundy/Pinot Noir with roast duck, Cabernet/Merlot/Bordeaux with grilled beef, lamb or game.

Crabby Rule #2: When you can, drink wine from the area or country that the recipe comes from. Classic pairings happened over time. Like any business, winemakers made what people wanted, chefs cooked what people liked, over the centuries the two matched up very nicely.

Crabby Rule #3: When choosing a wine for a meal think about the dominant component. Heavy beef or lamb, then you need a heavy red wine. Veal, still a red meat but with a delicate flavor, go for a lighter red. Chicken, virtually flavorless, so think about the other flavors in play and lean toward a white wine.

Crabby Rule #4: Some foods just don't go with wine. Here's some insight direct from WW Bob:

Soup is awful with wine. The hot liquid just kills the enjoyment. Your mouth stays warm from the soup and this heat tends to accentuate the alcohol, it just tastes yucky. (Yucky, a formal wine term).

Salad is another troublemaker. It's not the bitter greens, but the vinegar in the dressing. The acid in wine is either lactic(milk), which gives the wine the creamy sensation, malic (apple), the snappy crispness in a fresh young wine, or tannic(the chalk dust wrapped around your tongue acid that comes from the barrel, grape skins and seeds). Now even though the vinegar, acetic acid, is weaker, it "trains" the wine acids to taste even more bitter. Another yucky sensation. So go for the sparkling water with your next salad. By the way, Vin=Wine, and Egar=Sour, and if you age a wine too long it will turn to Vinegar, perfect on a salad too.

This acid reaction is also why strong citrus dishes can be tough on wine. Citric acid fights the wine acids. That's why we don't mix OJ with milk, but then again, I just love those Creamsicles. So there are exceptions.

St. Patrick's Day is approaching, bad news, wine is horrid with the saltiness of corned beef and cabbage, so stick to the Guinness. Did you know that Guinness stout has less calories than most beers and is about the same as most light beers? That's why it floats on top of lagers.

Finally, the biggest disappointment is that almost all dessert wines are lousy with chocolate. Port was the safest choice, but recently I found a grape from the Piedmont section of Italy that is the perfect foil for all those Triple Decadent, Death by Flour less Chocolate Orgasmic Desserts. Brachetto d'Acqui is a low alcohol red wine that is pleasantly sweet with flavors and aromas reminiscent of roses and raspberries. Even though it is red wine, it needs to be served chilled. We get the English word Fizzy from the Italian word Frizzante and this wine is Frizzante. You will open the bottle with a corkscrew and the wine will not "pop" but it will foam a smidge in the glass and tickle your tongue as it goes down. It's also wonderful with a Sunday brunch. Expect to pay $15 to $25 a bottle.

There you go, four basic rules to get you started. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll be posting a chart that gives you general guidelines on what type of food goes with which type of wine.

Until then, here's a short list of moderately priced wines that WW Bob came up with that should be widely available in all precincts of Crab Nation:

Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay $12-$15
Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc $12-$16
J. Lohr $10-$20 Any type of wine.
Bogle Wines $10-$20 Any type (but Merlot is best)
Clean Slate Riesling (Germany) $12
Trimbach Pinot Gris $20 (Maybe harder to find, serve lightly chilled)

Well there's a start; we'll be expanding this list over time to hopefully come up with 15-25 reliable wines that most of you can find. Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.


Anonymous said...

About time you started putting your crabbiness (and your cooking and veering) into print -- even if it's an ephemeral kind of print. Bravo, VB. Best regards from Lake Minnetonka.

runwithperserverance said...

I agree with you on the J Lohr, especially the 2004 or earlier Cabernet with a juicy burger off the grill. Something happened starting with 2005. Any clue about the change?