Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Food & Wine Pairing for Dummies

Let's face it - unlike most Europeans, most Americans think that Coca Cola is the best beverage with almost any meal. Very few of us have been raised to believe any differently, but we couldn't be more wrong. Think about it - whether it's diet or regular soda, when was the last time that you thought "Hmmmm...this soda really complements the smoky flavor in this grilled steak!"? If you're being honest with yourself, the answer is never.

But hey, Doug & I are definitely not experts on these things - damn near dummies, in fact - which is why we were thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Lukas Liquor's food & wine pairing event last Friday night. We were in a room full of approximately 20 people that were willing to share their extensive knowledge on how to unravel this mystery, & we took full advantage...of the wonderful food & delicious wine that they happened to throw in with it!

I'll be typing all night if I ran down the whole list, & that could get pretty boring. Hell, some of you are probably thinking "There she goes again....", & that's fine - go drink your Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper with that lasagna, & we'll pick up on another subject later. For those of you that are interested, here we go...

The tasting room at Lukas was crowded, so we couldn't really go from table to table in the order that was intended. Well, we could have, but the 4 of us - me, Doug, & our friends Shan & Sean - are fairly impatient when it comes to our wine, so we hopped around a bit. The tables were set up so that your palate wouldn't exhaust itself from all the different flavors, but we're wise enough to know that if you're going to taste over 25 different wines - not to mention food - you're just not going to win that battle unless you taste like the professionals do....in other words, spit. While spitting has its place - in my book, a very secluded one that isn't visited often - that wasn't in the cards for us. We were quite content with not being too wine geeky & just do our best to eat the food, drink the wine, & appreciate the pairing without wasting the wine. After all, depending on the wine, that's a sin.

Enough of my gabbing - I'll get to the highlights:

We started out with Creole crab cakes with Broadbent Vinho Verde, & it was really nice. Vinho Verde is a very crisp, refreshing, & ever-so-slightly fizzy white wine from Portugal, & in my opinion, it rocks on its own, but is also great with fish, shellfish, or any light chicken entree.

Lobster bisque is one of our must-haves at Wild Flower, a little place by my office, but we've never quite known what kind of wine to pair with it. So, we've always gone with the Wild Orchid, which is a to-die-for raspberry margarita...& a horrid match for lobster bisque! Now we know better - a Viogner is an excellent choice! We had the Bridlewood Viogner, & it really made sense to us. But damn, I sure do love those Wild Orchids...maybe we'll just get those after the bisque, eh?

They didn't have this available when we were nearby, but I heard people raving about the fresh strawberries served with the Angovese Nine Vine Rose'. Since rose' wines often have strawberry character to them, I can see how this pairing would be a winner. Besides, this particular rose' is a steal for under $10, so what have you got to lose?

Wine & pizza....yum. One of the most knowledgeable reps we know, Brent, was kind enough to bring in Dewey's Pizza to go with 2 of his wines - the veggie & the meatball, to be exact. The Cusumano Nero d'Avola was delightful with the meatball pizza, & we were excited to be able to refresh our memories on why we own this particular bottle of wine. (God only knows how much money we spend on wine & we have no idea why we bought it!) With the veggie pizza, Brent chose to serve the Pieropan Soave... whodathunk it? Even though I picked the veggies off, I got it, & it was good. So good that we had to snag a bottle of the Pieropan & quit ignoring the Cusumano in our rack!

A little while ago, my good pal Lucy wrote about Cal Ital wines, so these next 2 wines satisfied the craving that she kicked off! Tony made his own sausage bolognese (mmmmmmm) & decided to pair 2 wines out of Mendocino County, CA - the Enotria Barbera & the Enotria Dolcetto (sorry, couldn't find links), & he knocked it out of the park with both! Hopefully it just wasn't the pairing that was so good...we bought both!

Our good friend Robin brought in her should-be-famous marinated sirloin (I'm telling you, the woman can cook!) along with one of our favorites, D & S Meritage (a red wine) & a fabulous wine we hadn't tried - the Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon. Talk about heavenly matches with the sirloin! We already own the D&S, so yes, we picked up the Smith & Hook, & we can't wait to try it with our own - or someone else's - grilled creations.

Another friend of ours, Amy, had the good sense to bring in arepas (South American corn cakes) from Wapango to pair with her Paso a Paso Tempranillo & Verdejo - both Spanish beauties - & both choices were fabulous. Good thing they're both inexpensive, because we'll be back for both!

A lot of people adore Riesling, & it's the "noble" white grape & a favorite for pairing...but Doug & I aren't sold on it yet. We've tried many Rieslings ranging from dry to sweet, & we have bottles that we like quite a bit, but we just don't get it...yet. However, the Riesling from Hogue Cellars gave us a bit of hope when paired with Creole stuffed shells from Juniper Grill! Wow.

The surprise of the evening was from, of all places, Romania. Christian, a really nice guy but one that often has offerings we aren't nuts about, brought homemade Baklava (!!) & poured Prahova Valley Tamaiosa Romaneasca to go along with it. (Sorry, I couldn't find a link in English!) Up until then, we hadn't had a Romanian wine that really impressed us, but this one was really good. It was sweet, but not in a cloying way, & with the Baklava, it was just incredible. I won't say it was the best pairing of the evening, but it was definitely at the top. We were just glad to see the "little guy" from Romania show what his country's wines can do.

Oh, I could go on about a few other wines, or at least the food, but I think I've done enough. I learned quite a bit, was fed well, & had a fun little buzz when I got out of Lukas, so the evening was a smash! Plus, we brought home 4 kick-ass bottles of wine & rediscovered a couple that we already have. While we certainly enjoyed ourselves, I hope that those of you that stuck with me have gotten an idea or 2 about what wine to serve or order the next time you're wanting to mess around with the world of food & wine pairing.

Remember - the rule of red wine with red meat, white wine with fish & poultry is only the beginning. Yes, Riesling can work with beef, & red wine can work with fish. In the end, you should drink what you like with what you like - don't let the wine snobs sway you with their fancy talk. It matters what you think of your choice, not anyone else.


Kelly said...

I love the Romanian wines that Terra Firma imports. Christian brought his dog to the vet clinic I worked for in high school. He brought in a case of wine for Christmas one year and the doctor was kind enough to share with all of us. They had a lovely blush wine that I can't think of the name of... it was sweet but not sickeningly sweet. Wonderful on a hot summer day.

I'll have to keep an eye out for another food-wine pairing at Lukas. Sounds like it was a good time!

LucyinStLou said...

It sounds wonderful! I'm sorry we missed it. You did a wonderful job describing the combos. Can't wait to try Soave with veggie pizza. That never would have crossed my mind before.

Mr. Luce & I are firmly in the Riesling camp. While some can be overly sweet and cloying, others are just so...well balanced. And a little sweetness can be just the thing with spicy food. Maybe we'll eventually recruit you too.

Claire said...

Kelly, thanks for stopping by! We've enjoyed several of Christian's wines, & he's so very proud of them. Unfortunately, we don't buy it that much because there's always something else that we want more... I don't know the name of the blush, but next time I see him, I'll try to remember to ask him about it!

Lucy, it would've been so fun if you guys could've joined us, but I understand why you didn't. Ah, loyalty... I was also very surprised at the Soave/pizza pairing, but it was brilliant! Soaves are hit & miss, but this one is really nice. Maybe we'll recreate those pairings sometime soon, huh?

Oh, & I think it's entirely possible that we can be recruited. You know us... We're just struggling a bit - some are too sweet, some have too much petrol going on, & others just don't have much at all, it seems. We tend to favor the bolder stuff, but we're working on that...

LucyinStLou said...

Yes, indeed! We'd love to recreate it. Sounds like a swell idea for a party.

Anonymous said...

I like your final rule - I just wanna drink what I like! ;) And Riesling...yuuuuuuum.

Claire said...

Lucy - you're on. It rocked.

Krystal, that's exactly it - if you think an oaky Chard works wonders with tomato sauce, then that's great! I wouldn't agree, but we don't share the same tastebuds. I really don't know that much about it, & I really don't put a lot of thought into what kind of food calls for a fruity red or whatever - I just go with my gut. If my gut has nothing to say, then I just pick what I like, & I'm happy, even if I have to finish the wine AFTER the meal! =) Still working on the Riesling thing.

Em said...

I know why I picked up the Cusumano - because of that ubercool glass stopper. It's not a bad wine, but I haven't bought it again because there's many others I like better. The Vinho Verde in my fridge is Gazela - us Marylander's eat a lot of crabcakes and it does pair well.
Awesome blog - I do get confused as to what to drink with what - but when I make a mistake - I might put the food aside, but never the wine.

Claire said...

Em, you should've had the Nero d'Avola with this pizza...Man, it was good.

We LOVE the Gazela! It's cheap & good, & the bottle is cool. It's perfect for crabcakes or just on its own.

I'd love to take credit for the blog's awesomeness - I only paid to go, drank, ate, & paid some attention to what I was doing. If I'd set this thing up, it would've been a mess! =)