Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wine-Down Wednesday- Food first? Or Wine?

Great food and wine pairings begin with the thought that goes into the bottle or menu chosen- but so often combined with our favorite wine paired with familiar ingredients, and a fear of failure can influence our choices- leading to the same ole same ole boring menus.

I find stepping outside of the 'fear of trying' new things, along with new ingredients can lead to wine paring success and a really fun dinner party!

Do you chose the menu first, or buy the wine before choosing the menu?

Do you buy the same reliable bottle of wine each time you shop?

When eating out- Do you chose the food before ordering the wine, or do you order your favorite martini, and bottle then chose the food?

With my menu this past Sunday- Apple Smoked Chorizo Stuffed Lamb,  I stopped in the local retail store, went straight to the Australian/New Zealand section, and began looking around. I already had my main course chosen, so I needed wine. This made since, New Zealand Lamb paired with a New Zealand (or close enough on the map) an Australian vintage.

Grass feed beef that will have similar flavors of the wine- A 'Regional' pairing. 

I needed wine for my chorizo stuffing, as well as a possible wine infused sauce. So often feeling overwhelmed standing in Joe Canal's starring at all those bottles- ceiling to floor, wall to wall bottles. No wonder my husband disappears for hours, as he goes off to do our wine cellar shopping.

Reading label after label can be daunting, but so worth it!

My philosophy (as well as many other experts) is if one is going to cook with wine, you should use a good bottle, and never the store bought cooking wines. Mid-range and in expensive works, but it should pair with what you are drinking as well. They should always compliment each other - The same works for beer!

Being that I want to bring good bargain wines to this Wine-Down Wednesday table, I zoned in on Australian blends, and then zoned in on the price. Set my limit of $10 to 20, and chose this bottle- Pillar Box Red $12

~ Simple rules to pairing food and wine ~

Drink what you like...

What you like to drink always takes precedence over any recommendation that I might make, but it does help if someone you trust has a tried and true recommendation!

Start by thinking about the dish or meal as a whole. What are its dominant characteristics?

Is it mild or flavorful?
Is it fatty or lean?
Is it rich or acidic?

With these characteristics in mind, select a wine that will:
(I call these, 'OLD' rules of food & wine pairing, but they do work)

Keep flavors in balance

Match mild foods with mild wines 
Match big, flavorful foods with big, flavorful wines
(I also encourage to step out of the box now and then!)

Similarly you generally want to match the richness of the food and the richness of the wine.

Cleanse the palate with tannins or acids

If you're eating a relatively rich, 'fatty' dish and thinking about drinking a red wine
(when you eat a beef steak, for example)
you probably want a wine with some good tannins* in it to help cleanse the palate.

If you're eating a very rich, 'fatty' dish and thinking about drinking a white wine, or a red like a Pinot Noir that have light tannic tones to balance the fat...
(when you eat fried chicken, for example)

Match Acids with Acids
(back to balance again)

If you're eating a dish with a strong acidic content
(such as Shrimp with Lemon or Pasta with Tomato Sauce)
pair it with an acidic wine that can keep up with the acids in the food.

Acidic Wines and Cream Don't Mix
(not so true anymore- they have discovered adding a squeeze of lemon changes this!)

Rich cream sauces will usually clash with an acidic wine like a Sauvignon Blanc.
Think about it this way...If you squeezed lemon juice into a cup of milk, would it taste good? 
(Okay, this is an old trick my grandmother used- it makes a quick buttermilk fix for biscuits!)

Wine and Strong Spices

Strong spices, such as hot chili peppers in some Chinese or Indian food,
can clash and destroy the flavors in a wine. In most cases, wine is not the ideal thing to drink, beer is often a better choice.
However, if wine is what you must have, consider something spicy and sweet itself
such as an off-dry Gewurtztraminer or Riesling.
(So old school to me: Only refers to young tannic wines that clash- Pinot Noir & Aged Ripassa can work!)

When In Doubt...

Remember that foods generally go best with the wines they grew up with.
So if you're eating Italian food, think about having an Italian wine.
(This isn't a requirement, but often helps simplify the decision)

Regional cuisine to Regional Wines... 
is always a fail safe pairing tip!

Pillar Box Padthaway Red, South Australia $12- Break this one out at an impromptu dinner party or use for a tasting comparison.

Bold, fruity, jammy (mouthfeel), hints of spice (garam masala, could see it pairing with my 'Chai Marinated Lamb' dish. Bottled for immediate drinking, or has plenty enough alcohol and tartness to see it age gracefully.

During the course of the meal this wine went very well with the lamb- fat vs tannins, but once the food was gone, and I came back to it- I felt it was too heavy for just sipping, so definitely should be decanted,and drank with meal or cheeses. I would definitely buy it again- matter of fact I am adding some extra bottles to keep on hand for future lamb recipes.

Pillar Box Red is a a blend of 65% Shiraz, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot- considered a 'New World' style of blend, coming from the Padthaway Region of Australia who's terrior was once a sea bed covering vast limestone that influence the grapes, and referred to as the Limestone Coast. Also, a blend technique found in South African Cape red wines. I find many South African wines go well with spiced, African or even Moroccan recipes (not 'hot', or heavy chilies in spice).

If ratings mean anything- Robert Parker gave Pillar Box Red a 90

Don't take my word for it- Go try it for yourself!