THE HOSEMASTER’S BASICS OF WINE APPRECIATION 3
In this edition of the Basics of Wine Appreciation we’re going to talk about wine and food pairing. Food and wine go together like death and old people. You can’t talk about one without talking about the other. But it makes you uncomfortable. You feel overwhelmed by it, ill-prepared, even scared. But Grandma’s gonna die anyway. All you can do is try to make sure it isn’t ugly. So it is with food and wine.
How does wine enhance food, and vice-versa?
Imagine a meal so wonderful it erases the need to get drunk. Yeah, I know, you can’t. Yet imagine a wine so amazing you don’t feel the need to eat. Easy, right?! So really what we’re talking about is the meaninglessness of food without wine. I’d no sooner eat a meal without wine than I’d watch TV with my pants on. Which can get tricky in airport terminals. (And explains the public address warning to not handle a stranger’s package.) Wine enhances food by altering your consciousness. One minute you’re thinking, “This dinner sucks,” but a glass of wine or two later you’re thinking, “I’d better eat more or I’ll be shitfaced.” Oh, there may be other reasons wine enhances food, but, honestly, that’s the only one that matters.
What are the basic things to remember about matching wine and food?
First of all, you should remember that it’s always important to have way more wine than food. A good rule of thumb is one bottle of wine for every three ounces of meat. (If you’re inviting vegetarians over for dinner I’m not really sure why, but you’ll need a lot more wine just to get through the damn meal. Hint: Gruner Veltliner is basically Beano.) Secondly, remember that the price of the wine and the price of the food should be in inverse proportion. As the price of the wine rises, the cost of the dinner should get lower. What are you, a sheikh? Would you like fries with that sheikh? Serving very pricey wine with fancy-schmancy food is a ticket to culinary disaster, like making reservations at Hooters for Mother’s Day. Stick to cheap wines with your expensive meals. You don’t need Chateau d’Yquem with your foie gras! That’s nuts. You can get the same experience serving it with Barefoot Moscato. Use common sense. And when you want to feature a very expensive wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion, why ruin it with an expensive meal? That bottle of Screaming Eagle? Hot dogs and Tater Tots. Napa Valley’s most expensive and snootiest cult wine screams for pig intestine and floor sweepings. Which might also describe their mailing list.
You also want to remember that wine just isn’t meant to go with food from many foreign cultures. There are people that will tell you that the perfect wine with Thai food is Gewürztraminer. Have you ever had Gewürztraminer with Thai food? It’s like trying to put out a house fire with Chanel No. 5. It’s the same with Indian food. People always ask what wine goes with curry. Something red? Something white? Something with residual sugar? No. Actually, I use Indian food as a foil for the corked wines from my cellar. Something about a touch of TCA that brings out the best in Indian cuisine. (Hint: That same wet dog component is wonderful with Korean food.) Don’t force stupid wine and food pairings. Just get over it. There isn’t a perfect wine match for every food, and anyone that tells you otherwise is an idiot. Or writes for Food and Wine. Same thing.
What’s the best way to approach pairing wine with food?
It’s always best when planning a dinner party around wine and food to pretend you’re going to be dining alone. If it were just you eating that carefully prepared feast, what would you drink? Reflect upon your past experience eating alone, no doubt quite extensive if you’re always annoying your friends with food and wine pairings. The answer is, obviously, you’d drink whatever the fuck you felt like drinking. So treat your guests as you would treat yourself. Just open some goddam wine and get over it.
Aren’t white wines better with fish and red wines better with meat?
It’s a little known fact to everyone except experienced wine people that red wines are better with everything. Everything. I repeat, everything. White wines aren’t designed to accompany food. They’re all messed up with acidity, and you serve them really cold. OK, maybe you serve white wine with really cold food like gazpacho, ice cream and everything served by that really drunk waitress at IHOP. But otherwise, always think red wine with dinner. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that Champagne is great with food. Just think about it. Underripe fruit fermented in a bottle until it bubbles? What are we, homeless people? No. Champagne, if it’s any good, ruins the taste of food. It does, however, taste really good on human flesh.
So why do we spend so much time and effort on matching food with wine?
There’s a huge Food and Wine Cartel that makes unspeakable amounts of money intimidating people about what wine they should consume with their food, that makes them feel they are missing out, that they’re culinary and social failures. There are whole cable channels devoted to it, countless magazines, an endless parade of winemaker dinners and wine-pairing menus. Let the experts tell you what to drink with your gourmet meal! You’re stupid, you’d probably ruin it with that wine you just like to drink. All you need to do is subscribe, or tune in, or leave it in our hands, and a world of sensual pleasure awaits you, a world unobtainable to mere mortals, those without the secret metrics. What better way to rob folks of the pleasures of both food and wine? Talk it to death.