Choosing wine for your night out
by: Vino Joe (e-mail)
Okay, you've tried a few different wines by the glass, you've sampled some others at wine tastings and you've been reading my columns on a regular basis. Now you're ready to attack the restaurant wine list.
Firstly, what kind of night out is it? A romantic dinner for two, a bunch of friends going out or a full blown party? It's usually easier to match a wine for two dishes than 10, so you can apply more thought for that dinner date.
If your aim is to impress your date, your best bet is red Burgundy, which is only made from the Pinot Noir grape. Pinot noir is a smooth, seductive wine with a silky texture and beautifully subtle fruits. The wine goes with almost everything, and the price is sure to dazzle your date. Even if your date is a geek, he/she is sure to be familiar with the fame of Gallo's "Hearty Burgundy -- so the real thing will impress her even more!
Okay, let's get serious now. Yes, Pinot Noir from Burgundy is sure to amaze your date. But in truth there is no "best" or "ideal" wine for all occasions, despite what the TV commercials may proclaim. However, there are a few rules that can guide your wine selection, and when the party is too large to please everyone, there are a few wines that are versatile enough for almost any occasion.
You're probably well aware of the red wine with red meat/white wine with white meat "rule." There certainly is some integrity to that suggestion but, considering the number of wines and number of foods, it is by no means a "law" to follow without question. Rather, take it as a starting point.
Your best bet is to order wines you are familiar with. If your palate history is still sparse, Vino Joe suggests the following wines, which seem to match well with a variety of foods:
WHITES: Riesling from Germany or Alsace; real French Chablis; Pinot Grigio; Orvieto; California Sauvignon Blanc (preferably unoaked); Sancerre; Pouilly Fume; Macon-Village; Trebbiano d'Abruzzo; and Gavi.
REDS: Chianti Classico; Beaujolais Village (NOT "nouveau"); Rioja Crianza; Cotes du Rhone; Bardolino; and Pinot Noir.
You'll notice I suggested neither Chardonnay nor Merlot, the two most popular wines in the USA. That's because there are so many styles of these two varietals on the market, it's impossible to say that they will be a good match. Too many Chardonnays are overoaked and sickly sweet and thusly unsuitable for food, and many Merlots are either excruciatingly boring and simple or so rich and oaky that they overpower delicate dishes.
For the most part, you'll want to match bigger, bolder red wines with big, rich flavored grilled and roasted red meats. For example, a California Cabernet Sauvignon or a Rhone Valley Crozes-Hermitage will likely go very nicely with roast beef, prime rib, beef tenderloin, or beef anything. For these big, beefy dishes, you'll be safe with: Cabernet Sauvignon, affordable Bordeaux (though many are too tannic to enjoy), Syrah/Shiraz, Zinfandel, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Tempranillo, oaked Malbec, Pinotage and Super Tuscans. For less bold meat dishes, such as grilled chicken, liver and similarly structured meats, match lighter red wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Sangiovese, Rosso di Montalcino, Chianti Classico riserva, unoaked Malbec and Valpolicella.
When your dishes are Italian, and specifically pasta, you have a wealth of choices. Choose anything that ends in a vowel; specifically, Bardolino, Valpolicella, Chianti, Gattinara, Dolcetto and Barbera for red-sauced pasta dishes. All of these wines are high in acidity, and thus have the structure to stand up to the acidity of the tomato sauce. If you're having a white sauce pasta or fish, go with Gavi, Orvieto, Trebbiano or Chablis.
Does it seem like I'm recommending a lot of Italian wines? That's because so many Italian wines are made specifically to harmonize with a variety of foods. It's true that ALL wines are supposed to be enjoyed with food, but many wines take quite a bit of effort to match well, whereas it seems that so many Italian wines have characteristics that make them very amenable to food. I'm sure I'll get a slew of flaming emails for this remark, but give me a chance to explain.
Firstly, a lot of Italian wines are high in acidity, which gives them an element to stand up to rich and acidic foods and sauces. Most Italian wines also are subtle in their flavors, so as not to overpower delicately styled dishes. The third reason I favor Italian wines is because so many of them are consistent in their style and have held their original character. For example, save a few pioneering experimentalists, today's Gavi is very similar to the Gavi of a hundred years ago; similarly dependable are Valpolicella, Bardolino, Roero Arneis and Ribolla Gialla. These were all wines that were styled to synthesize with the local cuisine, and for the most part have changed very little through the centuries. So once you've tasted a few examples, you'll have a good idea of how they'll match with particular foods.
If the wine list says merely "white (red) wine by the glass," then ask what variety of white or red. Donít be afraid; after all itís
your hard earned cash thatís being spent, so the least you could know is what variety of swill youíre buying.
Or maybe youíve advanced your geekdom to an "educated" response like, "weíll take a carafe of the Pinot Grigio." Or perhaps youíre way beyond that, and ordering specific brands of wines, like "Santa Margherita." (I always thought that red nose was due to some boozing; I just never thought of Santa Claus wasting away in Margaritaville.)
Thatís great if you know enough about wine to order something specific; however, if you order the same wine every time, youíre missing out on all the fun. After all, do you order the same food every time you go out to a restaurant? Well, maybe you do. If so, donít bother reading my column anymore -- youíre just wasting your time.
The rest of you can join me in exploring the fabulous world of wine!
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