It's the age-old question. No, not the stupid chicken and egg thing. We're talkin' eats and drinks. What's best? Key in on the food, then match the wine? Or start with the wine and make the food own up?
Well, it depends. In the standard, food-centric scenario, you either cook something you picked up at the store, nuke something from the freezer or settle for some "daily special" from a local eatery. Then, with a mix of bravado and panic, you pick out a bottle of vino. Food first; wine second.
That's the usual M.O. But it ain't the only way to go. Making that juice in your glass the star instead can put a whole new spin on things. So, if the old game of "what goes with steaks-chops-gorditas-whatever" makes you want to bolt to the fridge for a brew, get ready to shine the spotlight on your wine.
Let's say you're stoked by a XXX review in this mag and you spy said juice at your local bottle shop or dinner spot. You gotta have it. Now, what chow do you down with it?
First, check out the body. Is it a hulking sumo wrestler or an underfed supermodel? Next, sweetness -- is it sugar you taste or just a lot of fruity aromas? You'll also want to know how much acidity it has (tastes tangy or flat?) and what actual aromas and flavors it delivers. (Lots more on this in Part Two, next issue.)
Don't worry if you can't figure this stuff out for yourself. There's plenty of help out there. The typical Wine X review, for starters, packs lots of info into that quirky little turn of phrase. For example, "A leather-jacketed Tyrannosaurus rex in a berry patch sippin' a mocha, chewin' a licorice whip and pickin' his teeth with an oak twig." As off-the-wall as this sounds, it tells you that the wine is a) huge, like a dinosaur; b) fruity, like berries; c) full of "dark" flavors, like chocolate, coffee, licorice and even leather; and d) oak-barrel aged, which, as we'll see next time, also suggests flavors of vanilla, toast and baking spices like cinnamon and clove.
The price is also a good clue. In general, the more a wine costs, the bigger it is -- which usually means oakier and butterier for whites like chardonnay; richer, yeastier and fuller-flavored for bubblies; and "darker" (in both color and flavor), more tannic (giving a thicker, "chewier" mouth-feel) and more complex and concentrated for reds like cabernet, syrah and zin.
When in doubt, there's always the "can-I-help-you" wine guy/gal at the corner store. Since sampling the merchandise is part of their job description, there's a chance you'll get some of the answers you need about your wine. (For best results, patronize stores that stock Wine X and tell 'em we sent ya.) Even if all they can muster is "It'll put hair on your chest" or "Silky, real silky," you'll at least have a start.
But why rely on some here-today-gone-tomorrow drone (or anyone else's opinions but your own for that matter!) when you can learn to hone your own tasting skills at home with like-minded friends? The cool part is you can make it as sit-down-tasting formal or as kick-back casual as you want.
In the next issue we'll check out some tips, techniques and tasty training tools that'll help kick your wine-tasting prowess to the next level. Meanwhile, we'll lay some groundwork. The easy main dishes that follow are designed to go with everything from white and rose' to bubbly and red. So round up the usual suspects, pop a few corks and pass out the forks. Ask some questions about likes and dislikes (and make sure they all know there are no wrong answers). If your crowd's already pretty savvy, you can ask 'em how the foods make the wines taste, as well as the other way around. This'll give you a good basic sense of everyone's skill level and taste preferences, and a great starting point.
Next time, we'll get into the fine-tuning. Enjoy!