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09.29.2005

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and something to drink?pairing food with wine by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3 4
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First things first: don't panic. Far and away the easiest tactic is just to look to the region of the cuisine for inspiration. After all, chances are good your friendly wine merchant has already taken the trouble to organize the offerings according to where in the world the wine was produced. If you're looking for wine to go with an Italian meal, the Italian section of wines is generally a dandy place to start looking. If the food is more French in style, head towards the French bottles. If you're having tapas or paella, the Spanish riojas make a logical match. when to skip the wine... Not every meal requires wine. With ethnic cuisines in which wine doesn't traditionally play a major role -- Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Mexican -- you're often best off choosing a drink that's actually associated with the cuisine. A good lager-style beer pairs beautifully with all of these, tea makes a fine accompaniment for Chinese and Japanese, and margaritas are a natural match for Mexican. If you're dead-set on wine, however, the wine most typically recommended for highly spicy foods is Gewurtztraminer.

The second easiest way to start thinking about pairing food and drink is to think about matching like with like, in terms of both dominant flavor and the strength of the flavor. At its most basic, this will mean that the lighter the food, the lighter the wine should be. The idea is that if your main dish has very delicate, subtle flavors, you'll want to keep the wine similarly light to avoid drowning out the food; conversely if you're serving up a meal with big bold flavors, you'll need a similarly bold wine whose taste will shine through the heaviness of the food. 

Beyond that, the like-with-like theory also means that it's generally best to pair sweetish foods with sweetish wines (like off-dry Gewurtztraminer or Riesling), and tart foods with wines that have a good amount of acidity (say a Sauvignon Blanc or dry Riesling). Meanwhile, slightly bitter foods are often best complemented by a slightly bitter, higher tannin wine -- Shiraz, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon for instance. (Yes, I know bitter doesn't sound like a good quality in any edible, but pay attention the next time you're biting into a big juicy grilled burger and note: that delicious flavor of char? Kind of bitter isn't it?)

Wines might all come from grapes, but the range of flavors they can display is amazing. So how are you supposed to know which wines have what characteristics? Well, read any wine label and you'll find a dizzying array of adjectives and flavors that describe its taste. Now as you're reading all these adjectives (earthy, supple, zesty, tropical, creamy) and flavors (herb, chocolate, spice, licorice, melon, berry), think about how those flavors and qualities correspond to the flavors and qualities of your food. Oftentimes, the sauce, marinade or glaze that you're serving with your main dish will provide the best clues. A Pinot Noir described as earthy, for instance, might make a good choice to try with your wild mushroom sauce; that Zinfandel boasting a peppery spice might be a great match for a steak with peppercorn sauce.

amble on this way folks!

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