When you come to one of our Dinner Shows, you will hear Chef Bob say, “We use wine as an ingredient not a beverage in menu planning.” This is not to say we won’t sip a glass of wine as a cocktail now and then, but we do prefer wine to be part of the ingredient list when we are planning a menu.
Wine is only good if you like it. So the way to choose wine is by tasting it. Keep a notebook of the ones you enjoy and refer to it when you are purchasing for your next dinner party. Because our focus is on food, we taste wine by identifying the food flavors we are tasting in the wine. That way, when we pair a wine to a menu we can easily determine if it will get along with the other ingredients on the plate.
This does not suggest that if you taste black cherry in a wine that the wine maker actually put black cherries into the wine. Rather, some of the same components that make black cherries taste like themselves are contributing to the wine in which you are tasting them. Seems tropical fruits can be tasted in wines grown in tropical climates. Coincidence or could there be something in the soil?
When I taste crisp Granny Smith apple in an Oregon Pinot Gris, I know that this wine is going to go with anything I like to eat with apple. I love cheese and apple, so this wine is good with a cheese board. I think apple and peanut butter are flavor mates, and though I joke about drinking wine with a peanut butter sandwich, I would drink that wine with a Thai peanut sauce.
What you taste in a wine is usually connecting to your own sensory memories. That is, you make associations through tastes. If you taste earthiness or compost in a wine, you may not have ever tasted dirt or compost, but you associate what you taste with something you have tasted with similar characteristics–a porcini mushroom might be a perfect match with that wine.
Our shelves at EVOO contain mainly good afordable “food” wines. That means to us they pair nicely with food. They are able to play well with whatever I might choose to put on the plate. Wines that are big bold and amazing all on their own may not pair well with food because they over power the food components, upsetting the balance we try to create. These may best be consumed by themselves.
When we are asked to recommend a wine we usually ask, “what are you serving?” If they don’t know or are taking the bottle as a hostess gift, we usually recommend a red blend. That way whatever is served, one of the grape varietals will pop to the fore front and match the menu. In fact, there may be different varietals coming forward as you eat around the menu. White blends are a bit trickier but one we really love is Sokol Blosser’s EVOLUTION. There are so many varietals they don’t even list them, and as a result, we almost always include it at our wine bar for parties and weddings. A little sweet on the front but by the third sip our guests are coming back for more.
And about that third sip. It often takes the tongue that long to equalize the pH in the mouth so you truly taste all aspects of the wine. We shorten the time by suggesting a quick gargle with the first sip, so subsequent sipping is more true to the wine. Just remember not to spit when gargling in polite company.