Wine and food pairing continues to be a fascinating, and sometimes intimidating, exercise. We often make it harder than it should be; however, those who try to take away the uncertainty by saying “anything goes – drink what you like with whatever you like to eat,” are clearly setting us up for a fall, because some combinations simply jar the palate. And the subject is complex, as we now drink wines from around the world while eating food that is influenced by many different cuisines, some with wine in their culture, some without.
Enter Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, the award-winning author duo who have brought us behind the scenes of the restaurant world with their books Culinary Artistry and Becoming a Chef, and described the lives of restaurant critics in Dining Out. Dornenburg and Page collect the food-pairing wisdom of top sommeliers for their latest tome, with their most unwieldy title yet: What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers” (Bulfinch, $35).
There’s a lot to like in this book, for wine experts and novices alike. We get a glimpse of the sommelier’s life, or at least an introduction to his or her way of thought. This can give us not only insight into food-drink pairing but also on how to enjoy our restaurant meals to the max.
The experts consulted by the authors include DC’s own Michael Flynn, sommelier at Kinkead’s American Brasserie and wine director at Colvin Run Tavern in Tyson’s Corner, Va. I wish there was more of Flynn in the book, because I have benefited from his insights for many years. He does a good job with his pick of “desert island wines,” an exercise many of the book’s experts use to show off unhelpfully by naming rare, expensive vintages they have had. Flynn actually recommends beef stew with a Bollinger Recently Disgorged Tête de Cuvée Champagne:
“It’s that marrow-y side to a well-made Champagne that seems to work well with a red meat combination,” Flynn says. “Bollinger is one of the richest styles of Champagne, as is Krug. Once you taste it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.”
The best part of What to Drink with What You Eat is contained in two long chapters arranged as mini-encylopedias. Having cheese? There’s a section on various cheeses and suggested wine pairings. Chinese food? Indian? They’re listed, too, along with hints on what to avoid (tannic wines). This section gets a little silly, with entries for Hostess Twinkies (asti) and Kit Kat bars (African tea). But if there’s an ingredient in your menu that you think might dominate a dish, you’re likely to find a drink suggestion here.
Similarly, if you’ve got a special bottle in your cellar but want to take care not to overshadow it with an inappropriate dish, Dornenburg and Page have a chapter called “What to Eat with What You Drink.” This chapter includes nearly three pages on pairings for various types of Champagnes.We learn that Beaujolais pairs well with charcuterie, hamburgers, sausages and fish – the list of pairings even includes “lunch.” In fact, Beaujolais appears so often in the “what to drink” chapter that one wonders why the wine continues to have a lightweight reputation among wine drinkers.
What to Drink with What You Eat should end up under a lot of Christmas trees this holiday season. It’s a good book to pick up, open at random and peruse for ideas, or to look up a specific wine or ingredient before firing up the stove or pulling a cork.
A votre santé!