Monday, February 22, 2010

Food and Wine: the Search for Versatility

Pairing food and wine can be a perplexing, confusing business. People can be nutty on the subject and I have to admit I can be a bit obsessive about finding the perfect food to go with Pinot Gris and the ideal wine for spaghetti and meatballs.

In a world of shrinking bank accounts and free time, I've started prizing versatility in wine. When I go to the store, I'm increasingly drawn to wine that goes with everything. What that often means is that my shopping bag contains a red blend and a bottle of Gewurztraminer. Here's why.

Why Red Blends? Here in the US we tend to gravitate towards single-variety bottlings--Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah. The rest of the world does things differently. Chianti is made from a blend of red grapes that includes at least 80% Sangiovese. In the Rhone, red wines can include Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and other red grapes. Like Bordeaux reds? These bottles typically contain Merlot, Cabernet, and juice from Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc. In my mouth, blending grapes takes some of the hard varietal edges from a wine. Put Merlot with Cabernet and some of its green pepperiness goes away, for instance. This makes red blends great food wines, capable of adapting themselves to a variety of cuisines--from burgers to roast chicken to beef curry. In the US, many red blends feature Zinfandel and Syrah. This makes them smooth to drink, and a bit higher in alcohol levels than those from Europe so read your labels! One nice red to try is the 2007 Adastra Ed's Red ($15). This big, yummy, smooth red blend is comprised of 43% Syrah, 39% Zinfandel, 13% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Made with organic grapes (see note below), it has abundant notes of dark chocolate, plum, and black cherry in the aromas and flavors. This wine is not only very good QPR--it goes own VERY easily too, so remember it's 15% ABV. Pair it with anything from soups, stews, burgers, spaghetti, pizza, roast chicken with rosemary, pork tenderloin, beef curry--let your imagination fly. NOTE: the nice folks at Adastra tell me that because this is a blend, the mix is not made exclusively from grapes grown in Adastra's organic vineyards.

Why Gewurztraminer? When I started thinking about this post, I was planning on extolling the virtues of Sauvignon Blanc. That's a versatile grape, too. But Gewurz edges it out, in my opinion. That's because it pairs beautifully with Asian cuisine--Thai, Chinese, Japanese, even Indian. It also is perfect with pork, sausage, and chicken. So whether you've got some delicate sushi or a hearty Alsatian pork stew, a flavorful Thai curry or a plateful of sausages and mashed potatoes, Gewurztraminer turns out to be a surprisingly good option. Gewurztraminers can be made in a dry or slightly off-dry style, so look at the description on the label. The spicier your food, the better it can handle a bit of sweetness in the wine. The most versatile Gewurztraminers, I find, are the dry ones. One I enjoyed recently was the 2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Gewurztraminer from the Russian River Valley's Saralee's Vineyards ($20, domaineLA). I loved this domestic Gewurztraminer with its classic, restraind flavor profile. Elegant apple and white nectarine aromas lead into flavors that are almost steely in their intensity and dominated by apple and stone. The aftertaste tends towards nectarine, but this wine is by no means sweet. It was lovely with a tamarind chicken curry, with some sausage, and with a pork stew. Excellent QPR.

Do you have other suggestions for wines that go with most everything? If so, leave them in the comments.

Full disclosure: I received the red blend as a sample.


Jill Silverman Hough said...

I like your picks, but also nominate rose. I know, I know - so many think it's soda pop-y and/or uncool and/or passe, but a dry rose will pair with so many foods, including picnic foods, grilled foods, Latin foods, dishes that complement the red fruit flavors of red wine, but that need the refreshment of a chilled wine, and many of the Mediterranean-inspired dishes that have increasingly become American cuisine.

Cheers for rose!

Dr. Debs said...

I agree, Jill. Rose is great! If I could have only one type of wine, it would be a toss-up between sparkling wine and rose. Maybe a rose sparkler??

gih said...

Yes, this is the best I've ever tasted. I love this one. World class.

Kimberly said...

I agree about the Gewurz -- have been hearing for years how it's the perfect white wine to serve at Thanksgiving, with that meal's many and varied flavors, so this past T-giving, I tried it, and yes, it's a good match for the T-giving table if you want white.

But I have to absolutely second the opinion on Rosé -- I just love this wine for so many reasons, and one of those reasons is, it is such a nice match with so many foods! I've served it with everything from pancetta biscuits to pepperoni pizza to pimento cheese tartlets (it's a Southern thang!), and so on.