Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What to Drink with What You Eat

I need to admit that I was really skeptical about Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page's book, What to Drink with What You Eat. (suggested retail price $35; available new from some retailers for under $24) People can make pairing food with wine such a big deal that they become paralyzed figuring out what the "right" wine is to serve with a tuna fish sandwich. "The definitive guide to pairing food with wine, beer, spirits, coffee, tea--even water" seemed like it would take a bad situation and make it even worse. But I was curious because the book got great reviews and a few major awards, so when the publisher asked if I'd like to take a look at a copy, I agreed.

I've now had the book for several months, and it has become one of the most referred to books in my kitchen. Actually, it doesn't stay in the kitchen but lives next to the sofa since I'm always picking it up to get some advice on what foods might go with my latest wine discovery. I highly recommend this book, and think that if you buy it you will find that you use it regularly, too.

I'm now convinced that this book is a good thing. First, it avoids the common food and wine pairing pitfall of over-specificity. I read a lot of food and wine pairing that tells you this hamburger must be eaten with this wine, but never tells you why. This book tells you, and gives you a long enough list of foods to go with your Cabernet Franc that it's actually inspiring to come up with a recipe from your collection that fits the bill. Second, the book is arranged so you can start with the food or the wine. If you start with the food you can go for a specific dish (a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the suggested wine to go with McDonald's Filet-o-Fish sandwich, FYI), the dominant spice (cumin goes with Chardonnay), or a major ingredient (try Chablis with avocadoes).

If you start with the wine, you will be pleased to find a wider range of grape varieties than the Big Six. They suggest eight different kinds of food to go with Pinotage, the South African full-bodied red, for instance. This section of the book will be particularly useful if you are getting into more unusual varieties and are wondering what to eat with them when you try them for the first time. When I was finishing out my Wine Century I turned to this book again and again to imagine my way into what the wine would taste like, just from seeing the kinds of food they suggested for pairings.

My favorite part of the book, however, just may be the "desert island" food and wine lists that the authors draw together from a number of famous chefs. It's fun to see what Piero Selvaggio, the chef from the great LA Italian restaurant Valentino would choose. The Barolo and old Amarone I would have imagined, but not the Nero d'Avola (to be had with the little risotto croquettes known as arancini) or the Lambrusco (to have with salumi).

Even if you are a skeptic at first, you may find (as I did ) that this book quickly becomes a regular reference point. If you're looking for a gift for a wine-loving mom or dad in May and June, I'd highly recommend this book. It's thoughtfully laid out, well-written, full of interesting quotes from famous figures in the food and wine world, and provides you with both guidance and freedom to choose the perfect wine for your palate. Still wondering about that tuna fish sandwich? Dornenburg and Page suggest rose. And while you're thinking about books, don't forget to pick up a copy of this month's Book Club selection, Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution and to check out the Winehiker's review of this month's "Spin the Bottle" book, Wine Across America.


Anonymous said...

I've had this book for a month or so and refer to it often.
I especially like the "reverse" pairings -- not only what to drink with what you eat, but also what to eat with what you drink.
Great book - best I've seen.

WFaulkner said...

I gave this book to my wife for Christmas and it has become indispensable. Many of her friends have asked to borrow it so that they know what to serve at their next dinner party. A really wonderful book!

Richard Auffrey said...

I too am a fan of this book. I have owned it for quite some time and think it is an excellent reference book. It certainly tackles a wide variety of foods as well as different grapes.

Rebecca Rethore said...

I'm thrilled to see you blogged about this book! I almost added it to the Must Have's roster of indispensable resources when I offered Oldmans' Guide a few weeks back. I actually gave it two friends of mine last weekend as a thank you. They catered a fabulous wine tasting party for my company (Pour Favor). FYI - Grilled veggies with the 2005 BenMarco cab are to die for. The smokiness of the veggies pulled out the touch of smokiness in the wine. Brilliant flavor match!

Joe said...

Now I have to confess - I have this book too, and I like it. What I really like is that they have so many suggestions (grape to food and food to grape) that I can draw myself out of my favourite pairings and try something new. Fortunately my cellar has enough variety...;)

Dr. Debs said...

I see I'm not alone in loving this book! And that we share so many similar reasons for turning to it again and again.