If you really want to take the stress out of your entertaining, says wine columnist Paul Gregutt, just treat the wine and food as completely separate entities.
AS WE ROUND fall’s corner and head for the holiday homestretch, the meals get more substantial, the entertaining more complicated, and the task of selecting wines to serve . . . ? More and more daunting — unless you follow this simple piece of advice:
Stop worrying about matching wines to food!
Yes, I know this is heresy. I have lost count of the number of wine books in my library that offer help to those struggling to figure out what cork(s) to pop with the pepper steak. If you read wine blogs or newspaper columns, or subscribe to wine magazines, prepare to be inundated with seasonally oriented advice. I plead guilty; I’ll be pumping out my fair share.
But if you really want to take the stress out of your entertaining, just treat the wine and food as completely separate entities. I came to this conclusion some time ago, though I’ve never dared state it in print until now. But one year, while contemplating a massive Thanksgiving menu being planned for a group of about 18 friends and family, I found myself foundering on the rocks of a particular vegetable dish — the dreaded asparagus.
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“Despair-agus? Really?!?” I asked my spouse. “Must we?” Asparagus is one of the foods that is notoriously difficult to pair with wine, or so the story goes. But it is hardly unique. In fact, Dr. Vino devotes a regular blog feature to “Impossible Wine & Food Pairings,” which have included such things as Costco’s one year’s supply of freeze-dried food; beet salad; Lady Gaga’s meat dress (I am not making this up); batter-dipped-and-fried Twinkies; and the Elvis-inspired peanut butter, bacon, banana and butter sandwich.
Granted, none of these is likely to be the centerpiece of your holiday feast, but the point of it all is to highlight the absurdity of fretting over any and all food-wine matchups. Why bother? A simple and stress-free solution is to start with the wine, not the food. Drink what you like. The fact is that all the old rules were tossed out one by one over the past decade or two anyway.
Red wine with meat, white wine with fish? No longer relevant. A knowledgeable food-and-wine-loving friend swears that the ultimate match for pepper steak is grüner veltliner. Entire books have been devoted to the virtues of red wines with fish. But don’t stop there. The idea that white wines should be served ahead of red wines has also been discarded. The new wisdom is quite the opposite; drink the reds first, then the whites, which will have the acidity to cut through the residual tannins. I’ve tried it both ways and quite honestly, it doesn’t matter.
If I have not yet convinced you to jump right past looking for the correct or (worse yet) perfect food/wine pairing, here are some ways to conceal any potential faux pas. The basic idea is borrowed from magician David Copperfield. Distract your audience. Put their attention squarely on something so that the magic can occur undetected. In this instance, their attention should be focused on the wines. The best way to do that is with either an unusual, rare or highly rated bottle as the centerpiece of the event; or with a variety of wines that keep them occupied.
This latter tactic is my favorite. Have both reds and whites open. Encourage guests to pour very small tastes, and try them all with the foods on the table. Let them do the work of finding the perfect pairing. The more guests and wines, the more fun you will have.