Originally published Sept. 9, 1984
By Tom Stockley, former Pacific magazine associate editor
SOME YEARS AGO, a New York wine writer, weary of questions about which wine went with which food, recorded this message on his phone: “I am away from the phone at the moment. But if this is an emergency, it’s white wine with fish and red with meat.”
As funny as that seems, it has been typical of the advice available on matching up food and wine at meals. Even books on wine generalize so much that the information is sometimes useless.
Suggesting a chardonnay with seafood, for example, doesn’t take into account that salmon, a rich, oily fish, goes nicely with light red wines. Or, white wine with chicken, a universal suggestion, skips over the fact that the chicken might have been prepared in a port sauce and therefore cries out for a red wine.
Enter a new booklet, “Wine and Dine,” written and published in the state of Washington. It zeros in on matching foods and wines, and it is right on target. Subtitled “A culinary guide to Washington state wines,” the paperback book was written by Lynn Crook, owner of an Eastern Washington cooking school, and was underwritten by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
“Beyond the maxim of pairing red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat and seafood, there were two sources of inspiration for these recipes,” writes Crook in the book’s foreword. “First the wine’s flavor associations, food terms used to describe the smell or taste of the wine, suggested recipe ideas. For example, the hint of green olive in a cabernet sauvignon prompted a recipe for braised duck with green olives, while the fragrance of apples from a chardonnay inspired a chicken dish with apples.”
In addition, Crook studied the wine’s natural affinities, those classic wine and food combinations that have worked well over the years, such as riesling with trout or cabernet sauvignon with roast beef or lamb. But rather than just accepting time-tried combinations, she discusses the reasoning behind the choice, considering each wine’s acidity, components and flavors.
Finally, and this might be a first, she discovered new food associations for our local wines, such as merlot with barbecued salmon, and semillon with veal and scallops. As for that age-old question, she concludes that with higher acidity and stronger varietal character, Washington state wines pair well with both delicate and spicy Chinese dishes.
But, because the book is first and foremost a cookbook, there are innovative ideas with combining flavors in recipes. Here is a sampling of her directions:
“Any chicken dish prepared with ginger, apples and cream is destined for a chardonnay,” writes Crook. “Try this recipe, and see how the fresh ginger enhances the wine, the apples pick up on the wine’s apple-like flavor association and the cream balances the chardonnay’s acidity while complementing its richness.”
About the following recipe for Red Snapper with Merlot, Crook writes: “As in most of the fish or chicken dishes served with red wine, this wine is used in the preparation of the dish. The tomatoes give the fish the necessary acidity for the wine, while the seasoning highlights the wine’s spiciness. This makes a very attractive presentation if prepared with a whole fish.”
Red Snapper with Merlot
4 to 6 servings
1 pound red snapper, whole or fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups canned tomatoes, drained and diced
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon crushed sweet basil
½ cup merlot
1½ teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, sliced
Italian parsley and lemon wedges for garnish
1. Rinse the fish and pat dry, then dredge with flour. Arrange the fish in a lightly oiled oval baking dish. Set aside.
2. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan.
3. Add the onion, celery and garlic, and saute, stirring, until the onion is just translucent and the celery is still crisp.
4. Add the remaining ingredients except the sliced lemon and garnish, and bring to a boil.
5. Pour this mixture over the fish, and arrange the sliced lemon over the fish.
6. Bake in a 350-degree oven 20 to 25 minutes for fillets, and up to 40 minutes for a whole fish. Check for doneness by flaking with a fork.
7. Remove the bay leaves, and serve over rice. Garnish with Italian parsley and lemon wedges.