Thursday, October 12, 2006

What to Drink with What you Eat

To say I am excited about Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page's new book, What to Drink with What You Eat would be an understatement. This book is gold for someone like me who is trying to learn about wine and better understand what beverages to pair with food.

The format of the book is absolutely terrific. First off there is a brief introduction to the concept of "pairing" and the philosophy behind it and basic rules. I love the little cheat sheet that tells you what flavors you are likely to find in major wines such as Pinot Noir which is depicted by raspberries, cherries, strawberries, cranberries, violets, roses, plum and chocolate.

Next favorite bit is the "If you like this, you might like that" section. For example, I like Sauvignon Blanc and so it turns out I may also like Albarino, Gruner Veltliner, Poilly-Fume, Sancerre, Txakoli, India Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada pale ale, gin or vodka cocktail with citrus, a little sweetness and an herb. Oh man, they really have my number! I do like all those beverages! Ok, with the exception of Txakoli which I haven't tried yet but now I'm sure I'd like it.

Skipping ahead you find the main part of the book which has a listing of practically every kind of food you can think of and what to would it pair with. From anchovies to zucchini blossoms, there is a huge list of foods. There are plenty of tips too from sommeliers and cool recipes from top chefs. Then on to the flip side, where the beverages come first followed by their appropriate pairings. Not just wines are here, but teas, agua frescas, sake, even the Indian yogurt drink, lassi. Though to be honest I would have liked listings for two favorite liquors, Ouzo (or Pernod) and Limoncello. Maybe in the next edition?

Towards the end you'll find more treasures with menus and pairings from chefs and sommeliers. This is a bit like looking in someone's fridge. You don't know what you'll find but in all likelihood it will be tasty and intriguing!

As if my enthusiasm for this book wasn't enough, the authors included me in their "virtual book tour". It wasn't easy to come up with questions for them, since their book does such a good job answering them, but here goes....

AMY: I've been trying to educate myself about wine this year. My education has consisted of going to as many wine tastings as I can!

By drinking a lot of wines you certainly learn what you like. But I'm actually thinking about taking some classes. What suggestions do you have for choosing wine classes?

ANDREW & KAREN: We like your approach, Amy!  ; )  In fact, a great resource for learning more about wine is visiting Local Wine Events, which lists wine events and classes all across the country. You can find wine events to fit every budget (including free!), every niche interest, and every level of seriousness (from amateur to professional). Your readers shouldn't underestimate how much they can learn at free tastings of wines, especially if they ask lots of questions. Once you discover what you like to drink (e.g. French burgundy, Rieslings from around the world, etc.), you can take more specialized classes. And if you're serious about wanting to master wine (even if you have no intention of becoming a professional sommelier), consider taking a course offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers (as Karen has) or the Sommelier Society of America (as Andrew has), which we can vouch will teach you a lot!

AMY: What do you think of this whole "bar chef" trend? Have you had any fantastic cocktails with unusual ingredients like fruits, vegetables or herbs?

ANDREW & KAREN: We're really impressed. We both consider ourselves to be wine lovers first and foremost, having earned sommelier certificates. But a couple of years ago, we'd learned that our book Culinary Artistry was considered somewhat of a bible among an emerging breed of bartenders known as "mixologists" and "bar chefs," and that they used it to create new cocktails. We were flattered, but we really didn't "get it" until we started interviewing some of the mixologists and getting a sense of their seriousness and passion for compatible flavors -- both within cocktails and when it comes to cocktail and food pairing.

We participated in Ann Rogers' event "Tales of the Cocktail" in New Orleans in July, which we suspected might be some kind of drunken free-for-all, but which in fact was an extraordinary gathering of professionals who take the art of mixology very, very seriously (and yet not so seriously that they don't know how to have a good time). Speaking on a panel with three of America's leading cocktail experts -- Robert Hess of, Ryan Magarian of Kathy Casey Food Studios, and Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club (who is a disciple of Dale DeGroff) -- sealed the deal that this is an exciting, emerging trend that is only going to continue to expand.

AMY: Do those cocktails really work with food or just fight with it?

ANDREW & KAREN: When it's done right, cocktails and food pair phenomenally well. While with food and wine pairings, you've got to work around a finished product (i.e. what's already in the bottle), with food and cocktail pairings, you can literally design a cocktail that goes beautifully with the specific flavors in a dish.

In fact, just the other week we attended a cocktail and food pairing seminar, and were blown away by how well drinks like a Chopin Cider Mill martini (made with Chopin vodka and apple juice and puree) went with a butternut squash puree, and a Chocolate Decadence martini (made with Chopin and white and dark chocolate Godiva liqueurs) went with banana - chocolate cake.

That's how our books Culinary Artistry and What to Drink with What You Eat can be so helpful in creating the perfect cocktails for food:  You can look up different foods, and find out what beverages (e.g. juices, spirits, etc.) best accompany them -- and, likewise, look up different beverages to learn their most compatible foods. 

AMY: I usually have bottles of Reisling, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Cote de Rhone on hand because I find them so easy to pair with food. Any suggestions for expanding my wine repertoire?

ANDREW & KAREN: You can invite us over for a glass of wine any time with a cellar like that, Amy! 
In fact, that's a great starter assortment of wines to have on hand for pairing with most foods -- especially since Riesling is the #1 most food-friendly white wine, and Pinot Noir the #1 most food-friendly red wine. What about adding a bottle of Moscato d'Asti to go with just about any dessert you could imagine? If you're a chocolate lover -- and who isn't?? -- you could add a bottle of Banyuls, tawny port and/or PX sherry to go with dark chocolate desserts. And, speaking of sherry, a dry fino or manzanilla sherry was cited with great enthusiasm by our experts for its food-pairing prowess -- as was hard cider!

AMY: What beer is most versatile when it comes to pairing with food? Or do you need a couple of different styles?

ANDREW & KAREN: Let's put it this way: Award-winning author Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, told us, "If I had to choose a single style of beer to have with every meal for the rest of my life, it would be Saison."

But if you're a big barbecue fan, you might trade in your Saison for a smoked beer because the two are so great together!  And if you love cheesecake and chocolate (and again, who doesn't??), you might want an incredible Belgian lambic fruit beer (e.g. framboise, which taste like raspberries, or kriek, which is cherry-flavored) on hand just to drink with dessert!

Karen dares any fellow woman who's sworn to be a beer-hater to sample a bottle of Belgian lambic fruit beer in the flavor that sounds best to her and not fall in love with it on the spot!

AMY: I recently wrote a guide to the wines of Portugal, where there are some phenomenal values to be had. What regions and wines do you look for when it comes to great values?

ANDREW & KAREN: We've had some great Portuguese wines over the years, including one several years ago at Jean Georges in New York City that blew our minds at only $8/glass at this four-star restaurant!
Andrew says, "Spain, Spain, Spain!" While their quality is being recognized and appreciated, there are still some great deals to be had. If you love American Pinot Noir or French Burgundy, try a Spanish Rioja and see if it doesn't win you over -- especially when you consider the price/value ratio!

That's also the case in other up-and-coming areas, too, from Latin America to Slovenia to South Africa -- so keep an eye out for the best of these!

AMY: Any other wines under the radar we should keep our eyes open for?

ANDREW & KAREN: Now that every state in America is producing wines (i.e. as of 2002), you can find better wines just about everywhere. And just about every region outside Napa, Sonoma and other well-known West Coast wine regions is still working hard to convince wine drinkers that their wines can be just as good (if not better!) than wines from the best-known regions.  We've had wines made everywhere from Arizona to Virginia that we've loved. (If you make it out to Virginia, check out Pearmund Cellars, which makes a great Chardonnay.)
In terms of styles, we've recently been turned on to sparkling Shiraz -- yes, a sparkling red wine -- that's an ideal wine for adventurers to serve at Thanksgiving dinner, since it goes so well with so many different types of food you can find at the table, from turkey to cranberry sauce!

AMY: Ok, since David already asked you to come up with pairs for some of his favorite foods, I'm going to just limit myself to what's currently on the menu at my house.

AMY: Vanilla poached pears
ANDREW & KAREN: We'd go with a sweet sparkling wine, e.g. a Moscato d'Asti.

AMY: Lamb burger with feta yogurt dressing
ANDREW & KAREN: Beer: wheat beer
Wine: Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, dry Rose

This is an interesting combo, because to match the protein (lamb), you might think red (e.g. Beaujolais or Pinot), but to match the feta and yogurt, you might think Sauvignon Blanc.  So we'd be tempted to go with a dry Rose or a wheat beer.

This reminds us of another tip: Sommelier Belinda Chang oversaw one of the most memorable food and wine pairing dinners of our lives at the Fifth Floor in San Francisco, as she served us not one but TWO wines with every dish.  This allowed us the pleasure of seeing how each wine interacted with the dish differently. Choosing the "better" match of the two was then a matter of preference (and the two of us didn't always agree re:  our favorite!). We strongly encourage people to sample different wines with the same dish to experience the interplay of flavors, and to develop their own preferences.

AMY: Jack cheese quesadillas
ANDREW & KAREN: A beer (e.g. a Pilsner) can be very refreshing to the palate when eating melted cheese (as can bubbles in the form of sparkling wine!), and nor should you underestimate the beauty of a limey margarita to cut through the cheese. If you definitely want wine, a Chardonnay (if you're in the mood for white) or a Merlot (if you're in the mood for red) are both safe choices.

AMY: Curried snapper with rice
ANDREW & KAREN: You'll want to match to the curry sauce as opposed to the snapper (or the rice!), since curry will be the dominant flavor. Typically off-dry whites are a winning bet (e.g. Gewurztraminer or Riesling) with the spice of curry, but you could also try a rose with this dish.

AMY: Sausages, peppers and polenta
ANDREW & KAREN: Remember that the rule of cooking that dictates "If it grows together, it goes together" applies to wine, too!  So, Italian is our first thought -- and something like a Valpollicella (which is a light-bodied dry red wine from the Veneto region). But think about the dominant flavors of the combination. If it's REALLY spicy, you might want a nice chilled off-dry wine (e.g. a Riesling) to counteract the heat! Or if it's REALLY filled with lots of bell peppers that you want a wine to play off, you might try something like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

AMY: Chicken salad sandwiches with chutney
ANDREW & KAREN: If there's chutney, perhaps there's curry -- so see recommendations above. If there's no curry and it's a sweet chutney, you want a wine with a bit of sweetness to it, e.g. an off-dry white (e.g. Riesling).

Can you see why we mentioned Riesling is the #1 food-friendly white wine?? (But you already knew that, if you had it on hand!)

AMY: Are you coming to San Francisco any time soon?

ANDREW & KAREN: As a matter of fact, Amy, yes we are! ; )  In addition to appearing on a number of local radio and TV shows, we'll be leading an educational and entertaining session at Draeger's in San Mateo the evening of Monday, October 30th, and would love to have the pleasure of meeting some of your readers there. There are details at

Thanks to Karen and Andrew for "stopping by" and including me on their virtual book tour!