We are lucky: we don’t live in a world in which so much is made of wine science, knowledge, sophistication and connoisseurship that nobody would ever feel worthy of drinking the wonderful stuff. We do, however, live in a world in which (as from the beginnings of wine culture in ancient Greece), the more you know, the more you are able to enjoy.
This certainly is a happy miracle after decades feeling so intimidated by European (let’s face it: usually French) sommeliers and head waiters that few diners felt comfortable standing up for wines they simply liked. The irony, of course, was that such snooty professionals invariably hailed from towns and villages where everybody was perfectly happy drinking lots of whatever was the local plonk. It was excellent plonk, in almost all cases, but plonk nonetheless.
Now that our company is legally a winery and we’ve introduced our first four wines as part of the Culinary Adventure Wine Collection, we get asked more than ever how to “taste” wine (generally, our taste buds do a fine job without any additional thought) and how to pair wines with foods (serve delicious food and pour the wines you enjoy into glasses). Such questions are clearly holdovers from a more frightening time. Some answers will no doubt be a part of our first-ever vintner dinner in the Culinary Adventure Cooking School on January 25.
Different words are used to describe your goal when you’re pairing wines with food – sometimes making the process seem simpler, but sometimes more complex. One of the most common choices is between contrasting wine with foods in terms of body or acidity or sweetness, and complementing what’s on the plate by pouring something with similar characteristics.
Other experts express this as a complementary pairing (such as when a white wine with high acidity complements the fat in mac and cheese) vs. a congruent pairing (such as when a white wine that’s “creamy” enhances the creaminess of the same dish).
Again, in general, red wines have more body (feel heavier on the tongue) and more pleasant bitterness, while white wines, roses and bubbles are lighter with more acidity. Sweet wines, yes, have more sweetness, which can be expressed logically enough as more “residual sugar.” Sweeter wines, while once in this country enjoyed only with dessert or never, have become especially happy pairings for spicy foods such as Tex-Mex, Creole-Cajun, Thai and Indian. As spicier foods have grown in popularity, so has the need to spell words like riesling and gewurtztraminer correctly.
At heart, the process of pairing wines with food couldn’t be more complicated, especially since modern science has identified more than 20 tastes in food, descriptions such as sweet, sour, fat, spiciness and saltiness. Mixing these in the test tube known as your dinner table can certainly make the most of the body, acidity, sweetness or bitterness that turns up in well-made wines like the Culinary Adventure initial quartet: Peach Moscato, Sangiovese, Kong Red and Dry Riesling.
Deep down, the process of pairing wines with foods also couldn’t be simpler. Most often, if you prepare foods you like and serve them with wines you like, paying whatever attention you’re able to those rules of the game that make sense to you, you will almost certainly have a lovely meal.
ITALIAN SAUSAGE & PEPPERS
There are many brands and varieties of Italian sausage – and at least two main kinds, mild and spicy. We’ve been known to love most things a little on the spicy side, but we also love the sweetness of traditional Italian sausage so much it breaks our hearts a little when “heat” overcomes all the other wonderful flavors. Still, the choice of Italian sausage is entirely up to you.
1 pound Italian sausage, mild or hot, cut in 3-inch lengths
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup Mom’s brand Special Marinara
¼ cup dry red wine, such as sangiovese
Salt and black pepper
Crushed red pepper, if desired
10 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
In a large skillet or pan, thoroughly brown the sausage in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and cook until almost done. Remove the sausage, add the remaining olive oil and add the onion and bell peppers, stirring until lightly caramelized in the Add the crushed garlic and stir one minute more, being careful not to burn. Add the marinara and red wine. Cover the pan. Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer to meld flavors, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, along with crushed red pepper if using. Serves 4.