Uncorking the confusion

Photo by: Sean Unruh of http://www.dustandrust.com

I come from a long line of “guzzlers” so much so that I won’t name name’s but we have dubbed one of them “Aunty Woodbridge” you know who you are.  [Woodbridge is a popular Robert Mondavi Pino Grigio] Wine is usually plentiful and enjoyed by all in my family.  I rarely turn down a glass when offered, and our porch swing at my parents house is one of my favorite places to sip and chat.  I will have a wine cellar one day, hopefully in my oversized, oak inlayed, perfectly chilled, underground tasting room.  But for now, I’ll have to stick with my 4 slot Ikea wine rack, this is city living after all.

I love wine. I have been actively learning more about wine since turning 21 (yea … 21 ..right) but seriously, even more so since appreciating it with good food and educated diners.  It is important to understand wine.  You don’t have to be a wine “snob” or sommelier to be able to pick a decent bottle for a meal, you just have to understand a few basic flavor combinations and you’re half way there!  I recently bought a groupon for Wine Spectator and have been reading up on just how delicate and carefully wines are classified. Based on a 100 point scale, wines are most often critiqued by professionals under strict blind tasting rules.  According to Wine Spectator magazine,

All tastings are conducted in private, under controlled conditions. Wines are always tasted blind, in flights, organized by varietal, appellation or region. Bottles are bagged and coded. Tasters are told only the general type of wine (varietal or region) and the vintage. Price is not taken into account. Each  tasting begins with a wine previously rated, which is tasted non-blind as a reference point.  Other already-rated wines are inserted into the blind tasting to ensure consistency. A typical tasting session consists of 20-30 wines, with a maximum of two sessions per day[1].  

So how do you pick a good wine?  First, get the stereotype out of your head that good wine has to be expensive.   It does not!   Some of the top sellers and best rated wines in the world are under $20. If you are having a hard time believing me check out Food & Wine’s top 8 under $20 or a fellow blogger’s wine guide under $20.   It  is also acceptable and even in some cases reputable for great wines to come in a bottle with a screw top or, dare I say, IN A BOX! These trends are a direct result of our globe going more green (saving on cork and glass) plus not to mention it’s edginess, practicality, and more volume sold=more money in their pocket.  I think it’s a great idea; old-school wine collectors might beg to differ.  Second, you have to ask yourself what type of food am I pairing this with? or am I buying this just to drink?  In either case, you should still follow your taste buds and what you like.  Below is somewhat of a basic guideline when it comes to pairing wines with food. It is also important to pay attention to what the bottle says, if it has earthy tones versus sweet notes,  again,  follow what you tend to like best.  The only way to hone in on what you like is to taste!  Although a point system is a good indicator of what wines are better than others, it is still best to try a variety and judge for yourself.  For example, I usually do not like Chardonnay,  but I recently tried a Mount Eden Chardonnay (California-Santa Cruz Mountain region), with a 95 point rating,  so I thought I might like it, wrong. It had the same intense punch and perfume bite that most chardonnay’s give me, but that’s me.    I have a handful of go-to’s that are fairly inexpensive and always tasty even if not paired with food.  Some of my favorites include Simi Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 $18, Tariquet Pino  Grigio 2007 $22, and Hunter’s (NZ) Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $28.

I might know what basic things I’m looking for as I choose a wine off a wine list or pick up a bottle at my local store, but I’ve been thirsty for more information.  What does age really have to do with it? Why does the bottling year matter?  I do have a basic idea of the answer to these questions, but during a recent read of Food and Wine along with the few clicks of a google search I was able to find my answers. It all makes sense now. Age is highly regarded because only about 10% of the top red wines and 5% of white wines will age 5 or more years to actually make it more enjoyable.  That means the wine going in the bottle is already pretty damn good to begin with and it will be able to withstand up to 5-25+ years fermenting even further.  The year ties into this as well, each year crops are different, weather is the biggest factor in determining a healthy crop yield.  Frost, drought, wind, and too much rain can majorly influence the yield of a crop.  The grapes can die, not grow enough, be hindered by frost, flooded by too much rain, etc. For example this can create a “bad year” for wines for a specific region. 2003 is regarded as a bad year for California wines due to high temperatures that year.  I wouldn’t know that unless I read the small insert in a magazine!  I will be in Napa next week for a friend’s wedding, and I can’t wait to talk shop with the little wine knowledge I have. I’m sure I will be tasting some amazing wines, and taking notes along the way! If only the wine shipping laws to Massachusetts weren’t so tight!

If you have a genuine interest in wine and don’t know much about it, then the moral of this story is to just get out there and start tasting, read the bottles, ask to sample, ask for information, and collect the corks of wines you tasted and liked!  (if you’re somewhat like me and over indulge sometimes, it’s the best way to remember what you had)  Wine is fun, it tastes good, and it’s not as complicated as some make it out to be. Sommelier’s and wine store owners want to teach you about wine, not snuff you.

Popular wine types and appropriate food pairing

Chardonnay-Shellfish, Sole/Halibut, Salmon/Tuna, Poultry, Mild cheese, cream based dips

Sauvignon Blanc – Dishes with cream sauce, Shellfish, Sole/Halibut, Poultry, Mild cheese, cream based dips

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio – Shellfish, Sole/Halibut, Salmon/Tuna, Spicy food (whether beef, poultry, or fish), Poultry, Pork/Veal, Mild cheese, cream based dips

Riesling – Fruit/creamy desserts, Dishes with cream sauce, Shellfish, Sole/Halibut, Spicy food (whether beef, poultry or fish), Poultry, Mild cheese, cream based dips

Cabernet Sauvignon – Chocolate, Game, Lamb/Duck, Beef, Strong cheese

Merlot – Game, Lamb/Duck, Beef, Strong cheese

Pinot Noir – Salmon/Tuna, Game, Lamb/Duck, Pork/Veal, Beef, Strong cheese

Syrah/Shiraz – Game, Lamb/Duck, Beef, Strong cheese

Zinfandel – Dishes with tomato sauce, Game, Lamb/Duck, Beef, Strong cheese

Pairing wine and food together date back to Roman times, so this tradition isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Wine is getting better and better, farmers are growing better grapes, organically in some areas and creating reserves and vintages that are out of this world.  I would also say that food right now is as good as it’s ever been.  Chef’s are becoming more innovative, inventive, and inspired by the local produce and sustainable proteins around us.  I also think home cooking is reaching the next level too.  With so many shows on TV, even multiple networks dedicated to informing and inspiring people who just love to cook, it’s no wonder that there are thousands of food bloggers out there dedicating a small part of their day to cooking for their friends & family and sharing it to the world,  thanks internet.    It’s a fun foodie culture we live in.

As I constantly find time to seek out evenings with friends, enjoy a few glasses of wine,  and take in the summer amidst my crazy schedule, I decided I need to plan an upcoming girls night on my friends roof deck (Becca, Laura, Kristen, next week??)  What a better way to drink a few bottles of wine than on a roof deck with great friends and good food?  When I thought about what to make for this lovely evening, I thought lobster rolls, Jackie’s famous corn salad and pino gris, but then I though to myself, it’s wedding season, and your travel expenses are through the roof,  lobster for 4 people..hmm I bet shrimp could be just as good! And so I searched for a Shrimp Roll Recipe, thanks to my trusty WineSpectator.com  I bring you, Shrimp Rolls with Corn on the Cob by Jennifer Fiedler.

Shrimp Rolls with Corn on the Cob 

Total Time: 30 minutes

Approximate Food Cost:$28

Pair with a Greek white such as Domaine Sigalas Asirtiko-Athiri Santorini 2009 (88 points, $17)

  • 1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cucumber, cut into four spears, then thinly sliced horizontally
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 4 brioche hamburger rolls, toasted
  • 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 corn cobs

1. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat on the stove until it melts. Toss the shrimp with the cayenne pepper and a pinch of salt, then add to the pan and cook until the shrimp have turned opaque and deep pink. Remove and let cool.

2. Heat 1 inch of water until it boils in a steamer big enough to hold four corn cobs. Add the corn cobs and steam until just barely cooked, around 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Cut the shrimp into 1/4 inch pieces, then mix with the mayonnaise, cucumbers and parsley, and adjust the seasoning with salt. Assemble the sandwiches and serve immediately with the corn on the side. Serves 4. Recipe by Jennifer Fiedler

The only question left to answer is Becca and Laura’s roof deck or Kristen’s?  I’ll cook for the 4 of us, you ladies tell me when and where!

Thanks for reading!


For your viewing pleasure:

[1]Wine Spectator, ‘About the buying guide’ Pg 76, July 2011


4 responses

  1. Your writing is tightening up. Much more professional than before, and you’re definitely finding your voice. I notice huge improvements in this venture. Well done, not to mention, looking tasty as hell. xo

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