Wine Rules.

It's been exactly one year since my first post and joining the culinary firehose that is the Rogue Estate. Seems like it's an appropriate time to reflect, and share a few things that I've learned in the last year.  I was ostensibly invited to join in for my wine pairing talents.  So let's talk pairing.

Not really a wine-guy.

Wine RULES, like San Dimas High School Football RULES. That Google-able movie reference out of the way, part of the problem with wine pairing is that "rules" can be intimidating.  In America "rules" are meant to be broken.  And stomped on.  And given poorly-considered tattoos at 3am. We don't DO rules. Calling them "traditions" doesn't help, either. We need a new word for guidelines on picking wines to go with food.  So I'm going to go with "wins", as in FTW (it means "For The Win", Nana). What follows are a few widely held views on what makes for a good wine pairing, translated into my own corse language.  Presumably, volumes have been written on each of these concepts, but I'm hoping this serves as wine pairing crib notes for you.

Decisions, decisions.

Wine Win #1: Drink what you like. Ah, the mantra of the un-experienced wine drinker, and the ultra-experienced wine drinker alike.  The un-experienced wine drinker has never had that AHA! FTW! moment that a great Alsatian white paired with a raw-milk Swiss mountain cheese provides.  They've never paid enough for a Bordeaux to see what it does to a simple beef stew.  Fizzy wine is for New Years' Eve, not oysters (who would eat a raw oyster anyway?) The ultra-experienced wine drinker is the opposite.  She's drunk her way through the Rhine, the Rhone, Piedmont, South Africa, and knows that her favorite boutique Sonoma Chard goes with almost any meal that she really likes.  Good for her. Drink what you like is a win for the experienced, but shuts off a world of discoveries for the newly curious. That's a wine fail.  One of the better wine bars in my area has two pairing recommendations listed on their menu with every dish.  The first is "classic", and the second is "experimental".  I adore this approach because it caters to the novice and the adventurer alike.  If we get the expert Chard lover out of her rut, that's a WIN. Wine Win #2: White with Fish and Red with Meat This old chestnut is under attack from almost all sides lately, but for the novice it is generally a safe place to start.  I can't think of any whites that would hold up to a good burger or steak.  Similarly, there aren't any reds that come to mind that could avoid obliterating a pan-seared trout or battered cod.  However, as the cuisine becomes more complicated, nagging little exceptions arise.  Curry-rubbed pork loin?  Viognier.   Salmon or air-cured charcuterie?  Dry Rosé.  What about duck or goose?  Well, it's fatty, so go with acidic, then pair the color of the wine based on how it's prepared or seasoned, and which part of the animal is on the plate.  Confit and dark meat go perfectly with Chinon Cabernet Franc, but roasted pheasant breast pairs nicely with a Pinot Gris.  Actually damn near everything pairs nicely with Pinot Gris.  WIN! Wine Win #3: Opposites Attract Simple, but effective.  One of the great qualities of a wine (or indeed beer) is to refresh, or clear the palate between tastes of food.  Acidic wines work wonderfully with fatty foods.  Sweeter, low-alcohol wines can help tame spicy meals, and tannic, dry wines can help when a dish has a lot of caramelized sugars.  There are a lot of pitfalls and land-mines here, so experiment, take notes, and learn from them.  One of my favorite winning contrasts is a crisp cool Alsatian white with molten Swiss cheese fondue, or Raclette. Wine Win #4: Location, Location, Location This is the crowd-sourced rule that relies on generations of foodies and wine geeks. Before blogging, before Parker, before printing presses could distribute tasting notes, people who ate and drank local (because there were no other options) learned how to tweak the grapes they grew, the animals they raised, and the recipes they designed to work in great harmony.  You can't comfortably dismiss centuries of human culinary experience passed down to us.  So if the dish is typically Tuscan, drink Tuscan.  Argentinian? Go Argentinian.  This works for anywhere, even areas where wines are not made.  Hunan dish?  As much as the industry will push a Dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer, you may win harder with a local black tea. Wine Win #5: The Art and the Frame I recently saw an old acquaintance that I hadn't seen in fifteen years, and learned that he had spent all that time in wine distribution.  Over the course of an all too brief conversation he asked me about my interests and preferences, gave me a couple great tips on wines to explore, and also offered another great wine rule.  This rule may be original, or an ancient selling tool, but I loved the poetry of it, and its relevance to pairing.  Here's a misquote, but it captures the idea. "A dish and a wine is like a painting and a frame.  If the painting is rich and complex, you'll want a simple clean frame that does not pull your attention away from it. And vice-versa. If the dish is the complex painting, choose a simple wine to frame it.  If the wine is extraordinary, make sure the dish is a simple frame that does not distract from it."

Where's your focus?

It's a great rule to win by, but it requires a more sophisticated understanding of food and wine flavors to be able to put it into practice.  Don't match a particularly complex Italian wine with an intricate and bold puttanesca sauce.  Don't be afraid to season your cutlet with only salt and pepper, if you've got a dynamite Burgundy that you opened an hour ago.  Art and frame FTW! So that's a little about what I know. What are your recent food and wine pairing wins?

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