Perhaps I’m backwards. When it comes to planning a dinner at home or a meal at a restaurant I always choose my wine first and my meal to match second. In my wine soaked world, that makes sense. I stand in front of my 48 bottle wine rack or stare at the wine menu and ask myself “What do I want to drink tonight?” Yes, dinner is still important but my wine choice takes precedence. Don’t get me wrong, a meal where the wine takes center-stage does not mean that the food is an afterthought. It is just as important but when I am in a restaurant I often hear other tables ask to hang onto the wine menu until they make their dinner choices. I wonder silently if I am doing it all wrong. I am the girl who takes her first sip of a wine and based on that flavor profile, I make my dinner selection.
Where does this idea of wine and food pairing come from and is it really all that important?
Countless sites on the Web pay homage to food and wine pairing and they always start with specific food and then talk about general wine varietals to go with them. Not a single one I looked at started with specific wines and matched them with food. Even within a specific grape varietal there is a vast difference in taste and aroma. I’m not just talking about country and region, but two vineyards next to one another can be so different. Is it snobbery to chose my wine first and plan my meal accordingly? Do waiters and guests consider it “showing off?” Probably but I am not playing at pretension, I just take my wine choice seriously.
The whole idea between wine and food pairing comes from the French. For centuries, the French drank their local wines with their local foods so they are choosy about which wines goes well with their specific recipe. But in today’s wine market, there is little reason to be that selective about your choices. There are literally thousands of great wines out there that will go well with your dinner.
But let’s get real. Opening a bottle of wine for each course when it is only the two of you just doesn’t make sense. Either there will be a lot of left over wine or two happily passed out people on the couch after dinner. Problem solved: half bottles. There is just two glasses in a half bottle, so having a multiple course meal with different wines is possible.
Last night, once again, I pondered: what am I in the mood for? I chose a 2007 Argyle Wines Brut sparkling wine and paired it with a smoked salmon on brioche as my appetizer. I was really in the mood for a sparkling wine and I can’t think of any better that is on the market right now than the Argyle Winery Brut. The creamy texture and ripe citrus flavor melded beautifully with the smoked salmon and the acidity cut through the buttery brioche.
For the main course I opened up a half bottle of Argyle’s 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir. Even though it is technically spring, the nights are still chilly and a silky Pinot Noir was just what I needed for dinner. I let the wine breathe for a little bit while I put the finishing touches on my mushroom risotto. As I chopped up the fresh herbs to mix in, I couldn’t wait for that first taste of my selected wine. I made myself and my finacee a mushroom risotto from a recipe courtesy of my co-worker and wine guru, John.
John’s Mushroom Risotto:
6 oz of shitake mushrooms
6oz of cremini Mushrooms
6 cups of chicken stock
½ cup of dry white wine
½ of a white onion or shallots
1 package of aborio rice
Chopped parsley, Thyme and chives
½ cup of Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Begin by mincing a small volume of onion, mushrooms and the other herbs.
Sauté the mixture in abundant olive oil or unsalted butter, and when it has browned remove it with a slotted spoon to a plate, leaving the drippings in the pot.
Stir in the rice and sauté it too until it becomes translucent (~7-10 minutes), stirring constantly to keep it from sticking.
Return the sautéed seasonings to the pot and stir in a half of a cup of room temperature dry white wine.
Once the wine has evaporated completely, add a ladle of simmering broth; stir in the next before all the liquid is absorbed, because if the grains get too dry they will flake.
Continue cooking, stirring and adding broth as the rice absorbs it, until the rice barely reaches the al dente stage.
At this point stir in a tablespoon of butter and the grated cheese (if the recipe calls for it), cover the risotto, and turn off the flame. Let it sit, covered, for two to three minutes, and serve.