Making (Grape) Love | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Making (Grape) Love 

Tips for pairing wine and food.

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Enhancing every enjoyable experience should be a focal point of a life well-lived. Teetotalers and water drinkers are missing half of the formula at the table: the synergy of wine and food.

In every genre of music, the manner in which notes, chords and beats come into synchrony determines the success of a line, stanza or one-hit wonder. There is a similar union—or, as it sometimes goes, a fist-fight—of flavors and textures when wine meets with food; the possibilities are infinite. I’d bore holes in my keyboard laboring over this bite and that sip. However, by painting in broad strokes, it’s possible to frame most encounters into three wine/food scenarios.

In ascending order from the bottom: The Chernobyl pairing. It’s disastrous. Something in the alchemy between the otherwise sound wine and the now-maligned dish produces yelps of sensory disdain from face to gut.

One notch up: Switzerland. After the wine is introduced to the food, there is no change in the flavors of the dish or the wine; their effects on one another are neutral, neither gets better nor worse.

And the most coveted and elusive: Utopia. This foot-stamping, glorious moment occurs when components of a dish enhance, highlight and extend coveted flavors, nuances and textures in the wine. The wine effortlessly reciprocates, over and over.

Pairing red wine with meat and white wine with fish is narrow in focus, but a good start. And drinking what you like while eating what you like is certainly an option. But why settle for mediocrity when Utopia awaits?

By taking a moment to consider the components in the glass and on the plate, your odds of success will improve. Always take weight and texture into consideration. If a dish is delicate in flavor and light in weight—scallop slivers atop an airy, savory pastry, for example—a dense, rich, heavy Chardonnay will rob it of its delicacy. A lighter-bodied, crisp, un-oaked Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc would fare better. Conversely, look to bigger, heartier reds like Cabernet or Syrah when serving stews or other rich meals laden with protein.

Try to also gauge the intensity of flavors. If a hearty poached monkfish is dressed in a dense pomegranate-molasses sauce, play off the sauce. Merlot would work well, even in this antithetic scenario of fish and red wine.

Matching or contrasting components is also effective. Butter-poached King crab will take on an even more rich and savory texture when accentuated by a full-bodied, buttery California Chardonnay. Offsetting the spicy heat of a dish with the unfermented grape sugars in an off-dry wine, as found in many German Rieslings, works wonders; the sweetness cancels out the anesthetic effects of incendiary seasonings. And, wine’s inherent acids and tannins are essentially what make wine such a loyal companion to food.

This last bit will reek of anatomy and physiology and might sound icky, but it should drive the point home. Acidity in wine causes your mouth to water. This “lubrication” stimulates your appetite and helps to wash dairy fats like cheese and cream sauces from your palate. Your tongue is studded with tiny potholes, the perfect place for animal fat to camp and sedate your taste buds. Tannin—the component that dries your cheeks, gums and mouth—is the perfect artillery for polishing your palate back into shape.

After failing miserably at playing Cupid for a friend, I apologized. As he sighed, shrugged his shoulders and leaned forward with an upward palm gesture, he said, “If you don’t play the game, you’ll never win.” Keep experimenting with food and wine, and the rewards will surely outweigh any lost love towards this timeless coupling.

Louis Koppel is sommelier at Spencers for Steaks & Chops.

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