Wine With Food: Part 2

Why drink wine with a meal? Apart from the pleasure it gives, it helps us digest. I would empirically prove this time and again in Paris when, after a lengthy dinner out with friends and bottles of wine, I would rise the next day and go running in the park. Surprisingly, yet invariably, if I’d had wine, I’d run better than if I’d had none. (If I’d had too many glasses I no run so good.)

Why this is true is most likely because wine aids in the production and flow of the gastric juices which facilitate digestion by breaking down the food in the stomach quickly and effectively. Wine also helps regulate insulin during digestion which regulates weight.

The same tannins in red wine that have been touted for health reasons (wine is a well-known antioxidant because the phenolics, found in skins, stems and seeds, reduce the amount of cholesterol deposited in the arteries decreasing one’s chance of heart attack) are what give wine its structure and are softened with food. There’s an old saying, “Buy on apples, sell on cheese.” In other words, apples will bring out the defects in a wine, where cheese will enhance it. This works because the cheese softens the tannins. Same thing with tea. What do we do to lessen tannic acid in tea? We add milk.

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with cheese and meats

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with cheese and meats

These are factual, chemical reasons for having wine with food, but the pleasure wine affords is equally important, for although it affects something less tangible or provable, I believe it is perhaps something more essential. When we stop to pull the cork from a bottle of wine there is more going on than the simple thought of drinking wine or even pairing it with the perfect meal. When we pull that cork and pour the glass, we are taking a pause from hectic life and, for that moment, savoring. Whether for ritual or relaxation, whether metaphysical or purely gustatory, it’s a step back from the craziness of life, a step back in time to simpler ways of life. (Or very simple, since wine dates back to the Neolithic Period 8500-4000 BC!) And doesn’t this in itself de-stress us, further helping digestion (or whatever ails us)? Thus, around and around it goes… So Bibendum, as the Romans would say. Drink up!

Food wines:

Château de Recougne, Bordeaux Supérior – 75% Merlot, light tannins, ripe plumy taste, an everyday drinking kind of Bordeaux. $15

Château Boutisse, St-Emilion Grand Cru – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon with lush cherry fruit, chocolate and coffee notes. Tannic on the finish, it goes especially well with beef. $28

Château Meyney, St-Estéphe, 1998 – Classic, timely, much has been written about the great St-Estèphes. Austere tannins will mellow with age and food. Quintessential food wine. Pair with lamb or duck.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennières – a white food wine from the Loire.  Made 100% from Chenin Blanc, a grape famous for its sweet whites, this wine is dry, yet complex with floral and honeysuckle aromas. Almonds and citrus on the palate. Pair with fish dishes and cream sauces.

Advertisements

Wine With Food: Part 1

Most everyone knows that wine with food is one of the best marriages going. Yet I know couples who open and drink a bottle of wine before dinner.

Shocking? Or the norm? Just wait.

“Then do you open a second bottle?” A friend asks them.

“No.”

“What do you drink with dinner?”

“Nothing. Well, sometimes water. Or Coke.”

Shocking? Or the norm? Your answer will reveal much about how you view the relationship of wine to food.

I’m fascinated by this relationship, for it seems to be changing and with its change, so too are the wines. More and more wines, European and New World alike, are being made to drink young. Nothing wrong with that. They’re approachable wines, which means easily drinkable. They’re fruit forward wines, which means lots of fruit up front, rather than barnyard or musty characteristics. They’re smooth and delicious. Nothing wrong with that. But is there?

A good French Burgundy or Bordeaux may be delicious on its own, especially when given time to age, but it’s made to be drunk with a meal. Such wines are often described as complex. The great Bordeaux can be extremely tannic, owing to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and don’t soften except with time. Yet, pair these wines with dinner and you see how the wine complements the food and vice versa. The food softens the tannins, but the wine still retains enough structure to balance the meal. If, on the other hand, you had paired a super jammy New World Shiraz, for example, with the same meal, the wine might not be able to stand up to the food. This is not to say that Shiraz does not complement many foods, for it does. Only that many wines that taste scrumptious on their own, don’t do justice to a meal. And this is why often a customer will taste a French wine and say, “A little rough.” Or “too earthy.” Because its not being used the way it was meant: with food.

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with their meal

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with their meal

It’s a cultural difference. Europeans drink much more wine per capita than we do in America, but they drink it with lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast).Americans drink more wine as a cocktail before a meal than do Europeans.

Because of growing consumer demand for easy to drink wines, even European producers are changing the way in which they make wine, changing methods and beliefs that are centuries old. Alcohol content too is creeping up. Alcohol content of 13% used to be the exception reserved for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Now it’s the norm and 12-12.5% becoming rare. It’s not unusual to see Zinfandels and Australian Shiraz’s at 15-17%.

Following are wines I consider “food wines.” See if they don’t enhance the meal more than that glass of Coca-Cola.

Château de Gaudou – from Cahors in the southwest of France.  Often called the “black wine” it’s so full-bodied. Merlot/Malbec blend. Pair with Cassoulet, duck or hearty beef. $12

Domaine Berthoumieu, Charles de Batz – from Madiran, this wine is outstanding. Made from 100% Tannat, it is tannic, but the tannins soften with food. $22

As always, buy meats from local farmers or buy free range.