The best food wines

Down-to-earth pairings from a Master Sommelier
Sara Schneider

The best food wines, according to Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, have a good level of zippy acidity, moderate alcohol, unobtrusive oak, and not too much astringency from tannins. Here are "varieties that rock" and some of his favorite labels.

• Riesling. Brilliant with food ― low alcohol, pure fruit, no oak or tannin, and it comes in both dry and off-dry styles. Great with Asian and Latin fare.
Value brands: Eroica (Washington), Hogue (Washington)
Splurges: Kunstler (Germany), Trimbach (France)

• Sauvignon Blanc. It makes almost anything pop, with a jolt of underlying acidity ― oysters, heirloom tomatoes, fresh goat cheese … even vegetarian dishes.
Value brands: Frog's Leap (Napa Valley), Geyser Peak (California)
Splurges: Brancott (New Zealand), Marlborough Spottswoode (Napa Valley)

Cheese and wine
One great food wine
Asian pairings
Daring pairing
• Pinot Noir. This "white wine in red-wine clothing" is the most flexible of all, as happy alongside lamb as rare tuna. Great for when four diners order four different things.
Value brands: Argyle (Oregon), Wild Horse (Central Coast, CA)
Splurges: Buena Vista (Carneros, CA), Gary Farrell (Russian River Valley, CA)

• Tempranillo. A versatile Spanish red that ranges from bright, sharp, and bursting with fruit to fuller-bodied and rich. Splendid with red meat (especially lamb), stews, little poultry (quail, game hens), and paella.
Value brands: El Coto (Rioja, Spain), La Rioja Alta (Rioja, Spain)
Splurges: Emilio Moro (Ribera del Duero, Spain), Pesquera (Ribera del Duero, Spain)

There's more than one answer

"From the day you figure out you can spit out the strained spinach and have seconds on mashed bananas, taste preferences are born," writes Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein in his new book, Perfect Pairings (University of California Press, 2006; $30). You don't have to think like an M.S. to pick wine and food that taste great with each other.

Pairings maps the elements in both and explains how they interact. The meat of the book is a variety-by-variety analysis of wine flavors, styles, food affinities down to specific ingredients and cooking methods ― and recipes from Joyce Goldstein (aka "Mom"), influential cookbook author and restaurateur of the former Square One in San Francisco, where Evan's career really took off.

It's a deceptive journey. There's no need to learn the wine regions of the world or memorize producers, but before you know it, you have. And you're experimenting with the likes of toasted nuts or a charred soy-honey glaze with beef, to see if it really does pick up on the oak in the Cabernet.

"There's not just one food-and-wine-pairing answer," Goldstein says. "And it's a hell of a lot of fun when you relax about it."


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