Food and Wine 101: Perfect Pairings

by: Marianne R. Stanton

photography by: Beatrice PeltreĢ

A new book, published late last year, may help novices demystify the process of choosing wine when dining out, and pairing it with food at home.

“Drink Progressively,” by Hadley and TJ Douglas, is an accessible volume for those who want to learn more about wine. It encourages exploration and experimentation and provides a road map for the journey.

Lamb Chops Scottadito

Wines are rated on a scale of 1-10, from 1 for a light-bodied white wine with a mouth feel akin to skim milk, to 5, which is a medium-bodied wine with a mouth feel like whole milk. Wines rating a 10 are the fullest-bodied wines with a mouth feel like heavy cream.

The rating system was a bit confusing, but I did enjoy the way chapters were broken down by wines, from light on the scale to heavy, describing regions and varietals with a little history on their favorite vineyards, New World and Old World.

Owners of the Urban Grape wine boutique in Boston’s South End, the Douglases have been regular participants at the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival in May, and will be there again this year with signed copies of their book available for purchase.

The Nantucket connection to the book lies in the contributions from Gabriel Frasca, executive chef and partner at Straight Wharf Restaurant, and also a co-founder of Ventuno. You’ll find recipes from both restaurants in “Drink Progressively,” as well as some new recipes created specifically for wine pairings.

Most people think of pairing shellfish with a minerally white wine, like a French Meursault, but Frasca asked the authors to find a good red for his version of a deconstructed New England clambake, a signature dish on Straight Wharf ’s menu. The Douglases selected a hearty Spanish Rioja, and get specific about which one, noting that it is the spiciness of the chouriço sausage in the dish that makes this pairing successful.

On the lighter side of SWR’s menu, there is the Basil Salad with Almond Vinaigrette and Candied Lemon. Conventional wisdom holds that wines do not really “go” with salad due to the acid in the dressing. But here you have the recommendation of an Alsatian-style Riesling from the Alexana Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, with a little history about the vineyard and why it is so notable.

What I like about this book is that the authors give you a mini lesson on key elements in each wine and what to look for when pairing it with food. For instance, did you know what ABV on the label means, and why you should care? ABV refers to the alcohol by volume. In the case of Rieslings, a high (11-13 percent) rating translates to a high-acid wine with lighter body: perfect for pairing with cold and briny shellfish. An “off-dry” Riesling, such as the Alexana, has a citrusy sweetness that allows it to enhance the salad it is paired with here.

A Pear and Celery Salad with pecorino cheese and walnuts, however, demands a different wine to enhance that experience. An Italian white, La Spinetta Vermentino, is the preferred choice, specifically for its round and meaty texture which goes well with the salty, crunchy almonds and cheese elements in the dish.

An excellent example of how a wine pairing elevates a dish is the Sonoma Valley’s Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer drunk with a Crab Toast with Mango Salad. The flavors of lychee, candied ginger and Moroccan spice accent the fruity, curried crab and mango on buttery English muffins.

With a favorite pasta dish, the Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta that chef and now co-owner Dré Solimeo created for Ventuno, try a Peay Vineyards Chardonnay. The full-bodied wine cuts the bitterness of the broccoli rabe and stands up to the heaviness of the dish.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a traditional pairing with lamb. For Frasca’s Lamb Chops Scottadito, the Douglases chose an elegant Lail Vineyards Blueprint, a California cab, that sets the table for a memorable dinner indeed.

Aside from the big breakout recipes, the book segments types of food – Thai, Comfort, Meat and Potatoes, etc. – and suggests what types of wines go with these foods under info boxes headlined “Perfect Pairings.”

This nuggetization of information throughout the book, from everything on how and when to decant wine to the effects of global warming on the industry to aging in barrels, makes “Drink Progressively” an entertaining and educational resource you can easily dip in and out of.

Marianne Stanton is the editor and publisher of Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. ///

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