Back in the mid 1980s, I had the privilege to work with the Wine Institute. Our challenge was the ambitious goal of converting the United States into a wine drinking culture. This was no small feat in a country that sucked down sodas instead of water and had beer running through its veins.
Working in cooperation with the California Culinary Academy, my small marketing firm developed a simple “slide rule” for determining what wine goes with what: a pairing guide. We listed the most popular dishes in the US on the sleeve, with a list of the most available wine choices on the slider, with dots on the slider that corresponded to the types of wine that went with each dish.
In reviewing this simple device today, it appears to be timeless. As I cannot send the device through the wires, I reconstructed the results from working with some of the nation’s best young chefs and my team of wine professionals.
With years as a vintner behind me, I made some changes and question whether some of the popular foods are still popular (like chicken chow mein), and added a few favorites.
As a rule of thumb, I believe that acidity is the secret ingredient to a wine’s ability to pair with food. Wines that lack this “pop”, tend to taste flat. While perhaps perfect as a cocktail during the day or evening, when a “soft” wine is brought together with a favorite dish, both suffer. With white wine, we are talking citric and malic acids, while with red wines, tartaric acids lead the way. That is not to suggest that an overabundance can hurt and be out of balance. I am simply saying a the lack is the death knell for a food wine.
I am thrilled at the recent statistics that suggest that the US is today the largest per-capita consumer of wine in the world. Not because I am encouraged by higher consumption of alcohol, a self-serving interest in the industry, or pride in the small contribution that I was privileged to make; it is simply that wine, for those who do not have issues with alcohol, enhances life. It elevates a simple meal, spawns intimacy, and serves in growing community.
At the end of the day, this is a guide, not a set of rules. No one can direct you how to taste. Your palate is ALWAYS your greatest determinant. We will be adding to this list in the coming months and years, so feel free to add your comments and contributions. I am excited to learn more from you.