Last Friday night I was taken out for a fabulous meal at a great, well-regarded restaurant I hadn't been to somehow. We thought the menu looked gorgeous and then the food came out even more artistically presented and attentively cooked than I've had the pleasure to enjoy in some time. But I digress... The table's biggest wine nerd, I was asked to select a bottle of wine for all to enjoy. Each of us selected a completely different entree, however, so it was no easy task - and I sense one that many of us grapple with when out with a group. Fortunately, when it comes to food and wine pairing the goal is to take things to an even higher level. It is hard to absolutely ruin a culinary experience. Think of it this way: the food can be great and the wine can be great; in an optimal pairing the two are AWESOME together. An imperfect pairing usually just means that the wine is good and the food is good. Neither destroys or substantially enhances the experience of the other. (Only when you choose a big red wine with fish can things go truly poorly - the fish ends up tasting like you're chewing on tinfoil, or metalic.)
Our dinners consisted of steak, duck confit, lobster and salmon and our host preferred whites to red. Immediately I hoped for one of the quintessential great-pairing whites on the list: dry Reisling, Albarino or even Gewurztraminer. But the white wine choices consisted of a few Sauvignon Blancs and a few oaky Chards. The SB's would have been too "sharp" to complement the beef and duck, and borderline at best given how the salmon and lobster were prepared. A buttery, oaked Chard would have been perfect for the lobster, our host's selection, but would undermine the other dishes. And at a restaurant like that one, the food deserved the attention, not the wine.
What was a girl to do?! Default to a versatile red: Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is one of the most finicky grapes to grow and make into wine (hence the often higher price tag). It requires perfect weather conditions (warm days and cool evenings). And even when all the forces of nature align, the vines yield low levels of fruit. So you're starting with less. But it's high acidity and low level of tannin can be the makings of fabulous, lighter-medium bodied, silky, gently fruity, earthy and barely tart (read: food friendly) wines.
I wasn't directly familiar with any of the three Pinots available. There were two offerings from Burgundy, France and one from Oregon. Burgundy produces drop dead gorgeous red wines but because of the finicky nature of the grape, each vintage really matters. Only the best domain's make consistently solid wines even in an off year. I wasn't familiar with either of the producers listed and didn't see any of the acclaimed (prohibitively expensive?) vintages either. And then the obvious choice leapt from the pages: an Oregon Pinot! Pinot Noir from Oregon is often sexy, with delicate texture, and soft cherry and plum fruit. I find they are often less rustic than their earthier French counterparts, too (which I love but would be less appealing to others in the party). Jackpot!
If I had taken a poll I think all of us would have agreed that the food far surpassed the wine selection on Friday night. The food was THAT good and the wine was served a touch too warm and had an unexpected kick to the finish. But all in all, it was a tasty wine that complemented our range of fare just fine.
What's your "go to" food-friendly wine?