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Posted: October 14, 2009

If it tastes good—pair it

Just keep some simple rules in mind

 I can't help but roll my eyes at some snorting wine aficionados who tsk-tsk at what foods to pair with what wines. I'd really just love to run into one or two of them out on the playground, if you know what I mean.

All the talk of "bouquet" and "beef bourguignon only going with Cabernets," and "save the Chardonnay for grilled fish," etc., just rubs me wrong.

The truth is that, while certain foods' nuances are enhanced by certain wines, to me, foodies know and like what they like. For example, don't you think it funny that upscale restaurants and million-dollar TV chefs now fuss over mac ‘n cheese dishes? I love a five-cheese mac ‘n cheese as much as the next guy, but 10 years ago nobody gave a rat's patoot about what is, essentially, a grain-based casserole.

So goes the trend in wine-pairings. The hard-and-fast rules suddenly ain't so hard and fast when Emeril DeGasse (who was - before his TV celebrity-dom - another rough-around-the-edges New Orleanean cook) applauds an Alsace Pinot Blanc paired with a T-bone steak.

Still. Guidelines can help the novice select a wine that will likely not just taste good with the dish, but actually enhance the dish's texture, flavors and subtleties. The basics keep things simple and so simplify the entire "wine thing" that causes many the host or hostess to hyperventilate when pairing wines with favorite dishes.

In a nut shell, generally speaking, pair a heavier wine with a heavier food dish. Summertime dishes like salads and cold soups are made crispier and lighter and often more flavorful with a light, white wine. At the opposite end of heft, know that the rack of lamb you're planning for next weekend stands up best to a Cabernet or a rich Malbec.

From there the choices may widen, but the concept is still the same: Big meats tend to pair better with bold wines: Serving red meat? Prime rib, steaks, roasts often pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot and Tempranillo. A milder red meat like a filet mignon. can handle a slightly milder red, if you will: Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are softer reds that bring out the best in a less commanding red meat dish.

Fish, soups, and salads are layered foods and so goes the wines that work with them: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Bourdeaux Blanc highlight these foods' textures and nuances. However, a rich soup - say, a creamy pumpkin soup, will do fine with a Pinto Noir pairing, yet don't be afraid to drink a Sauvignon Blanc with a rich and buttery soup.

The tricky part of poultry and wine together is that poultry runs the spectrum of heavy to light. Duck, to me, is not the same weight as a chicken breast. Duck, being fattier and richer, pairs fine with a Cabernet Sauvignon or Sangiovese. Chicken, on the other hand, seems to call more for Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Rose or Reisling.

Really, it's the diner's gut instinct (no pun intended) that is the best gauge by which to select an appropriate wine. Funny how dinner guests really don't bother with getting their food+wine combo so exact after about 2.5 glasses into dinner.

The bottom line is to use a bit of common sense (heavy goes with heavy, light goes with light, dessert goes with crisp and/or sweet wines). Despite what experts might insist is necessary for sophisticated wine and food pairing - a "nose" for wine, education, world-travel and finely-tuned palette - wines can and usually are selected by regular people who usually employ little more than a bit of thought, a love for food and a Visa card.

Imploding, angst and over-thinking wine selection, it would seem, is not required.

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Word o' the Week

(File this under "whimsical")

Three different wine glossaries give the wine term, "nose," three somewhat varied meanings:

Nose: a common wine tasting term used to refer to the aroma or bouquet of a wine.

Nose: The smell of the wine; it may have a "good nose" or an "off-nose," meaning defective odors.

Nose: A wine term (used frequently in Britain) synonymous with aroma (i.e. you might say "the nose of this wine reminds me of cherries"). Nose is also used as a verb. To nose a wine is to smell it.

One Winning Wine Tasting

The 9th Annual Taste of Greenwood Village will be held Thursday, October 22, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event anticipates over 1,000 guests and is expected to sell out again this year.

The Hyatt Regency Grand Ballroom hosts the event, where an all-inclusive ticket affords guests food and wine samplings and free parking. Nearly three dozen of the area's best restaurants will be on hand to serve food, and the event raises funds for The Beacon Center, a non-profit dedicated to meeting the social, educational and emotional needs of children and their families.

Cost is $35; more info at 303.290.9922.

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