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pairing food with wine
by Yee-Fan Sun
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o you've finally gotten to the point where you kinda sorta have a clue about what sort of wine you like to sip. You know you prefer reds to whites, or whites to reds; you even have a few tried-and-trued bottles you like to stock up on when you make those trips to Trader Joe's. Still, there's one aspect of wine culture that still leaves you feeling like a little kid playing dress-up: figuring out what kind of wine to pair with what sort of food. You haven't a clue whether your favorite Shiraz will go with your Mexican night; you're wondering whether those three bottles of Riesling you somehow accumulated at your last gathering can be served at your sushi party. As you're standing at the liquor store trying to decide which bottles to serve at your next dinner party, it all seems so confusing you're about ready to close your eyes, whirl around, and grab whatever bottle blindly meets your hand. Yes, it's not always easy figuring out what wine will go with a given meal. But by keeping a few handy tips in mind, you'll find your chances of hitting upon a good combination are a whole lot higher.

When trying to pick a wine to go with food, here's the good news: for the most part, simple, straightforward wines are going to be easiest to match with foods and since what you're often paying for with wine is complexity, this means there's no need to shell out the big bucks (save the splurge wines for pre- or post- dinner sipping, when you can really concentrate on the wine itself). Until you're comfortable with thinking about the specific flavors of individual wines, you're basically looking for a wine that has the minimum potential to clash with your meal -- not too acidic, not too tannic (tannins give wine a bitterness and astringency), not too fruity, not too oaky (many wines are aged in oak barrels, which imparts a pronounced flavor), and not too high in alcohol. What this means in practical terms is probably an inexpensive young light red like a Beaujolais from France or Pinot Noir from California or Oregon, which will generally be flexible enough to taste lovely with a variety of different types of food, and easy enough to quaff that it'll please the vast majority of tastebuds.

Inoffensive isn't the most exciting thing to aim for when you're planning a dinner party menu, however, especially once you start getting a little more into wine. If you're hoping to choose a wine that does a little more than not clash horrifically, if you're actually hoping the wine and food will bring out flavors in one another that is, that's when things can get a little more intimidating for the newbie wine enthusiast.

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