Look at any wine book, and you’re likely to find more rules there than you did in grade school. No running in the hallways, white wine with fish, no chewing gum in class, don’t open that bottle for 10 years. Blah, blah, blah…
Rules are made to be broken.
We laugh whenever we find a recommendation beneath a recipe. Suggesting a chardonnay is appreciated, but really do we need to scour stores for a 2016 Far Niente chardonnay? Okay, may an oaky chardonnay would be appreciated advice too, but for heaven’s sake, there is more than one chardonnay that would work well with your Dover sole.
As our education into wine expanded over the years, we developed a common-sense approach to applying well-document rules etched in scholarly wine tomes. We don’t put ice cubes in our white wines because they dilute the flavors, but we’ll chill red wine. If you think of rules as guidelines, they make more sense. A complex, full-body red wine is great with beef, but that doesn’t mean you can’t serve an oaky chardonnay to complement the bearnaise sauce or a zinfandel to accompany a tomato sauce.
We’ve assembled six rules we love to break:
MEAT/RED WINE and FISH/WHITE WINE. Arghhhh, nothing annoys us more than this ridiculous axiom. Texture is the most critical element to consider when matching food and wine. Tuna is a dense fish that does well with a Cotes-du-Rhone or a Spanish garnacha. Salmon? Serve us pinot noir any day. Again, match texture and body of wine to the food and the sauce. Or just drink whatever you like.
LET AN OLD WINE BREATHE. Yeah, well sometimes we just didn’t think about this far enough in advance. Someone shows up for dinner and we’re gong to say, hold on, we need to wait two hours for the wine to breathe? Truth be told, many older wines will lose all their character and flavor after being exposed to air for 30 minutes. If anything, decant young wines. But this sounds like a rule. You do the breathing.
SMALL GLASSES FOR WHITE WINE. Decades ago, Austrian stemware genius Georg Riedel proved to us that the shape of stemware makes a difference in how a wine smells and tastes. However, few hosts can have a set of stemware for every grape variety. Most of us have a set of small, narrow opening glasses for white and big bowls with tapered openings for red. Given such narrow choices, try using the red glass for full-bodied chardonnays. The wider the top, the more air a wine gets – and more air, more aromas and flavors.
ROSÉ IS ONLY A SUMMER WINE. Indeed, the French sip their rosé by the carafe while vacationing along the Mediterranean in August. But, parlez-vous francais? Drink rosé whenever you want is our new motto. It is such a versatile wine that it goes with just about any fish, chicken, pasta, pork, pizza, shrimp, scallops, cheese, hot dogs – even a bologna sandwich. We pity the person who disses us for putting rosé on the dinner table.
DON’T BUY ANY WINE RATED BELOW 90. Don’t get us started on wine scores. We admire Robert Parker Jr., who established the 100-point scale that put fear into French winemakers. Anything that he scores less than 90 struggles to sell. But what we all found over time is that Parker has a palate – very refined and very perceptive – that identifies the technical qualities of wine but not necessarily the shameless pleasure shared by commoners who like their sugar. You may like oaky chardonnays (he doesn’t) or medium body pinot noirs (he doesn’t). However influenced we once were by scores and sommeliers, we now follow our own biases. Follow your palate.
ORDERING THE CHEAPEST WINE IN A RESTAURANT MAKES ME LOOK LIKE A SCROOGE. No, it makes you look brilliant if the wine choice is good! A restaurant marks up a wine by 300 to 400 percent. Expensive wines are marked up less. Here’s how we size up wine lists: if the best chardonnay available is Sonoma-Cutrer and the best red is Joel Gott merlot, buy just a glass of wine or order beer. We don’t expect a great wine list at a pizza parlor or some burger joint on the beach. However, when confronted with an extensive wine list, we dig for the best buys. We are delighted when we find a Spanish grillo, a Greek assyrtiko, or an understated Italian barbera. Don’t underestimate the value of an inexpensive, novel wine you’ve never tried. And here’s the last bit of advice: be wary of chiantis. There is so much Tuscan dreck on wine lists that we avoid anything we don’t recognize.
Here are a few light reds that are great during these last days of warm weather:
Renato Ratti Battaglione Barbera 2016 ($20). Barbera in general is a grape that creates a medium-body, juicy wine that is simple enough to enjoy on its own or paired with equally simple foods, such as pasta. We like this DOCG version for its juicy cherry flavors and spice.
DuBoeuf Chateau De Saint-Amour Saint Amour 2015 ($24). St. Amour is one of Beaujolais 10 crus or villages that produce from the gamay grape the best and longest lasting wines from Beaujolais. Bright berry/cherry fruit with readily apparent tannins that should smooth out with time. Be patient.
Thokozani SMV Wellington South Africa 2016 ($19.75). This is a very big expressive red wine produced from 85 percent shiraz grapes, 14 percent mourvedre, and 1 percent viognier. The wine offers rich ripe complex elements of coffee, chocolate, ripe plum, berries and bacon in a wonderful pleasing wine mélange. A very good wine at an amazing price!
Concha y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenere D.O. Cachapoal Valley Peumo Vineyard Chile 2016 ($20). A real engaging and delightful carmenere from Chile. An amazing value for the quality, this wine displays a cherry, chocolate nose and flavors with an intriguing note of herbs and black pepper.
San Pedro 9 Lives Malbec Reserve Mendoza Argentina 2017 ($12-14). This is a very bold wine for bold foods. Very intense fruit flavors of berries and cassis with bold tannins that are appropriate for this wine. A great value!