Party Pairing: A Master Makes It Easy to Pick the Right Wine

Article excerpt

"One person's lemon is another person's grapefruit is another's kumquat" when the people in question are swirling and sniffing wine. In his new book, Perfect Pairings (University of California Press, 2006; $30), Evan Goldstein comes right out and says it: "The idea of wine evaluation is implicitly bizarre. No other consumer product causes such paralysis by analysis." You don't have to think like a Master Sommelier to pick wine and food that taste really good with each other. Goldstein is an M.S., though--one of about 150 active in the world--and in 1987, at 26, was the youngest person yet to pass the challenging third level of the British-based program.

In Goldstein's view, the biggest mistake people make is just not thinking much about the match. "The most common approach is, 'I know what I like--Chardonnay, white Zin ... It makes me happy. I'm going to drink it with dinner.'" The wine might go well with the food (Cabernet Sauvignon and steak for instance), or it might not (same wine, with trout or sushi). Yet ever the optimist, Goldstein believes we all have the raw ability to do better than that. Quoting a friend in Pairings: "From the day you figure out you can spit out the strained spinach and have seconds on mashed bananas, taste preferences are born."

To keep those wine opinions coming and learn to trust them, Goldstein has three pieces of advice: Compare wines frequently--taste at least two wines at once (Chardonnays, say), or more if possible (especially easy to do at a party, which usually calls for multiple bottles). Taste with people whose opinions you value--you'll learn a lot. And have confidence in what you're picking up in a wine (one person's lemon, etc.).

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Pairings takes it from there, light-heartedly mapping the elements in wine and food and explaining how they interact. The meat of the book is a variety-by-variety analysis (no paralysis here) of wine flavors, styles, food affinities down to specific ingredients and cooking methods--and recipes from Joyce Goldstein (aka "Mom"), influential cookbook author and restaurateur of the former Square One in San Francisco, where Evan's career really took off.

It's a deceptive journey. …