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Getting wise about wine

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Sept. 5, 2007, 3:34 p.m.)

Have you ever sat down to a fantastic meal and had absolutely no idea which wine to choose?

With the Lake Geneva Wine Festival beginning Friday, we’ve prepared a quick guide to help sort through the seemingly endless varieties.

Here’s the simplest rule: Get what you like. But for those times when you really want the wine that best accompanies the meal, here are some suggestions.

First, relax. There is no one perfect food-wine pairing for a specific dish and often there is more than one.

Second, relax some more. There are very few food-wine pairings that are truly terrible. In the end, the best match depends greatly on the taste of the individual.

The preparation of food—spices, sauces, cooking techniques—is as important as the food itself when matching it to a good wine.

The goal is to find a wine with flavors that accentuate the flavors of the food, making both taste better.

Though many vintners may not agree, a special family member that’s worth mentioning are port wines. They are aged red wines reconstituted with brandy. They’re full-bodied and loaded with flavor and go with absolutely anything from steak to chocolate so are perfect before, during or after dinner wines. They are two- to three-times higher in alcohol than the aforementioned wines, so order by the glass not the bottle.

A few more tips will help you choose just the right wine for your meal with confidence:

- In the world of wines, acids are your friends. Rich creamy sauces, fried foods and fish are the perfect partners with high acid wines.

- Fatty foods and wines high in tannin go great together. Tannins are the red parts of the skin of the red grape. There are no tannins in white wines. The more tannins the darker the color.

- Red wines really don’t go well with some fish (cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish) because the iodine in them reacts badly with the tannins giving everything a metallic taste.

- Drink wine at room temperature, except the whites, which should be chilled.

- A high price does not ensure a good wine. Often times a really good bottle of wine costs around $10.

Now that you know your wine, be brave and give wine a chance at your next meal.

Tickets for the Lake Geneva Wine Festival are available by visiting www.lakegenevawinefestival.com and downloading an order form. Complete instructions are available there. Attendees must be 21 years of age or older. For other inquiries, call 245-8635.

Participating Sip and Shop stores featuring drawings, samples, sales and specials.

Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007

Merlot, cabernet and red-wine blends have mellow, light, fresh, crisp and sometimes fruity flavors whose after tastes don’t last as long as the more full-bodied wines. Because of their lightness, they pair well with lots of foods and are safer choices when unsure.
Good pairings: Broiled, roasted or grilled meat and chicken; hearty fish; squash and yams; portabello mushrooms; nuts; rich sauces; and onion.

Pinot noir is made from the darkest grapes, making heavy, earthy, slightly fruity flavors with longer aftertastes.
Good pairings: Roast beef; broiled, roasted or grilled meat, chicken; oily or fatty fish; and savory, rich, herbed foods.

Riesling and Gewurztaminer are sweet, fruity, flowery and sometimes melon-flavored white wines.
Good pairings: Spicy and salty foods; Asian foods; ham; poultry and cheese.

Pinot grigio/pinot gris are dry, rich white wines.
Good pairings: Seafood and pasta with cream, butter or pesto sauce; salmon; veal; egg and spring rolls; citrus flavored foods; garlic, onion, mustard, and vinegar; sour-cream and yogurt-based foods; and salads with savory elements such as bacon.

Chardonnays, sauvignon blanc are golden rather than pale white wines. They’re more acidic, dry and not sweet or fruity. Zinfandels fall into this general category and can have a black pepper flavor.
Good pairings: Poultry in cream or butter sauces; herbed dishes; seafood; and stews.

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