Say you're reading a wine review in the Wall Street Journal, for instance. It goes on and on about a certain Montepulciano, an Italian red, that it turns out you can't get here in Evansville.
Then a few weeks later, you read another wine review -- this time online. This particular recommended wine is from a producer in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, and it's a Pinot Noir. But every time you've gone shopping for wine in the Tri-state area, you've never seen it on the shelves.
If you've had this problem, you're not alone. We won't go into the specifics of what can and cannot be sold in Indiana. But we can talk about the frustration of wanting to try a new, well-reviewed bottle of wine, only to find that there's no chance it'll ever be sold in this market.
And for those interested in pairing wine and food, these types of problems can seem like major ones. Except, they're not -- at least according to Jill Silverman Hough, a food writer and recipe developer
who wrote the book "100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy With Wines You Love," which Hough says may be the first-ever food and wine pairing book that's not written for food and wine geeks. Hough's written for "Bon Appetit" and regularly teaches at a culinary school in California, and her book is aimed at pairing recipes with general varietals. That's because she, like many of us, has looked in vain for certain wines recommended by others -- only to find they are unavailable to her, too. The sentiments expressed in her comment below may sound familiar:
"Another thing that drives me crazy about most food and wine pairing books -- they recommend wines that most everyday wine drinkers have never heard of or can't afford," Hough wrote. "Or they'll mention a familiar wine, but recommend a specific producer or year. What if you can't find Robert Mondavi Winery's 2005 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon? Guess you can't make that recipe."
Well, we're here to say kudos to Hough, because she's provided recipes for a total of 12 varietals of wine -- red, white and rose -- without having us search all over for specific producers and years.
"And every recipe in each chapter will go with every bottle of that varietal," she wrote. "Some recipes might work better with certain styles of, for example, Chardonnay, but they'll all work with
Chardonnay. If you know that your particular bottle of Chardonnay is buttery or that it's crisp, great. If not, don't worry about it. At all."
We like this philosophy. But I had to put her book to the test. So I prepared her butternut squash and pancetta soup recipe, which was absolutely delicious. And with it we paired a 2009 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend that we had purchased at Winetree for about $14. Except, I admit, I made a mistake: I didn't look closely enough at the blend percentage, and this Pine Ridge was actually more Chenin Blanc (80 percent) than Viognier (20 percent). This mattered, Hough explained, because Viognier should have been the main varietal. This white wine is generally dry (not sweet); it has medium-low to medium acidity, crispness or brightness; it has little or no tannins; it has medium to heavy weight; and it has medium to strong intensity. Hough said Viognier pairs well with dishes that have the same characteristics, and the butternut squash and pancetta soup met those requirements. Chenin Blanc, on the other hand, is a wine that is generally somewhat sweet and creamy, and since it was the majority percentage in the bottle, it was going to cast the longest shadow.
Thankfully, we had prepared some juicy chicken breasts, too, to go along with the meal, and with that food pairing, this Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend that was crisp, clean and tasted of honey and
pears was perfect, since the salt in the chicken seasoning really brought out the sweetness in the wine. 11 percent alcohol.
After learning a little about Viognier, we tried the 2009 Cline Viognier with homemade spicy General Tso's chicken, since Viognier can be a good pairing with spicy dishes. This Americanized Chinese dish isn't one of Hough's recipes, but we had a craving for something we don't usually prepare. Greg is a spicy heat addict, so I added a good amount of dried red pepper flakes to this dish, and we both liked this Viognier's reaction. This Californian from the Sonoma Coast had pineapple and peach notes, and it was smooth, overcoming the spice of the dish to provide a cool, soothing foil. The more red pepper flakes we piled on, the better this Viognier became. Plus, this bottle was
inexpensive, coming in at less than $15 at Schnucks. 13.5 percent alcohol.
Meanwhile, if you're making these meals and yet can't find these specific wine recommendations, we, like Hough, advise you not to worry.
While you may enjoy wine and food together, "perfect pairings shouldn't be some ideal that you have to strive for or that, one day, you might finally achieve," Hough wrote. "Rather, think of perfect
pairings as an arena to play in. Don't have them be a burden. Have them be something to explore and enjoy."