Food wines are like condiments when combined with food—they improve the end results! Imagine this: You are out at your favorite fish restaurant and you order some swordfish. It comes and you dig in impatiently because you love swordfish so much. Then upon reflection, you realize that you forgot to add that little squeeze of lemon. So, you quickly pick up that lemon wedge and proceed to squeeze it into your mouth - obviously, that would be downright unpleasant.
Having studied behavioral psychology before embarking into the wine & food arena, let me share with you an observation that I always experience when I watch people dining out. The average restaurant guest orders his fish, chooses an appropriate food wine (having the requisite acidity) and when it comes he does the following: Open mouth, eat two bites of fish, swallow fish and reach for the wine to wash it down. What's wrong with that, you ask? If wine and food are to be synergistic, then you need to enjoy them simultaneously. By this I mean just before you swallow your salmon, you introduce a little sip of your high acid wine at the same time—then and only then will the food and wine be in concert. In other words, how can you ask a wine's acidity to add to the flavor of your fish when it is already residing in your stomach? There is a reason why we put salt, pepper and lemon juice on our food before we begin to taste.
My favorite red "food wine" is Pinot Noir, the best of which are from France (Burgundy), Oregon, New Zealand, Italy and California. As far as California Pinot Noirs, you need to be vigilant as they seem to present in two very different styles. First, are those heavily extracted, fruit bombs (more than 15.5% alcohol). Although these may win contests thanks to sheer power of extract, they kill any delicate food flavors, not to mention having a searing aftertaste. I like the others that are vinified in the fashion of French burgundies being what I call pretty. They are elegant, crisp, low alcohol (13.2 - 14) and are sinful with food—I have, on occasion found them to be sinful on their own! Your favorite wine merchant can assist you in finding the regions that produce them.
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