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Food & Wine: Pairing made simple by Mary Dowey
Great Tastes Made Simple: Extraordinary food and wine pairing for every palate by Andrea Immer
Reviewed by Dean Tudor
 (November 19, 2002)

Food & Wine (Ryland Peters & Small, 2002, 64 pages, ISBN 1-84172-345-2, $19.95) is by Irish wine writer Mary Dowey; Great Tastes Made Simple (Broadway Books, 290 pages, ISBN 0-7679-0907-0, $41.95) is by Andrea Immer, Master Sommelier and Dean of Wine Studies at The French Culinary Institute in NYC. Both of these titles cover the area of matching food with wine; the Dowey book is the more concise of the two.

Dowey's book is simple enough, primarily arranged by food with an indication of what to drink. In reduced typeface – and with one page to each – she covers ethnic food, snacks, salads, vegetables, cheese, eggs, pasta, pizza, risotto, fish, meats, desserts, etc. She brings in the principles of weight, flavour, geography, and simplicity. She has a good section on tricky foods, such as soups, egg dishes, ice cream, spicy foods, blue cheese and chocolate, and the no-no foods of vinegar, horseradish, cranberries and peanuts. She has charts on wines by course and by food, and two pages addressing the matching of wines with foods.

In most cases, of course, the food comes first: find the food and then get the wine match. We all trot off to the wine store with a recipe in mind. Still, it wouldn't hurt to have a food recommendation for some wines. Back labels do indicate some broad help, as do Dowey's charts.

Immer takes it all up one more level. Like Dowey, she admits that food determines the wine. But she also says that "most wines go with most foods most of the time." She just wants to make the association better, and I have to agree with her. With an expensive bottle, you can seek out compatible food. But the usual rule here, as she notes, is: The more complicated the wine, the more simple the food. This allows the wine to shine. The reverse is also true: The more complicated the food, the more simple the wine.

Once you know this, then ordering wine in an upscale restaurant is a breeze – for that fancy 10-ingredient main dish with the sauces under and over the food (and dribbled around the edge!), try an uncomplicated simple wine. But which one? Immer goes into great detail on how to distinguish among simple wines. The layout of the book is daunting, for there are many tables of small print. And she recommends specific labels in addition to regions and varietals, for these labels are nationally distributed and consistent one year to the next. You know what to expect, and in this sense, the wine is simple. The exceptions are clarified, but they can be simply based on your own taste buds and on other people's buds as well.

Immer goes on to describe classic matches (a useful reference point, even if you don't prefer the wine or the food) such as steak and cabernet sauvignon, foie gras and sauternes, Stilton cheese and port. There are also the mainstream choices of the usual rules (light before heavy, white before red, young before old), but these rules are all determined by the character of the wines (body, acid, fruit flavours, tannins, alcohol, wooding) and of the food preparations. It seems complicated, but she covers all the angles. She also has some 20 recipes for "wine loving" foods, highlighting flavours and textures when paired with certain wines.

Neither Dowey nor Immer addresses the issue of actually putting wine and food together in the mouth at the same time – look around and you will see diners drinking wine before, after and during the fork-in-the-mouth bit. Does this timing make a difference? It sure does...

What I do not like about these books: Dowey has too many gratuitous photos eating up space. Immer has too many tables, and appears overwhelming at times for beginners. Old-timers, like sommeliers, love tables...
What I do like about these books: Dowey has lists of safe-bet restaurant wines, which is a great idea (wines which go with the majority of foods), and has listed wines by cuisines, e.g., Chinese = Riesling, French = Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. Immer has sections dealing with the problems and effects of smoke and oak on both food and wine, plus her Food Pair Matches index at the back: just look under the name of a wine or a food, and find a page reference to a pairing in the text.
Quality/Price Ratio rating: Dowey gets an 86+, Immer gets a 91.

 

 

 

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