Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Pairing Conundrum, part 2 (of... well, how many sequels did "Police Academy" have?)

For the record (and for the sake of continuity), this post was supposed to go out last Friday, hot on the heels of "The Pairing Conundrum, part 1", a meandering, bloviated monologue on how to make your food taste better, your wine taste better, and your food & wine taste better together. There were more points to make, but- as I said- things got wordy.

Alas, stars were crossed that day. A now-infamous Blogger crash led into a day planning for a wine tasting, a day prepping for and executing a wine tasting dinner, a trip to Dahlonega wine country, and some other flotsam and jetsam that threw my noble intentions way off-course.

I apologize, and I'll make the excuse that Blogger backed me up horribly. It's not a good excuse, but it sure is a textbook example of passing the buck. On with the show...

I hope you've never heard it this way before: wine pairing is like a Liger. Take one majestic creature, the Lion (aka, "food", or perhaps the "mane" course... I immediately regret saying that). Put it together with a beautiful and cryptic beast, the Tiger (a metaphor for wine... misunderstood, powerful, and beautiful).

A perfect wine and food pairing becomes the Liger, a transcendental beast of the animal kingdom. Yeah, I agree it's perhaps the worst metaphor yet, but when's the next time I'm gonna get to talk about Ligers? You've gotta work with me here. And how could I not post that pic? Prize for the best caption...

Anyhow, I mentioned a couple pairing tips last week, and I wanted to continue with some more, but I'll do them one at a time (with total disregard to timeliness or continuity), because I really do talk too much:

Do you like red meat, and to hell with what your doctor says? Get on the good foot with tannins. I need to study more food science. I've heard it a million times. I've read it a million times. But I haven't seen a good explanation of the chemistry behind why red meat and tannic red wines go so well together. Either that, or I'm too lazy to really research it at the Charlie Sheen-ish hours when I write these posts.

All I know is that red meat is very high in protein. This is due to the fact that it (beef, lamb, duck, etc.) is comprised of slow-twitch muscle, which is used for long, extended periods of activity. For that reason, slow-twitch muscle must be high in myoglobin- a protein that stores plenty of oxygen to fuel these hard-working fibers. Myoglobin is reddish in color, so that's why red meat looks bloody (it isn't bloody bloody, by the way). But, clearly, this stuff is very high in protein, because of the myoglobin. So, there's part one.

Some red wines are high in tannin. Tannins are phenolic compounds from the skins, seeds, and stems of wine grapes. There are more tannins in red skins, so red wines tend to be more tannic. This is especially true for thick-skinned grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, etc. When the juice is in contact with those big, fat casings during fermentation, the phenolic tannins are extracted into the wine. Winemakers can also add tannin to a wine by adding stems to the fermentation, or by aging in new oak barrels (as oak contains tannins). However, for the purposes of this stinkin' post, lets just say it the skin's the thing.

So, you've got a myoglobin-laden piece of meat and a heavily-extracted Cabernet Sauvignon. They're going to go great together because...uh, because the internet says so. Supposedly, tannins bind to the proteins in meat and make those proteins more flavorful. Likewise, the proteins supposedly soften the tannins, making them less astringent and more smooth. I don't know how this works, but I do know one thing: red meat and heavy red wine sure are tasty together. Next time you see your pimp and bring home beef steak or lamb, try a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Nebbiolo-based wine, or Tannat (looks for producers from Uruguay or Madiran in France for these massive wines). Oh, and there's some Tannat grown in Georgia, too. Boomshakalaka.

As an added bonus, phenolic compounds contain lots of antioxidants, so tell your doc you'll only eat that terrible red meat with lots and lots of booze... know, for your health.

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