Friday, May 16, 2008

Feeling Wine-y

I love being Catholic. We have such a rich heritage of tradition with regard to celebrating our faith. It always saddens me when I hear of other Christian denominations diminishing celebrations by coming down on our tendency, as Catholics, to enjoy our wine. It is so sad to exclude this part of a celebration in the name of some perceived idea that we are not to fully enjoy ourselves. Catholics love a good party and if you doubt my word go find yourself an Irish priest and ask him. We love our food and our wine. We are also big fans of beer.

The fact is that even St. Thomas Aquinas thought we should enjoy ourselves with a glass of wine on occasion.

“Hinc bibere usque ad hilaritatem per se quidem non est illicitum” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

Loosely translated this means wine can be lawfully drunk to the point of cheerfulness.

Doesn’t that sound great? Cheerfulness. Now no one is advocating you get fall down drunk every Friday night but to enjoy the fruits of the vine in a happy way. Happy that God gave us the gift of these resources to make this elixir which when imbibed responsibly transports us to a heavenly happiness.

Can you tell I enjoy the hooch?

Before I became a mother I worked for a prominent investment bank in marketing. This meant that I helped bankers with the presentations they made to clients, institutional investors, and in doing so I was able to do quite a bit of event planning. I would help them with editing presentations, rehearsing their speeches, arranging for the proper A/V equipment and, on occasion, I would be responsible for planning an entire weekend event. Toward this end it was necessary that I know something about formal dining and that included being sent to many wine tastings (rough job, I know) and a few classes to learn how to pick wines for a dinner. I was also privileged to work with a few sommaliers who were more than willing to educate me.

This was all a long time ago but once you’ve kept 300 bankers and their wives entertained and informed for three days at a resort planning a First Holy Communion or graduation party does seem much easier to accomplish.

One thing several people impressed upon me was that it is not necessary to buy very expensive wines but to buy the right wines for your family and friends. The wine that compliments the food correctly will help a meal really sing.

I encourage you to visit your local wine shop (or liquor store) and ask for help. Attend wine tastings when you can and if you live in an area that has a vineyard, for heaven’s sake go visit it. Long Island is wine country and we are fortunate to be able to spend a “date” day every year or so touring one or two vineyards and sampling some of their production. Buying a flight of wine (a sampling of four or five wines) is an inexpensive way to learn what you like. Often there are restaurants right there in the vineyards where you can try your favorites with some food.

When you are planning to serve wine there are some very basic rules of thumb that help you pair things up. In general light foods are best suited to light wines and more robust and heavy foods are better suited to a more robust wine. It is generally acknowledges that there are six key food flavors; salty, sharp, savory, spicy, smoky and sweet.

Salty foods go better dry white wines. A Chablis is a good choice.
Sharp flavors are best paired with a wine that has a higher level of acidity like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling.
Savory foods work well with medium to robust reds like a Pinot Noir
Spicy dishes need a more fruity wine. Spicier food will reduce the sweetness of the wine so you need something quite fruity to stand up to that. Try a rose’ but please, as a favor to me, avoid the white or blush Zinfandels. They are the nerdy cousin of wine and should only be served in case of Armaggedon when nothing else is available. Try a Spanish Rosado.
Smoky needs a strong flavor to stand up to the different flavors. Try a Shiraz, there are some wonderful inexpensive ones from Australia. They are my personal favorite.
Sweet food will make a wine seem dry. Try to pair your desserts with a wine or sherry that is sweeter than the confection you are serving. Port or Madeira is popular.

(This and a great deal of other information can be found in the book, Wine Made Easy edited by Susy Atkins)

I encourage you to broaden your horizions the next time you have the opportunity to try a new wine. It is very easy to get stuck in a wine rut. Even if you really only like Chardonnay or Merlot try a wine from a different region than one you are used to. Merlot grapes grown in Chile, for example, have a much bolder flavor than those grown here in the United States on the west coast. And those differ from the ones grown here on the east end of Long Island. I would also recommend trying blended wines. My current favorite is Yellow Tail’s Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from Australia. It is a rich, heavy wine with a slightly plumy taste. I love it.

If you take nothing else from this remember that wine should be fun and not scary. It should not create stress for an hostess but rather should commemorate an occasion, highlight your food and be toasted to your hospitality.


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  1. Okay, so when can we visit for a tour of the Long Island wine country??? Delightful post Mary Ellen, and I'm serious, what fun would that be :)))))

  2. Lovely post, Mary Ellen. I'm a big wine fan, although probably not connoisseur. I do think it fits well in being Catholic. Enjoying different wines has been a very fun part of our courtship and marriage. We love the books and columns by Dorothy and John in the WSJ -- practical real life advice.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post Mary Ellen!

  4. Try a rose’ but please, as a favor to me, avoid the white or blush Zinfandels. They are the nerdy cousin of wine and should only be served in case of Armaggedon when nothing else is available.

    Hysterical!! What a fabulous post, and I most certainly share your sentiments, though I'm really not a fan of white wine at share a dear friends observation: "The only good white wine is red!"

    Here's to all bon vivants: Cheers!

  5. I don't know anything at all about what dishes go best with what wine. This post helped me a lot, Thanks!

  6. I'm so glad everyone liked the post. I was a little nervous about it.