Daring pairings by Evan Goldstein
A Master Sommelier matches distinctive wines with recipes from his favourite chefs
By Robyn Lewis
This is perhaps the most exciting wine book to have crossed my desk in the past year or so – and I see a few.
For a start, it’s not your usual new vintage summary – useful as these are as purchasing or investment guides, their format is becoming increasingly similar: an intro to the author’s current topic, then his (or more rarely her) top 50 or 100 lists for reds, whites and sparklings (and maybe some dessert wines, fortifieds or even whiskies), followed by pages of the best value wines under $20, the best over… then the alphabetical list of producers, whose wines are given points out of 100, 20, or rated by star or bottle symbols. Of late there seems to have been little else on the wine book shelves.
Daring pairings by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein is thus a welcome arrival, not just because of the difference in style, but because it focuses purely on what we in Australia call ‘new’ or ‘emerging varietals’ – that is, grape varieties that until recently only a few of us may have either heard or tasted, and which are yet to become mainstream. You’ll find all the cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, shiraz, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay you want in the annual guides.
As such it fills a void in the market; small(ish) as this may be at present, it’s growing, driven by travel, increasingly sophisticated palates wanting to try something new, and by changing environmental conditions. Sustained warmer temperatures may see some of Australia’s mainstream grape varieties fail to perform over time; lack of water may wreak havoc even sooner.
Goldstein is a professional wine educator based in the USA whose passion for wine and in particular matching it with food has taken him all over that country and indeed the world. His love for both began at home – pretty handy that his mother Joyce was the chef and owner of the famed Square One restaurant in San Francisco, until its closure in 1996, and herself a James Beard winner for Best Chef: California.
Goldstein Jr didn’t rest on his (or her) laurels – he’s a four-times James Beard Award nominee for ‘Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year’, and the 2006 author of Perfect pairings, in which he discussed and matched the mainstream varieties with his mother’s restaurant recipes. Even his earlier book broke new ground – it wasn’t just this red or white goes with this, but this ‘plummy, juicy, fruit-forward merlot (new world style)’ or ‘smoky, peppery, meaty syrahs (Rhône-style)’ goes with that. He also broke new ground at the time with wine brand suggestions at different price points: ‘everyday’, ‘premium’ and ‘splurge’.
It was about creating pairings that work, and explaining why, so you can then apply them to any wine styles at hand.
Daring pairings takes this expertise beyond Riesling, pinot gris, gewürtztraminer and viognier, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and sangiovese (all covered in Perfect Pairings) to the realms of the little-known or indeed the obscure grape varieties, and matches the wines to dishes from 35 of his favourite chefs from across North America and Europe, who themselves have a mind-boggling string of awards between them (I’ve never seen James Beard mentioned more times in their seven pages of bios; Goldstein surely leads a charmed culinary life.)
These are varieties not at the tip of everyone’s tongue, from the somewhat better known nebbiolo and tempranillo through to aglianico and xinomavro (which means ‘acid black’ in Greek) amongst the reds, and from arneis and grüner veltliner through to Spain’s txakoli (a.k.a. hondarribi zuri) and vermentino amongst the whites. Try getting your mouth around those!
Goldstein certainly tells us how. As in Perfect Pairings he tells us which regions (globally) excel or are showing increased suitability to the varieties, many of which are very recent introductions to the New World, and gives recommended producers in the ‘everyday’, ‘premium’ and ‘splurge’ categories.
Each variety is well explained – from pronunciation and alternative names, then styles and blends, through ‘similar sips’ to its ‘flavour lexicon’: what it tastes like, broken down into flavour groupings including ‘fruit/vegetable’, ‘floral’, ‘earth’, ‘wood’ and other (eg spice, game, rubber, Cinzano). It you knew even a tenth of this you would be a walking wine encyclopaedia.
But what I really like about this book is that it walks the tightrope between basic and highbrow with style, never once being condescending or arrogant, nor labouring the obvious so that a wine connoisseur turns away. This balance is rarely attained in wine books, and ten out of ten to Goldstein for achieving it.
The food and recipes are handled equally well. Pairing wine with food is often made more obscure than it really is, perhaps to sell more iPhone apps and books than are really necessary, for there must be more a billion combinations of wines and recipes that work, and an equal number that don’t – the secret is to understand the principles.
For the well-known grape varieties/wines, there are a few basic ‘rules’ to grasp (well outlined in Kate Lamont’s Wine and Food) and once you have a handle on these, you won’t go far wrong. You’ll then also be equipped with the understanding to break them, experimenting further with your own recipes, wine favourites or new discoveries, and coming up with fabulous combos of your own.
However because many of the varieties in Daring Parings some of us have not even tasted, Goldstein explains carefully for each what its main characteristics are – indeed, is it a good food wine at all (some are better to drink alone), and if so, whether to drink young or old, or in sweet or dry forms?
Is it smoky? Tannic? Acidic? Harsh or smooth? If so, then what will it go well with? But most importantly, like the best of teachers, Goldstein explains why.
Indeed, you could spend several years immersing yourself in the wines and food in Daring Pairings. The recipes range from the classics, through Mediterranean to modern and Asian, with a selection to suit every season.
Despite the big chef names there’s not a celebrity shot in sight; the photographs by Joyce Oudkerk Poole are of the dishes, presented together in the book’s centre, one for each grape variety. You’re not reading Daring Pairings to imagine yourself living the Luke Mangan lifestyle, but to expand your own knowledge and enjoyment of wine and food – immeasurably. Budding MasterChefs and sommeliers, take note.
I for one will be delving into Daring Pairings many, many times, and for those looking for something beyond vintage guides, or a new way forward in the world of wine, I can highly recommend it.
Daring Pairings by Evan Goldstein is published by University of California Press (Berkeley and LA; 2010; hb 353 pp) and retails for RRP US$34.95 or RRP A$55.95 in Australia.
It is available from online from Australian distributor Inbooks: www.inbooks.com.au for A$45. Inbooks offer free postage within Australia to VisitVineyards.com subscribers and Members here »
You can also purchase from Amazon.com for US$23.07 (postage extra) by clicking on the link in widget below:
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