William M. Dowd photoPairing wines and foods can sometimes be a puzzling process for those who don't do it very often. Or, when the foods are widely disparate and only one or two wines are desired.
Sometimes guesswork is as good as anything until you find what most pleases your palate. I usually advise going against the conventional wisdom of white with fish and poultry, red with beef and pork.
That came home to me once again when I was one in a party of four meeting recently for dinner at the restaurant Dale Miller two blocks from the stately Capitol building in downtown Albany, NY. The restaurant has an excellent wine list, and my assigned task was to decide on what one wine to drink with appetizers and entrees that ranged from a vegetable sampler to beef carpaccio to scallops to beef tenderloin.
I ended up selecting a 2006 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto from Chile's Maipo Valley, a rich, fruity bold wine that a good cab should be, one that held its own against the beef dishes but had enough subtlety and delicacy of finish to complement the scallops and vegetables without overwhelming either dish.
In the same week, I had to come up with a pair of wines for a dinner party for eight -- meaning a lot of different personal tastes -- for which I'd cooked a three-course Mexican menu.
This time I was in control of the menu, unlike at the aforementioned restaurant, so I could be more precise with what was needed to complement a wide-ranging dinner.
Starters were guacamole and a pico de gallo salsa, followed by tortas de cangrejo (lump Pacific crab cakes on a bed of micro-greens, dotted with a coarse mustard-mayo sauce).
Entrees were a carne de cerdo machado (herb-rubbed, oven roasted pork tenderloins, accompanied by a sauce of fresh cream, raisins, apricots, white wine and beef and chicken stocks) and estefado de pollo y tomatillo (a savory light stew of herbed chicken stock, thickened with a butter roux and studded with diced green tomatillos, yellow bell peppers, scallions, shallots, cilantro, served with brown basmati rice).
Dessert was a simple banana sauté in a sauce of rum, brown sugar and fresh orange juice.
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