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Red or White? Fish or Fowl?
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed February 23, 2004. For more information go to

"Red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat." One of the most basic "rules" of matching wine and food, this old wisdom is accurate, but it's also incomplete.

Stick to the rule, and you will rarely fail to make an adequate match when you're selecting a wine to go with dinner. But follow it slavishly, permitting no exceptions, and you'll miss your chance to enjoy a pairing as perfect as red Pinot Noir with salmon or a rich White Burgundy with pork. Hey! Is pork red or white meat, anyway? You see the problem we're working with here.

Just as there is no better way to learn about wine than pulling corks and tasting the stuff, there's no better way to sharpen your wine-and-food matching skills than pouring a couple of glasses and sitting down to a good meal, trying a little of this and a little of that to see what works.

The other night, even though it wasn't Thanksgiving, we fashioned a turkey dinner. A turkey thigh, actually, braised with lots of onions until tender as butter. Thigh meat is rich and oily, dark but neither red nor white, throwing an offbeat variable into the traditional matching rule.

Then, for the sake of science, we opened both a red and a white, just to see which combination would better ring our culinary chimes. The wines, both California Wine Club selections from Sunstone Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley, were a ripe, powerful Viognier and an aromatic, sweetly oaky Bordeaux-style red blend.

The results? Both wines went well with the turkey, demonstrating once again a happy corollary to the "red with red" rule: "Most wines go with most foods most of the time."

But here's the thing that made it fun: Each wine went with the food in a different way, much like corned beef makes a great ingredient in a Reuben sandwich with sauerkraut on rye and in corned-beef hash with a poached egg on top.

The white wine, sharp and cleansing, made a refreshing palate-washer between bites of turkey. The red wine, aromatic and fruity, seemed to turn up its contrast and brightness settings when it met the meat, amplifying its natural fruitiness as if it were an extra ingredient in the dish.

One food, two wines, two different experiences. That's the real story of food-and-wine matching, its moral is a simple one: Don't be afraid to experiment. You're not likely to go far wrong, you're likely to learn something, and the lesson will be a tasty one.


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