Wine-food pairings have become a common buzzword in the dining community in the last few years, but some foods are so oddly flavored that they defy working with any wines except the strangest.
Take, for instance, pickles or pickled onions. Or artichokes, capers, roast peppers, braised fennel, and sushi with wasabi.
No, these aren't commonly seen foods, but they are increasingly found in restaurants and they're fast moving into our homes.
Although some of these ingredients may well be paired with traditional main ingredients, such as chicken or beef, the flavors they impart to the dishes are often exotic enough for us to look for wine choices that are radical.
Indeed, I can't imagine marinated eggplant working with chardonnay, or a traditional merlot working with an artichoke-infused chicken stew, even with a lot of bay leaf and tarragon.
Picking wine with food is always a challenge, made increasingly difficult by the fact that so many of us are creatures of habit.
To solve the problem, many people stick with the old reliable, chardonnay, over an unknown wine.
Yet the choices we have of unusual wines that work nicely with odd ingredients are all around us, waiting for us to pick them. And the nice thing is that most of the best choices are reasonably priced.
Take, for example, dishes with assertive green flavors, such as basil, tarragon, dill, laurel, cumin, and oregano. My favorite wines are usually sauvignon blancs. New Zealand sauvignon blancs usually sell for less than $20 and offer distinctive flavors.
With tropical fruits as ingredients in some recipes, such as kiwi or pineapple in a salsa-like addition to meats, try for a slightly sweet white wine like an off-dry chenin blanc (South Africa makes an array of excellent ones) or riesling. Moscato, if not too sweet, can also work.
When a dish includes mild Asian spices, riesling is often a great choice. If the dish is spicy, try a slightly sweeter riesling.
If the Asian seasonings are even spicier, such as with Thai food, and notably if Thai basil and chili are used in a main dish, aim for gewurztraminer.
When a dish is slightly creamy, a lighter styled chardonnay would be fine. But of more interest these days might be a wine like albari?, a Torrontes from Argentina, or even a gewurztraminer from Alsace.
Red wines are harder to marry with odd flavors, but for more robust dishes such as boar, pheasant, or cumin-scented lamb, try an Australian grenache.
Then come foods that simply defy a conventional wine. When this dilemma faces you, remember the all-purpose choices, ros?and sparkling wines.
Sparkling wines offer a sound alternative to table wines. Serving bubbly with food isn't commonly done, but the generally high acidity in sparkling wines helps to take the acidic sting out of highly acid foods.
Ros?or pink wines that are made dry are a delightful all-purpose way to pair unusual flavors with a wine that has more flavor than most whites and pairs with seafood. At the same time, it would have enough flavor to contrast with most meat dishes.
<b>Wine of the Week:</b> 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Columbia Valley ($10): Wildly floral in aroma and succulent in the entry, this slightly sweet white wine is a superb accompaniment to brunch fare (with their usual fruit-based side dishes), and the wine is often discounted to about $8 or even less. This may be America's greatest white wine value.