Chefs love to try novel combinations of flavors, and in the last couple of decades we have seen such things as Asian Fusion, Greek-Mexican Fusion, and French-Peruvian Fusion.
And for wine lovers, it all means Con-fusion.
In years past, you'd go into a restaurant and order seafood with b?rnaise sauce and be happy with a nice bottle of chardonnay. Now the fish comes with something other than b?rnaise. Perhaps it's been replaced by a Dolcetto-dosed cilantro nantua sauce.
And the question is: should you order a Gruner-Veltliner or a Pinotage?
Thanks, monsieur le chef.
Well, fortunately, at the new palaces of culinary arts, most of the time the servers can tell you what's in some of these preparations, and then even recommend a wine to go with it. But not always.
And the recent craze for Asian flavors and "sauces" that are little more than vinegar mean that traditional wines may well be the wrong thing. Vinegar and wine rarely work together very harmoniously.
As a result, the once easy-to-pair dish (i.e., Halibut Florentine) now calls for a radical choice.
One such preparation I had recently was made with tangerine-based vinegar seasoned with ginger and sweetened. The sugar was the foil. What to do?
Fortunately, the restaurant had a slightly sweet Muscat by the glass, and it worked well with the sweet-ish dish. The slight sweetness in the wine helped balance the sugar in the sauce.
This happens a lot with Thai and Vietnamese foods that typically have a bit of sugar in them. And when that happens, a slightly sweet wine has more compatibility than do most chardonnays and sauvignon blancs.
Luckily, the number of excellent choices that work nicely with such foods are now available. Pinot gris, for instance, although it can be awfully limited in overall flavors, can be superb with such foods.
I love the pinot gris from King Estate in Oregon, and Morgan from Monterey County.
Tangent from Edna Valley in California has two excellent white wines that work with sweeter foods — an Albari? and a viognier.
And literally dozens of wineries are making a Moscato, though some are almost dessert sweet.
Another new white wine with sweet-food friendliness is Torrontes, an Argentine white wine that's related to the Muscat family of grapes.
Lightly spicy, this wine is usually made just off-dry to dry, and has the ability to work with slightly sweeter dishes.
<CF103>Wine of the Week: </CF>2010 Santa Julia Torrontes, Mendoza ($10) — Lightly spiced like a cousin of Muscat (which it is), this wine is nearly dry, and has a spice note that allows it to work nicely with sweeter dishes that may have basil as a component.
Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.