Food – Matching w/ Drink

How About Diet Coke with Your Gourmet Dish? (Reflection #17)


I saw a prominent blog post about a sacrilegious act of drinking diet coke with a divine dish. The controversy is obvious but I had to defend the choice also because the idea of a companion drink is to complement the food in as many ways as possible. Diet soda is a poor excuse of a suitable drink on many levels but does have one quality! It has bubbles. Bubbles are what Champagne has and Champagne is one fine drink that is worthy of matching any kind of food. I have always suspected the presence of bubbles has something to do with how the palate perceives the flavors and both the poor taste of the drink and the food become tolerable. The opposite can also be true. I think cans of soda should be given a second chance as real and worthy drinks. Personally, I once thought of banning the soda gun for the dining room at the restaurant I worked as a manager. Who wants to go to a fine dining restaurant which happens to be in San Francisco Financial District and therefore has busy lunch but few alcohol drinking clients and is famous for its New York steak with Pepsi Cola? I thought any kind of bottled soda drink that was very good in quality would fit the bill. Nobody would doubt the quality at this restaurant if the lunch menu was not matched to alcohol but to some fine quality soda. That would be understandable especially since matching food and beverage is still a bogus art and many more cheat than follow any legitimate rules. The main problem remains that most sodas no matter how high quality lack bubbles. A flat drink is experienced thoroughly on the palate and unless the soda really matches the food, the clash would be obvious. I left the problem at that but the possibility remains that food events that are hostile to alcohol justify and welcome non-alcoholic drinks that can do the job. Diet coke is a base drink for many people (and I drink it all the time) but still has the darn bubbles that make it pass the practicality test. The matching of food and non-alcohol beverage deserves some attention by you the food and wine professionals who read this.

*This post belongs to this week’s edition of Wine by Cush Magazine blog and published early in World of Cush also.


The Problem With Alsace Wines Is…



I have had experiences of similar nature. I actually ordered a whole case of Oregon Riesling for myself once to find it off-dry which by my sensitive palate is sweet without mistake. Taste is very subjective and whatever effort made to guide to its nature, surprises will not end.


There is one major problem with the wines from Alsace. It is not the old issue with bottle shape – the singular reason many retailers spout for the poor sales of Alsatian wine (they aint gonna abandon those Germanic flutes without a fight mate) – and it isn’t the top-heavy Grand Cru vineyard grading either. (There are 51 Grand Cru vineyards but no other rungs on the quality ladder, Premier Cru for example).
Step forward Miss Sweetness; the issue that I have with Alsatian wine (ignoring those washed out Pinot Noirs obviously).

A lunch in Mittelbergheim, Alsace recently is a case in point. Our charming, stylish and gracefully French host (although technically from Scandinavia) was enthusing over the delights of Slyvaner – in particular the one Grand Cru hillside where it is grown – and ordered a bottle to accompany a fish course (Rieffel Sylvaner Grand Cru Zotzenberg, 2007).

With no disrespect or embarrassment meant to our host the match was a disaster. The wine was far, far too sweet to accompany the food.

In addition to highlighting the sweetness problem it also reflected badly on the high-aiming restaurant too, for not indicating such a potential conflict from one of their wines.
Yet from the label there is no indication of how dry or otherwise the wine is.

Simple – let the producer add a designation of sweetness on the label. It would be ‘relatively’ simple to set a residual sugar level equalling a specific sweetness. But “a wine with 16g of residual sugar” is not terribly consumer friendly and frankly such vino-tech talk is off-putting even to many wine aficionados.

There is a further complication – relative sweetness. That Riesling may have 16g of residual but its high acidity and steely, mineral backbone gives the impression that it is much, much drier.

Some producers, Deiss I believe and, since 2003, Zind-Humbrecht have taken the initiative to implement their own sweetness grades and put them on their bottle labels.

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Why Not Have a Steak Flight?



A very interesting idea. However, cooking functions very differently than cold food or wine which is a manufactured product. The taste of steaks will be subject to many significant variables besides the age. I guess this will make a fun dining experience but not serious.


from The South Florida Traveler by Katherine Lynch

While flights of wine are common in any dining establishment, have you ever tried a steak flight? I’ve only tried it once, while I was dining in the sky, but what a perfect way to mix up your traditional steakhouse experience! Though, dining in the sky was anything but a traditional dining experience. Ireland’s Steakhouse wants to mix things up this August and will be offering dry-aged, hand-selected steak flights.

For only $54 per person, guests will be served three 6-oz cuts of some tasty cuts of USDA Prime New York Strip. These have been aged for 21, 30 and 40 days. How different will they be from one another and what one will be your favorite? Will their texture and flavor differences wow you in any way? A taste test is certainly in order and you can only do this through the month of August at Ireland’s Steakhouse at the Hyatt Regency Bonaventure Conference Center & Spa.

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Sommelier software program recommends pairings


The following software is supposed to perfect the art of matching wine and food. The basic idea is simple and similar softwares do exist as do many books on the topic. I actually have a software from a few years back on my Palm Pilot that did the job. If I were to use that software or recommend to anyone, I would say since Wine Wizard is comprehensive, it will guide in the right direction. However, the idea of matching wine and food in a pure sense is another story. The original standard for matching wine and food comes from the Old World. Each region has its own cuisine and the soil, the climate and tradition have established some varietals as standard for each area. Each area (and that does not mean a country but a part of it) has its own traditional cuisine and wines. The same way a cuisine can be unique to a region, the wine can also be. Italians have 5000 names for their grapes and many are duplicates. The same is said of French and Spanish. I think if we look at matching wine and food from this perspective, we can have a unique idea of what it means to match wine and food. Haute cuisine may dictate the matching of the great vintages of the great wines of the great producers of the great regions at any price with the exquisite dishes of sophistication, but such highly skilled matching of the wine and food is esoteric and not a universal standard to copy or make softwares for. The real food and wine matching, as done in the Old World regions, is based on the local cuisine (which depends on the very local ingredients) and the very local wine (which depends on the local agriculture and tradition). The local food and wine are not selected because they are the best of the best in the world. They are what the locals eat and drink. Many of the Loire wines qualify as simple drinking wines but they match the local food and are made in great quantities. Many of the local Italian wines are not worth exporting (or drinking) but are made in huge quantities because they match the local cuisine. The Alsace wines match the local cuisine well and the wines are not that ordinary. The Portugese drink the awful red Vino Verde (not because it is great but) because it is a local wine and matches the local food. These wines and foods do not have to meet any international standards nor aristocratic approval to be considered good matches by millions who consume them. This brings us to the two opposite poles of matching. The person who eats and drinks the stuff has a great deal to do with what a good match is as Mr Kruth says in the article: “Just as much of the wine and food pairing is about the person that’s drinking it.” If we want to make a sophisticated match for aristocratic taste, the following software would be one successful attempt at setting a higher and higher standard (even if at experimental level) comparable to a Master Sommelier. But, if we want to make an ordinary match for everyday person’s taste, the ding dong software (Wine Wizard Version 1.00 by Vin Valet 2001) on my Palm Pilot, or any detailed matching book or even recommendations from anyone who has tasted the wines of our interest would be more than enough. And the only reason we need the latter sources is because what California drinks as far as food and wine is very diverse and traditional guidelines are absent. The gizmo software down below is a step in the right direction if one believes wine is best fit for the kings. It was ceaseless marketing that elevated the status of wine to that of the sublime. Historically, wine has been the peasants’ food! Locally, California has been blessed by a lack of tradition which gives the industry the freedom to define wine to American neophytes as whatever they please. And, let me guess, the good California wine will end up being those with high prices anyway one looks at. And supercomputers are needed to find a match for the local food!


Building it took eight months and the brainpower of math, code and food-and-wine geeks.

The result is a new computer-generated wine pairing service that developers say uses cutting-edge technology to answer an age-old question: What wine to serve with dinner?

We think it’s going to be tremendously helpful for people,” says James Oliver Cury, executive editor of food recipe site, which partnered with wine database Snooth to add the pairing suggestions to thousands of its recipes.

The recommendations are based on an algorithm that involved breaking down the recipes into hundreds of categories, including flavor profiles, ingredients and preparation techniques.

Among other things, the algorithm looks for words in proximity. Boiled beef with baked potatoes is not the same as baked beef with boiled potatoes.

Pairings are listed at the bottom of recipes, along with the price of the wine – the majority under $20. Clicking on photos of the bottle or label brings up reviews and shopping information.

But can an algorithm replace the human touch in the very subjective decision of what wine to have with dinner?

Not really, says master sommelier Geoff Kruth, wine director of the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. The trouble with software pairings, he says, is that they only factor in the food.

“Just as much of the wine and food pairing is about the person that’s drinking it,” he says.

Snooth CEO Philip James says there was an effort to come up with wines that are widely available. Snooth (the name is derived from a town in the south of England) is an interactive database of wines with more than 500,000 monthly users. Snooth, based in New York, doesn’t sell wine but provides access to a network of more than 11,000 merchants.

Epicurious has more than 25,000 professionally tested recipes as well as 75,000 member-submitted dishes. A recipe for grilled chicken breasts with honeydew salsa, for instance, yielded a dozen wine recommendations, including some rosés and Chardonnays, as well as Grenache, a red wine.

Cury concedes that trying to turn computer code into a connoisseur was daunting.

“It’s hard enough to get wine experts to agree on what one wine or even kind of wine might pair with a particular dish. How are you going to create an automated way to do this for 25,000 recipes?” Cury says. “That was the challenge that Snooth, with our coordination, was able to meet.”

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