Chardonnay or merlot?

October 02, 2002|By Lauren Chapin | Lauren Chapin,Knight Ridder/Tribune

When it comes to teaching compatible food-and-wine pairings, John Ash has a kindergarten teacher's passion for the subject.

Ash's 20-plus-year career has included John Ash & Co., a successful Santa Rosa, Calif., restaurant, two cookbooks (one of which won a Julia Child Award for Best American Cookbook), numerous articles in national food magazines, a live radio show and teaching, teaching, teaching - from the Disney Institute in Orlando to the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone, Calif.

Over the years, Ash has distilled his knowledge into straightforward concepts all his students - regardless of kitchen comfort level - can grasp:

Cook with wines you'd drink. Simple enough. Don't buy schlock to cook with. If it tastes bad in the glass, it will taste bad in the pot.

Read wine labels. Read the wine bottle label, noting how the wine is described. Those descriptors are clues about the wine's flavor contributions. For example, a wine with a hint of cherry would pair with duck, while an earthy wine might work well with slow-cooked beef.

Focus on seasonings.

How you season the main component of a dish determines what wine to pour. Consider chicken. If seasoning with lemons, herbs, salt and pepper before grilling or roasting, look for a wine with those flavors, like a sauvignon blanc, an unoaked chardonnay or a pinot grigio.

If, however, that chicken will be braised with root vegetables in red wine, an earthy merlot would be the ticket.

Think of bridge ingredients.

Ash coined the phrase "bridge ingredients" to describe ingredients and flavors common to both food and wine. Find the similarities between the food and the wine. If that buttery, oaky chardonnay tastes toasty and nutty, it would pair with pastas or salads that contain nuts.

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