Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dare to Learn Wine: Daring Pairings by Evan Goldstein

Who hasn't felt confused or clueless about wine at times? For all who have, from beginners to the wine-savvy, Evan Goldstein has come to the rescue. With his new book, Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs (University of California Press, 2010), Goldstein not only makes wines understandable, but he also makes learning about wine exciting and fun. The Master Sommelier takes on exotic and lesser-known varietals – seventeen white wines and nineteen reds, from Albariño to Xinomavro.

Goldstein begins Daring with a recap of major themes from Perfect Pairings, his 2006 book that tackled the world's six major red and white wines, dessert wines and how to partner them with food. His five keys to understanding wine – acidity, sweetness, tannin, oak and alcohol – go down easy, without wine geek-speak or laundry-list descriptors that render some wine writing tiresome.

Instead, Goldstein is funny, direct, passionate and oh, does he know and love food. He makes it easy to understand how sauces can be used to bridge wine choices or how flavors or textures created by special ingredients point to better wine matches. Consider, for example, how the earthiness of brown mushroom sauces scream out for terroir-driven, earthy wines while the creamy and lighter mushroom dishes seem to demand white wines, especially those with body and texture to match that of the 'shrooms. See? You can do this, too.

In short chapters devoted to each of the 36 wines, Goldstein gives an expert snapshot of the grape and its wines with pronunciation, other names, blends, flavors and where it grows. Adventure-seekers can use his handy category of similar sips to explore other wines they might also like. The author teases out different wine styles driven by choices vintners face – to age or not, use oak or not, make a single varietal wine or a blend. Next, Goldstein takes you right into the glass. Without a sip, readers gain a sense of that particular wine's tastes, textures and whether it might be right for them.

TMI? Readers can choose to read cover to cover or drop in on wines that interest them. Either way, Daring Pairings is sensibly smart, zippy and makes for fun learning, for beginners and sophisticated enthusiasts alike.

The book's food pairing discussions are nothing short of brilliant. Goldstein was blessed to have a lifelong mentor extraordinaire – mom Joyce, founder and chef of San Francisco's iconic Square One restaurant. Evan dishes about how to approach food pairings for each wine with helpful pointers that zero in on specific dishes, preparations or flavors likely to marry well with each wine as well as choices likely to fall flat. He also names wines worth seeking out in different price ranges.

Goldstein's wine wisdom and passion for good food come together in the book's bonus round: knockout recipes designed to pair with each wine by stellar chefs from around the world. Suzanne Goin from Lucques and A.O.C. in L.A. answers Goldstein's dare for a Carignan pairing with warm kabocha squash salad; Miami's Michelle Bernstein matches Argentina's signature white wine Torrontés to Peruvian seafood chowder; Napa Valley's Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards Grill, Go Fish) marries Mourvèdre to barbecued turkey skewers while Charlie Trotter gets gamey with Gamay for Cornish game hen salad with shiitake mushroom vinaigrette. Foodies will especially enjoy chef comments and Goldstein's insights that follow each pairing recipe.

There's much more to love about this book. Goldstein closes with a list of reliable wine importers he likens to pre-purchase sommeliers whose selections can lead savvy consumers to better wine choices, even when faced with an unfamiliar wine or region. Full-page color photographs, a solid glossary and two indices (general info and recipes) will help readers locate pairing ideas or dishes to try for years to come.

For anyone serious about learning about wine, Goldstein's Pairings books are two great places to start. Cooks will be tempted by a treasure trove of ingredient insights and fantastic recipes to keep them coming back for seconds. If you're thirsting to boost your wine IQ without fear and at your own pace, dare yourself to step up to the plate with a Master, Daring Pairings and Perfect Pairings in tow.

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