Editor's note: Mike Shelhamer is the owner of the Old Town Wine Cellar in downtown Yuma. He shares his insights about wine selections for the table in this edition of Southwest Living.
BY MIKE SHELHAMER
SPECIAL TO SOUTHWEST LIVING
You're picking a nice wine to go with a nice meal. So what are the rules to follow?
If you're in the wine business, that's a question you hear from customers a lot. Or rather, you hear a more specific question, regarding what they're making for dinner and what wine they should they pick to go with it.
There's an added concern if guests are invited: The hosts want to make sure they don't serve a wine that just doesn't work with the meal, that might somehow spoil the occasion.
The answer I typically give is to consider what the meal is going to consist of — the main course, primarily — and then settle on the type of wine that will generally complement the meal. In other words, what type will taste good to everyone when served with the meal.
Notice I said “type,” not a specific wine grape varietal to go with a specific meal, cheese, dessert or whatever. I've seen too many wine “experts” rattle off a dizzying list of different wines, red or white, that “go best” with umpteen different sorts of dishes, meats or vegetables, etc.
Those are far too many specific rules for anyone to remember or even take seriously. I certainly don't.
The old rule that everyone knows — red wine with meat, white wine with fish — is OK as far as it goes. I think most people intuitively understand that a fruity and slightly sweet Pinot Grigio (a light white wine) is probably not a great match with grilled tri-tip or pot roast, and a big and fairly tannic Cabernet Sauvignon (a medium to heavy dry red) isn't going to make a great partner with baked halibut or mussels.
But it's still just a guideline. A lighter dry red like Pinot Noir is actually a wonderful accompaniment to meatier fishes like grilled salmon or ahi tuna. And if you don't care for dry red table wines but like a heavier, richer dry white wine like a well-oaked California Chardonnay (which generally receives extended aging in oak barrels to impart an “oaky” quality to the wine), by all means have that with whatever you're dining on. You'll probably enjoy both it and the meal just fine. Just have a good red available for everyone else — in my experience, most people who like wine to any extent much prefer red wines to white wines.
In sum, just relax and have a few good bottles available, red and white, especially if you have some guests coming. That way everyone can drink what they prefer, and if it doesn't go perfectly with the meal, it's not your fault.
But seriously, I think the one rule or truism to remember is that good wine really does go well with good food. I think it makes the food taste better, and the food makes the wine taste better. And the dinner conversation seems to improve as well.
There are a zillion choices you can make as to what wine(s) to serve; there have never been so many different options, domestic and imported, available to American consumers. So start a trend of enjoying a glass or two of good wine with a nice evening meal. It's a nice part of life and I think you'll really come to enjoy it.
And forget the rules!