Snobs will tell you that wine pairings are a delicate matter. They are not. Wine, in general, goes with everything. Every wine goes with every other thing. All you have to do is plug away, like an old school telephone operator, and listen in.
Some pairings don’t need pointing out. Of course, the appellation Chateauneuf-du-Pape guarantees you’ll have a royal companion for your peppercorn and Hungarian paprika encrusted crown roast. Duh. But nothing beats Chianti — any Chianti — and pizza. As Frank Sinatra said, that’s what they hand you the minute you get to heaven.
If you find you’re not appreciating anything enough, there’s a wine that will fix that. Thousands of them, actually. No need to reach for the top shelf. Crane Lake merlot — at three bottles for 10 bucks if you’re lucky — makes spicy Italian sausage do a tarantella on the taste buds. Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, a bag of Better Made potato chips and a stack of Thor comics from 1967— no mortal should have a shot at that, yet we do.
Wine pairings don’t stop with food. There are few better combinations in life than wine and looking out of the window. Until the ice storm and power outage of 2013, I didn’t know that a semi-dry port from Duoro would go so well with gazing out of a fourth-floor window in the Radisson Hotel at the Ottawa Power Station, all frosted up and lit for the holidays. (Best Christmas ever.)
Surely, there is even a wine for the editor who is sitting at his desk, proofing pages and regretting that he let a layman infiltrate the wine section.
As for wine and culture — where do you start?
I know where: those little plastic cups of red stuff that make gallery openings so fascinating. What’s in them? Who knows? Three more and I'll have something trenchant to say about that thing in the corner made of petrified meatballs, found scrap iron and syringes. It’ll involve negative space. Now on to books.
“What'll you read on?” asks Mr. Boffin of Mr. Wegg in Charles Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend.” Wegg is a creature of habit. He reads “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” on gin and water, but wine is also a thing you can read on.
It's tempting to go for the obvious with Russian lit, but vodka will only make you pass out too soon. Anton Chekhov calls for, say, a cherry wine that whispers of a fading aristocracy; read Tolstoy with smoky, fruity reds redolent of war and peace. Dostoevsky and oral punishment go together like crime and punishment. Try that stuff your uncle made in his basement a few years ago and you haven’t had the guts to open yet. Or take the easy way out and crack a novel-length, three-liter Bota Box. (Stuff’s not bad, really.) When it comes to wine pairings, as Dostoevsky feared, “Everything is permitted.”
The stuffy huffings of Thackeray and sherry are a natural team — cigars optional. John Updike and any California wine will swirl into a satisfyingly hollow tunnel of suburban anomie.
Movies go with wine even better than books do. You can’t spill anything on a movie. Whether it’s Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage” or a Three Stooges marathon, the blows hurt less and the hairstyles are more of a consolation with a glass in your hand. Wine also turns you into the most incisive of critics. A ruby red like Casillero del Diablo cabernet savignon smooths out the unbearable pathos of Orson Welles’ “Falstaff” without vitiating its vitality.
I could go on, but why impose on your personal journey? Just resist the temptation to succumb to snobbery, and the vistas of appreciation are endless.
Only last weekend, I learned that humble, mass-market Yellow Tail moscato is a perfect complement to sitting on a riverbank in Biggie Munn Park in Lansing, listening to the rushing water. It was a true Lansing pairing, sublime and unpretentious. Tucked into a cool pocket of seclusion, as a mink scampered across the opposite bank, I knew that plenty of Yellow Tail was available at the convenience store about 50 yards away, at a “special price.”