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Embracing the acid

Wines such as sauvignon blanc, riesling and champagne go well with citrus-infused dishes.

Wines such as sauvignon blanc, riesling and champagne go well with citrus-infused dishes.

Citrus fruits and flavors are increasingly on the plate as Americans experiment with dishes inspired by Asian, Latino and Mediterranean kitchens. But an age-old question remains: What to drink with these oft-colorful and sassy ingredients?
White wine is the answer for many Chicago-area wine sellers, and sauvignon blanc or riesling are classics. Efrain Madrigal, wine director of Sam's Wines & Spirits, goes for a more unusual one, a torrontes from Argentina.
"I recently had a 2005 Parrillada Torrontes with chicken and preserved lemons and it was the perfect wine for that entree," he said. "It was definitely dryer than a lot of rieslings but a little more exotic. It has an almost viognier-like body and a streak of acidity." (Viognier is a rich, aromatic wine with fruit-forward flavor.)
Acidity is important. It's a bracing, zippy quality that can make wines, especially whites, seem so crisp and alive. Acidity also balances out sweet, meaning you could drink a wine with surprisingly high sugar levels and never feel you are stuck with a liquid lollipop. And acidity plays really well with food, cutting through fatty, rich flavors like a clean spritz of lemon.
But given that you may be cooking with lemon, do you really need an acidic wine? Depends.
"There are two camps: the contrarians and the similars," said Larry Kaplan of The Wine Cellar in Palatine, Illinois.
Those looking to match acidity might choose a sauvignon blanc or a French Chablis, some sort of wine "that adds acid and thus allows the drinker to discern different types of acid flavors," he said.
The "contrarians" would go for a riesling or a buttery chardonnay or a sweet style of viognier, Kaplan noted, adding, "This allows the drinker to balance the flavors in the mouth and thus have an overall experience, the sum being better than any single part."
Diana Hamann, owner of Wine Goddess Consulting, is squarely in acid's corner.
"Anytime you're cooking with citrus, be it lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat or yuzu, you want your wine pairing to match the food's inherent acidity," she said. "Foods high in acidity will reduce the perceived sourness in wine and make the wine taste richer and rounder."
Cooking with exotic citrus fruits calls for exotic wine choices, bottles with "generous acidity and tropical fruit characteristics," Hamann said. Her picks: Spanish verdejo and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Southern Italy is where Todd Hess, a Chicago-based wine wholesaler, heads. His picks include a grillo, a Sicilian white grape used to make marsala, a fortified wine, and an asprinio from Campania.
Christine Blumer, owner of Winediva Enterprises and a wine educator, recommended a dry rose, such as those from France's Costieres de Nimes region, with heartier citrus-infused dishes and a "soft, juicy" pinot noir with an orange-glazed ham.
Generally, though, the advice is to steer clear of reds with these dishes (although a pinot noir is suggested for lemon-based sauces in the book "What to Drink with What You Eat" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, and a soft red would surely work with duck a l'orange). Hernandez said the tannins and berry flavors in red wines make for a much tougher match than whites or roses, where the acidity is more prominent.
"Card-carrying red wine drinkers will bemoan the fact that citric acid and red wine is one of the nastiest food/wine combos out there," Hamann said. "Citric acid will kill your once-beautiful red wine, leaving it unpleasantly flat and bitter."
Multiple choice allowed
Food and wine pairings have long bedeviled diners looking for a heavenly match. But they should relax and realize most dishes can pair with a number of different wines.
Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page tackle the conundrum in their new book, "What to Drink with What You Eat" (Bulfinch, US$35). So thorough is the guide that a reader can look up food choices by wine type and wines by various flavors or dishes, ranging from a bowl of Doritos to eel, veal and wasabi.
Citrus, in general, works fine with chardonnay, riesling (especially German beerenauslese with citrus desserts), sauvignon blanc (especially New Zealand), according to Dornenburg and Page. Here are some of their suggestions for wines to pour with specific citrus fruits:
Grapefruit: Champagne, ice wine (especially with desserts), orange muscat (especially with grapefruit desserts), Pouilly-Fume.
Lemon: Sauvignon blanc. With sweet desserts, Asti, Alsatian or late harvest gewurztraminer, ice wine, Madeira, moscato d'Asti, muscat (especially California and/or white or orange), muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.
Lime: Riesling, sauvignon blanc (especially high-acid), Australian verdelho. With seafood and lime, chenin blanc (especially California), Oregon pinot gris, Vouvray. With sweet lime desserts, ice wine, riesling (especially late harvest or other sweet).
Orange: Savory dishes, German riesling, semillon, sherry. Desserts, Champagne, muscat (especially orange or Beaumes-de-Venise), Sauternes.


Updated : 2021-06-19 00:13 GMT+08:00