A perfect match

Henri explores the secrets of wining and dining

Perfect Pairings (University of California Press, $29.25, hardback) is available at Lyon’s Books, 1221 West Fifth Street in downtown Chico.

“So we grow together, Like to a double cherry, seeming parted, but yet an union in partition; Two lovely berries moulded on one stem; So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart.”

—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.”

—God, The Bible

There is nothing more divine than the beautifully symmetrical union of a perfect pairing: Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” and a rainy Sunday morning in November, Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, Henri and his little Lufthansa flight attendant (for three heart-pounding weeks back in 1981), and of course my retro Valentino blazer and new loafers by Bruno Magli.

Likewise, there’s little sadder than the unpaired or the mismatched: Ilsa, at the end of Casablanca, saying “Good bye, Rick. God bless you,” just before walking away with Victor Lazlo toward the waiting plane. Or plaids and stripes in the same outfit (Henri shudders at the thought!).

Or food and wine paired improperly.

Which brings me to a delightful new book: Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine With Food. Written by Evan Goldstein, whose mother, well-known chef Joyce Goldstein, provides the recipes (indeed, a perfect pairing!), the book offers both specific guidelines for pairing particular wines with particular meals and also general rules of thumb to help choose types of wine for types of food.

Despite its title—and its author’s pedigree—Perfect Pairings is wonderfully accessible, actually raising an eyebrow at wine critics who claim they can taste “essence of apricot” in a Chardonnay, for example. “Many authors,” Goldstein writes, “make wine and food pairing much more complicated than it needs to be.” Although, “The idea of wine evaluation is implicitly bizarre. No other consumer product causes such paralysis by analysis. Certainly we do not experience such angst when shopping for soda, mineral water, shampoo or chocolate-chip cookies!”

Fortunately, he adds, “I can’t spend too much time with people who are sooooo serious about wine and food that the planning of all their vacations is based on traipsing about wine regions and special restaurants. Nor do I believe that the enjoyment of wine depends on the exclusive consumption of wines scoring 90 points or above on somebody’s scale.” (Nor, of course, does Henri, who will consume most anything.)

Indeed, with each of the 14 wines Goldstein discusses, from sparkling wines and Reisling to Viognier and dessert wines, he includes a table that lists several choices for each, in three categories: everyday ($5-$15), premium ($16-$39) and splurge ($40 and up). There’s also a glossary, which provides definitions for growing, fermentation, tasting terminology and a wine “Hall of Fame,” more than 30 pages of the best wines from around the world, many very available and affordable ("V” indicates a good value, Sonoma County’s Clos du Bois Chardonnay, for example). There’s also a section on glassware.

Perfect Pairings was just published this month, and Henri hasn’t tried any of the recipes yet, although he’s looking forward to the Tandoori-style shrimp with Reisling, the osso buco with Sangiovese and the bouillabaisse with Pinot Gris.

First up, though, is this one:

Salmon With Soy, Ginger and Sake
2/3 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup sake
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger, or more to taste
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Four salmon filets

In saucepan, combine first five ingredients over medium heat. Bring to boil and simmer until reduced by half (8-10 minutes). Whisk in butter.

Brush filets lightly with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil or grill filets, basting, turning once and basting again until the fish looks almost opaque. Bring remaining sauce to boil and pour over fish just before serving.

Serve with an “oaky, smoky, ample” Pinot Noir, such as Kenwood (everyday), La Crema (premium) or Foley (splurge).