Going out to eat is one of the great joys of being a foodie. But it can be even more exciting as a wine lover.
The notion of “going out to eat” is relatively new, as the first actual restaurants did not make an appearance until the mid-1800s.
One of the most well-known examples is Delmonico’s, a restaurant that opened in the early part of the 19th century in New York City, where it can still be visited today. Delmonico’s offered its diners the unique-at-the-time opportunity to “go out” to eat and allow each guest to select their own dinner off a menu.
These days, going out to eat is an integral part of the American dining experience.
As a wine lover, dining out offers some very special experiences. In many large cities, from New York to San Francisco, restaurants boast their own resident sommelier who works closely with the head chef on selecting wines with each menu item and consults guests on pairings for the ultimate dining experience.
Quad-City restaurants may not have a multitude of sommeliers waiting to show us the ropes, but that doesn't mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of finding great wines to pair with your favorite meals when you go out to eat.
Check out my tips for pairing food and wine when you're dining out.
Start with the wine or start with the entree
When I sit down at a restaurant, I start by deciding whether I’m going to pick the wine to base on the food or pick the food to go with the wine. Of course, that may not be an easy choice. But I find that it can ease the decision-making process if you know there is a signature dish that you just have to have, or if the wine list boasts an exquisite French label that you have had your eyes on.
If you have a particular affinity for red wine at dinner, this is your queue to not pick the delicate fish entree or other lighter fare best reserved for white wines.
How the dish is prepared
While this may seem rudimentary, how a dish is prepared can have a lot to do with which wines will be compatible.
Here are some factors to consider: What cooking method was used, is the dish served with some sort of sauce and what side elements, if any, are accompanying the meal.
From there, you can revisit the wine list and look for the markers that make each wine a suitable match. For instance, a charred or barbered dish warrants a wine that is smokier in essence and spicier in flavors. Rich and creamy dishes warrant wines that can cut the fattiness and cleanse the palate, whether from tannins or bright acidity.
You will find that the dish is drastically altered when all of the individual ingredients and sauces come together on the final plate.
Know your wine
It's also important to consider what you know about the wines available. Are they particularly oaky? Are they fruit-forward in nature or earthier? Do they come with strong tannins? Answering these questions will help guide you in making the proper selection for your dish and creating the perfect meal out with friends and family.
Think about other non-wine related pairings in your life: Cookies and milk, French fries with ketchup, peanut butter and jelly. Why do these go together? Each of these pairings, in their own way, complement and contrast each other to create the perfect bite. The same pairing strategies apply to the wine you pick when you’re out to eat.
The other strategy that often makes wine pairing at restaurants easy is the phrase, "What grows together goes together." This is the notion that pairing wines with regional dishes of the same geography tend to work well together.
Consider this: Italians have been cultivating both their wines and local cuisines for centuries and have done so on the likely assumption they would be enjoyed together. This can take a lot of the guesswork out of making a decision. Try, for example, French Bouillabaisse with French rosé, Italian Shrimp Scampi with Italian Pinot Grigio, Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and Australian rack of lamb. The pairings go on.
All restaurants want their diners to have the best experience possible and likely train their wait staff and bartenders to expect questions regarding the dishes and wine selections.
So don’t be afraid to ask about how dishes were made and other details about the specific wines that are carried.
Going out to eat should be an exciting way to try new food and wine combinations, so don’t hesitate to experiment and try new things.
After all, that’s what makes foodies look forward to their next meal. Be sure to try these tips next time you’re out to eat and enjoy the journey that comes with the next undiscovered bottle.