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What to Drink with What You Eat
The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea - Even Water - Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers
Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page
Chronicle Books, 2006
ISBN 0821257188
Review By William I. Lengeman III

What to Drink with What You Eat may or may not win the award for Longest Book Title Ever, but it does pretty well at supporting the claim that it's a "definitive guide" to food and beverage pairing.

As the authors say, early on, "the good news is that there's rarely only one complimentary pairing for a dish. Often, there are dozens, if not hundreds or more, possibilities." This book may not touch on all of these possibilities, but it's fairly wide-ranging even so.

Chapter One introduces the food pairing equation 1+1=3: Food and Beverage Pairing to Create a Peak Experience. Herein the authors make the observation, "when what you're drinking melds with what you're eating, something magical takes place in your mouth in terms of sheer sensory experience."

We're reminded that we have "more beverage choices than ever" and in Chapter Two are presented with a chart - If You Like This, You Might Also Like That - that should be quite useful to absolute wine novices (present company included).

Chapter Three covers Food and Beverage Pairing 101 and presents three fundamental rules - Thing Regionally: If It Grows Together, It Goes Together. "Regionality," the authors remind us, "is behind the pairing of tomato sauce and Chianti, Camembert cheese and Calvados - even barbecue and iced tea." The other two rules - Come to Your Senses: Let Your Five Senses Guide Your Choices and Balance Flavors: Tickle Your Tongue in More Ways Than One.

Dornenburg and Page also pair a number of useful sidebars with the informative main text, including A Conversation with Chef Daniel Boulud and Sommelier Philippe Marchal on the Order of a Menu; Master Sommelier Joseph Spellman on the Importance of Understanding a Wine's Structure; and even Fun with pH Levels When Making a Match.

Chapter Four takes a look at the basics of Selecting and Serving Beverages and includes "a recommended 'starter case' of wines." There are also brief sections on beer, water, coffee, "grown up sodas" and even artisinal vinegars.

Chapter Five - What to Drink with What You Eat - makes up the bulk of the book, 127 pages, as opposed to the 70 pages consumed by the first four chapters. As is apparent from the title, it presents food as the starting point of pairing and runs a gamut of foods from aioli to zucchini blossoms.

Many of the foods covered have multiple suggested pairings and the authors use a highlighting system that identifies the good ones, the better and the best. Among the items covered are the expected "upscale" delights such as foie gras, pheasant and truffles, but there are also pairing suggestions for the likes of KFC and Popeye's chicken, doughnuts, Doritos, Domino's pizza, hot dogs, Twinkies and even McDonald's burgers (which call for a red wine, if you must know).

The cheese section is quite substantial - not surprisingly - and we're told that Alsatian Gewurztraminer is "the most cheese-friendly wine in the world." And just in case you were wondering, champagne the recommended liquid accompaniment for potato chips.

Chapter Six - What to Eat with What You Drink - devotes a little less space to tackling the flipside of pairing, while Chapter Seven presents pairing menus from a number of America's best restaurants. Among them are Chicago's Alinea, and New York City's Kai. The latter present a menu based on tea. Other New York City restaurants include Chanterelle and Sushisamba, both of whom offer pairing menus centered on sake.

Chapter Eight - The Best on the Best - wraps things up by presenting the desert island lists of some of America's leading beverage experts, who are restricted to 12 bottles each. The selections are mostly wine, but two experts contribute lists that are composed primarily of beer. Also popping up on some of the other lists, sparkling water, sake, tea and even diet Coke.

Altogether, this is a very thorough look at the topic of food pairing. In spite of what the title suggests, though, its primary focus - no surprise here - is wine. But it's nice to see some of the other oft-neglected beverages come in for some attention for a change.

William I. Lengeman III is a food writer, book reviewer and publisher of Tea Guy Speaks and Weird Eats.

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