Let’s start with the easy one. You’ve gotta love it when the fates toss you something like this. Believe it or not, 7-Eleven will be selling its own brand of wine soon, if it’s not already. The wine is named Yosemite Ridge. And no, this wasn’t reported by The Onion.
You know I do my best to de-snob-ify and demystify wine, but even I have reached my limit on this one. Yosemite Ridge? Really? Bwaahahahaha! Just the thing for the harsh lighting and (if you’re lucky) disinfectant smell of 7-Eleven. A much better suggestion came from a friend: Château-2-Go. (The “2” adds a certain je ne sais quoi, dontcha think?) I’m looking forward to those laminated review cards you see in wine shops – can’t wait to find out which of the varietals pairs best with microwave burritos, powdered mini-donuts, and nacho cheese Doritos.
I suppose this was inevitable, given the trend toward ultra-downscale wine that started with Trader Joe’s Charles Taylor/Two-Buck Chuck. Wal-Mart’s foray into wine was the subject of a very funny e-mail chain suggesting names like Château Trailer Park, but it showed there was money to be made selling not totally undrinkable (if you’re stranded on a desert island) wine at low, low prices.
Still, I can’t help feeling a line has been crossed. I’d much rather keep my college memories of the stores that brought us the Big Gulp and the estimable combination of late-night cigarette and condom sales. What’s this with trying to take the high road – oops, make that the high ridge? Is nothing sacred anymore?
[Sounds of deep, cleansing breaths and yoga chanting. Much better.]
The second bit of news really is a fish story. Scientists working for a Japanese wine, spirits, and pharmaceutical(!) manufacturer set out to discover why red wine and fish don’t necessarily pair well. Red wine sometimes makes fish taste fishier and even metallic. The key turns out to be iron content, specifically what’s called ferrous iron. Both fish and red wine contain it, and once a certain threshold of iron is reached, the fishy aftertaste is formed with other chemicals already present in the fish. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing how much iron is in either your wine or your fish, so you can’t tell if a given fish and red wine pairing will work or not. But there seems to be little doubt that they’ve found the culprit, and they also did some tests to show that neither tannins nor sulfites cause the change in taste.
Bad news for red wine and fish lovers, right? Well, don’t go changing your menu just yet. The problem is that the study makes its dire pronouncement and leaves you hanging. Then, in a by-the-way at the end, the authors tell us that strong-tasting fish and white wines pair well because the acid in the wine binds up the ferrous iron and prevents it from creating the fishy taste. (As you first vine readers already know, white wine is more acidic than red wine). There, staring them in the face, was something that might help people pair red wine and fish successfully. After all, if the iron – whether from the fish or the wine – can be bound up by acidity, then could adding a little bit of acidity to a fish dish do the trick? Did it not occur to them that maybe there’s a reason that practically every fish recipe in the world contains some sort of acidity, like lemon juice, vinegar, or tomatoes?
Wine is (imho) understudied as a food product. So as a scientist, I welcome rigorous research, but it has to correspond to real life somewhere, and this study really misses the mark. If the authors had talked to any reasonably good cook before they wrote the paper, maybe we’d have some useful information. Did they test adding a little acidity to see if it would help? Nooooo! Instead, they threw up their hands, saying that there’s no way to tell about pairing, and implied by omission that we shouldn’t bother. Could it be that the answer is as simple as adding a little lemon — LIKE PEOPLE WHO COOK HAVE KNOWN FOR CENTURIES?
[Pardon the snark, but I’m a little pissed at having to spend $30 to download this article from American Chemical Society publications and find that media reports completely missed that last tidbit because it wasn’t available in the free abstract.]
As a public service to the cuisine-challenged scientists of Mercian Corporation of Japan and their editors at the American Chemical Society, I’d like to offer this recipe for Monkfish in red wine sauce. It’s one of Mario Batali’s super-simple Italian dishes. Our friends Darrene and Chris made it for us to celebrate the arrival of first vine’s first Chianti from Fattorie Majnoni Guicciardini. The key is acidity via a little tomato sauce which not only allows you to simmer the fish in red wine without a fishy aftertaste, but also serve the same red wine with the finished dish. One bottle will make four servings of the fish plus give you four good-sized glasses of wine to drink with it. Price? $14. Bringing light to the clueless? Let’s just say it’ll buy you a lot of bottles of Yosemite Ridge!
1 pound monkfish fillets, cut into 8 pieces
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon each salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 scallions, sliced very thinly
8 fresh sage leaves
1 cup dry red wine, preferably Chianti
8 very large black olives (preferably Kalamata or Gaeta), pitted and cut in half
½ cup tomato sauce (see note)
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Place the fish fillet pieces between sheets of wax paper and gently pound them to ¼-inch thickness, using a heavy pan or a meat mallet. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until it’s almost smoking. In the meantime, mix the flour, salt, and pepper on a plate. When the oil is hot, toss each piece of fish in the flour mixture, shake off the excess, and then add the fish to the pan. Cook all the fish until nicely golden, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm.
Add the scallions and sage to the pan and stir until the scallions soften and begin to brown, about a minute. Add the wine, olives, and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Place the fish in the sauce, add the cold butter, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. The sauce will thicken slightly and coat the fish. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
Note on tomato sauce: You can use pre-made sauce if you like a particular brand, just make sure that it doesn’t have added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. To make it yourself, sauté 3 finely chopped garlic cloves in a little olive oil for about 30 seconds, then add a 28-ounce can of crushed Italian tomatoes, along with some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.