How to pair vino with cheese steak?
May 26, 2007
First of all, I would like to discuss a few basic principals for wine pairing. The first and easiest method is that of regional congruency. If, for example, a cheese comes from Burgundy, the likelihood that it will pair famously with a wine from Burgundy is pretty good.
The concept is lost on hot dogs and hamburgers considering we have no idea where they come from. We are therefore reduced to breaking down the components of both the food and the wine. The goal is to develop balance between the two that does not produce flavors that overpower one another, but create a marriage in which the flavors accentuate each other to a degree that improves both.
Let’s take the unlikely character of the Philly cheese steak. The first component is the beef. With its heavy and chewy texture it promotes arduous chewing habits. It will therefore require a wine that has enough body to withstand the pressure. This rules out whites, as they will certainly not stand up. The fat in the cheap cheese will require the wine to have enough acid to keep the experience fresh and the grease in the bun will clash with any sugar that may be present in a wine. As far as flavor goes, there is nothing really spicy to speak of so we must rule out the Syrah, Tempranillo, and Grenache based wines of the world. The meat is cooked well, which in my experience clashes with tannic reds so we must rule out Cabs, Merlots, and the mixtures of Bordeaux. In terms of international varieties we are left with Pinot Noir, but a Burgundy or Oregon Pinot is too earthy, which is why I believe that ripe California Pinot Noir is the best pairing for a traditional Philly cheese steak. Try the Caymus Clark and Telephone Vineyards Pinot Noir, $27.
The elusive hot dog is next. For reason of difficulty I am assuming that you like your hot dog with the works — you know, sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup, and onions. Lets first examine the hot dog. Texturally it is pureed so there is not heavy chewing involved. This leaves us wide open. Pork is assumed to be the major contributor of meat so we can still go white or red, but considering a hot dog is usually eaten at a BBQ in a hot summer’s day, you are probably going to want something refreshing so lets go white. Any sugar is going to clash with the sweetness of the ketchup, and the mustard and sauerkraut will clash with almost anything. But fear not; there is a solution. Chardonnay doesn’t have enough bite to stand up to the intense flavors of hot dog condiments and Sauvignon Blanc is just too fruity. We can’t go sweet, but the flavors of a cold climate Riesling might go quite nicely. I recommend the Dr. Konstantine Frank Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes NY for $14.30. I would recommend a German or Alsatian Riesling, but as it turns out New York City consumes more hot dogs that any other city in the world. That’s terroir for you.
Last, but certainly not least is the ever-famous slice of pizza. First the temperature of street pizza is always too hot so it is only logical to go with whites to cool down the fire. Considering the very slight amount of sugar in pizza sauce, a sweeter white might be the right direction and because we are used to having pizza with soda, a bubbly wine might just be perfect. With respect to its Italian roots, it seems wrong to look to French varieties to solve this quandary. I therefore prescribe Moscato D’Asti as the perfect wine for a droopy slice of cheese pizza. The Saracco Moscato D’Asti is my choice of the week coming in at a mere $16.
I guess my point of this column is not to feel cornered into beer or soda with your street food. There is a wine for every occasion.
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Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .