Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Book Review: He Said Beer, She Said Wine

It absolutely pains me that I'm just getting around to writing about this book, mostly because I read it immediately upon receipt. A month ago. There's just no excuse for it, except for me to say (once again) that I'm slack.

Now that I've gotten my self-flagellation out of the way...on to the book. It's pretty great. While I didn't actually sit down and read it cover to cover, I did glance through every single page - and so did Cooper. And he doesn't really do that.

The premise is pretty simple, and to make matters easy, here's the press copy:

Dogfish Head brewery founder Sam Calagione and renowned sommelier Marnie Old cut through the many misconceptions and caveats that come along with making great food and beverage pairings. Sam and Marnie frame the great drink debate, making a case for their beverage of choice, and the result is a fun, educational and revealing look at how what we drink can bring out the best in our food.

PR copy or no, that does actually sum up the book. What could be pretty dry and boring ends up personality-driven and a fun read - the authors' voices come through loud and clear and there are a ton of pictures of beer, wine, and food - and also of the authors, which I think really adds to the book's easy tone.

So there's a lot of general informational stuff - the types of wine and beer, what to expect, how to read labels, etc. I was already familiar with most of that, but that's only because of excessive drink-reading and tv-watching. And anyway, it wasn't a bad refresher.

I was primarily interested in the actual wine and beer pairing suggestions. They're very specific, and come complete with pictures of the bottles they suggest. The recipes included are pretty simple, and I like that they spell out with great detail how, exactly, you can set up a wine vs. beer tasting party at your house. See, Old and Calagione have hosted their own tasting parties in a few spots (including Calagione's Rehoboth Beach restaurant, which I've never been to, but now would like to go). So they know from what they speak.

I wasn't really up for hosting a full-on party as a part of my review, but I did want to test out their recommendations. Fortunately, my dad's birthday was the last weekend in March, and my whole family was coming up to my house for celebratory drinks, hors d'oeuvres and cake. Since I had a captive audience, I decided to make them work for their dinner.

I was already making scallops (that's the only thing my dad asked for), so I decided to stick with seafood and make Old and Calagione's mussels in a spicy red sauce. Despite never having cooked mussels at home before, everything went super smoothly. The sauce was outrageously easy and it totally delivered the spice (but not too much).

I had absolutely no problems finding the recommended beer (Birra Moretti La Rosa, a reddish brown Italian lager) at Wells, even though I'd never heard of it before (but then again, I'm not that big of a beer drinker). Unfortunately, the first wine store I went to (Beltway) didn't have the recommended wine (Banti Centine Toscana Rossa, a Sangiovese blend from Tuscany that's similar to a "plumper, juicier Chianti), and since that's a gigantic store, I gave up easy and found something that sounded similar in terms of taste (and promptly forgot to write down its name).

As a result, it's hard for me to say whether the beer's near-unanimous win over the wine was a result of my decision or the book's recommendation. My mom was the only person who preferred the wine, and even she said it was only because she really likes wine better than beer.

Neither match was a bad one, but the beer was spot on. In fact, even though I don't really like reddish brown beers, I truly enjoyed this one thanks to the match with the sauce. I wasn't the only one to feel that way, either.

But I digress. The short version of this post is: new book about wine and beer. I liked it. It's a great reference and is also a good read.

And also, mussels in spicy red sauce. Delicious.


Cail said...

As one of the tasters and a total non-beer drinker, I was completely surprised that I liked the beer with the mussels better than the wine. Usually when I have mussels, I have the lighter, more traditional preparation (white wine, garlic, etc.) and a crisp white wine, which I feel kind of cuts through the distinctive taste of the mussels and sauce/broth.

With the heavier, more robust taste of the red sauce, I thought that the beer had the same effect; it was crisp and refreshing and distinctive. The red wine was certainly delicious, but the best word I can use to describe it (with two weeks hindsight) is "soft". It didn't distinguish itself at all, and essentially blended in with the sauce and mussels. That lack of distinction could be viewed as just being REALLY REALLY complementary, but it just left me with an "enh" feeling. Well, as much as I'm ever going to say "enh" about mussels and alcohol.

Thanks for letting us be your guinea pigs!

Kit Pollard said...

I remember that at the time, we talked about the wine sort of disappearing into the flavor of the sauce - I think it was overwhelmed - it just didn't stand up to it. But the beer did.

It was a fun night...glad you all came up.


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