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5 Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing

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In the August issue, executive wine editor Ray Isle names the best summer value wines. Here, he explains how you can do wrong by those fantastic bottles in a new series called What Not to Do.

© Courtesy of Sean Minor Wines.
2010 Sean Minor Four Bears Vin Gris

1. Artichokes.
Artichokes hate wine. They grow on their little stalks thinking, "I hate wine. Ooh, I hate it. I'm gonna grow here for a while, then I'm gonna go mess up some wine." The reason they do that is that artichokes have a compound called cynarin in them that basically makes wine taste awful. If you're dead set on eating artichokes and drinking wine with them, the best option is a light-bodied, unoaked white wine like a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. But you'd be best off with beer: a nice brown ale ought to work just fine.

2. Serve your wine too warm (if it's red) or too cold (if it's white).
Warm red wine tastes alcoholic and flabby. Serve reds a little below room temperature and they're not only more pleasant to drink, but they taste better with food (throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes before you pour them). Icy cold whites don't taste like anything, so pull them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving.

3. Try to make two stars share the table.
This doesn't work in Hollywood, and it doesn't work at your house, either. If you have a truly extraordinary wine to pour, serve it with a simple dish. If you're spending 15 hours trying to re-create one of Thomas Keller's intricate recipes from The French Laundry Cookbook, pour something good—but not equally spectacular.

4. Serve oily fish with tannic red wine.
Fish oils react harshly with tannins, so don't, for instance, serve mackerel with Cabernet—unless you like the taste you get from licking a roll of pennies. With oily fish, skip the reds entirely and go white. Any of the crisp, minerally seaside wines: Albarino from Spain, Vermentino from Italy, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile's Pacific coast. All of those are good options.

5. Overthink the whole thing.
Really. This is the biggest way to screw up a wine pairing, not because the wine and food will taste bad together, but because you'll turn yourself into a neurotic mess who makes Woody Allen seem like a Zen buddhist. Most wines can happily live alongside most foods, in a kind of neutral you-go-your-way-and-I'll-go-mine state. Just stay away from those artichokes.

Related: Top 10 Buzz Words to Up Your Wine Cred

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

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