What to quaff with these salty treatsby Courtney Cochran
Whatever wise guy once said “some of the best things in life are free” had it all wrong.
Most of the best things in life, in my estimation, are just the opposite: cable TV, fabulous vacations, exquisite meals in high-end restaurants and fancy cars are just a few examples of some of the better things in life that are most decidedly NOT free.
Given my realist tendencies, you can probably understand my frustration when somebody started referring to French Fries not long ago as “Freedom Fries.” Although I understand the not-so-subtle political agenda behind the re-naming, I can’t help but poke fun at the unintended implications of the new name. Because, as is the case with most good things in life, there’s absolutely nothing “free” about fries.
Fries: the fatty truth
In fact, the nickname couldn’t infer any further from the truth. Fries are most certainly not fat free, always cost at least a little of your hard-earned dough and – of this part I’m quite certain – are most definitely NEVER guilt free.
So, in the spirit of calling a spade a spade, I’m reverting to calling these treats by the name they deserve – French Fries – in deference to the fact that the French have always been good at serving up deliciously fattening foods like fries while making no attempt whatsoever at concealing the calories lurking within.
The French are also famous for serving up outstanding wine, and it’ll come as no surprise to bistro fare enthusiasts that they often do so along with a side of fries. Steak Frites (steak & fries, en anglais), the quintessential grub of French bistros both in that great land and beyond, is just one example of a potentially dynamite fry dish to match up with wine.
The key to doing so successfully lies in the wine you select.
With their high fat and salt content, French Fries call for wines with certain qualities that cope with these tricky characteristics. And between fattiness and saltiness, the latter is the worst offender: salt makes the tannins present to varying degrees in all red wines seem stronger than they really are (pepper, incidentally, does the opposite). Wines that are relatively low in tannin – i.e. light-bodied – are therefore ideal for pairing with salty fry dishes.
Fattiness, on the other hand, calls for a wine with a good dose of acidity to cut through the weight of the dish. And considering that the well-marbled steaks often served alongside fries in Steak Frites concoctions ratchet up the fat content of the ensemble to even greater heights, it follows that this bistro specialty calls for crisp, lively wines.
So many choices, so many fries
Now that we know that crisp, light-bodied wines are the best choices for Steak Frites and other fry dishes, let’s take a closer look at what our options are.
Because there’s a steak involved, I recommend reaching for a red when tucking into Steak Frites. Crisp, light- to medium-bodied Beaujolais-Villages reds made from the Gamay grape in France are ideal candidates for the task thanks to their low tannin and sturdy acidity. They’re also deliciously easy to knock back and don’t require any in-depth deconstruction of their attributes (because there aren’t that many, natch), just like bistro fare itself. Other rather crisp reds like Italian Barbera, Cabernet Franc (watch for those from France’s Bourgueil and Chinon appellations) and Pinot Noir from California’s Central Coast are also good bets.
A great fry dish for white wine is another French bistro favorite, the Croque Monsieur. A glorified grilled cheese sandwich, a proper Croque Monsieur contains melted cheese and a slice of ham between two well-buttered slices of toasted bread. The excessive saltiness you get from the bread, cheese AND the fries make this highly salty specialty the perfect candidate for a medium-sweet, high-acid German Riesling (sweetness acts as a foil to saltiness). Reach for those of the Kabinett or even the Spätlese level (a little sweeter) for one of the food and wine world’s most memorable combos.
And this advice, unlike so many other things in life, is actually free.