Oak and yolk no match in pairing food and wine

  • By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg / Special to The Washington Post
  • Saturday, April 21, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Wine isn’t the first thing that might come to mind when you think about eggs. After all, it’s bad form, not to mention a warning sign of alcoholism, to drink before noon. But since egg-based dishes, despite their breakfast connotations, play so well in other meals, the question arises: What wine should you drink with them?

Joshua Wesson of the Best Cellars retail chain once told us memorably: “Wood and eggs are an awful combination. If you want to make someone suffer, serve them barrel-aged chardonnay with an egg salad sandwich!”

Of course, then we had to taste the combination of a particularly oaky chardonnay and egg salad for ourselves. It struck us as a cross between tinfoil and one of Harry Potter’s more distasteful Every Flavor Beans. Our tongues still haven’t forgiven us that research.

In general, savory egg dishes such as omelets, frittatas and quiches are well-matched by a dry champagne, especially blanc de blancs (that is, 100 percent chardonnay), or sparkling wine. Chardonnay – unoaked or very lightly oaked, of course (as if you could forget) – works, too.

A general rule of thumb for identifying an unoaked chardonnay: The lighter the color and the lower the price, the less likely it is to have spent time in expensive oak barrels. More important, check the label. While some indicate the wine is “unoaked” or “oak free” (as does the smooth-textured St. Supery Estate Oak Free Chardonnay), wineries sometimes have fun with their wording. For example, Trevor Jones christens its unoaked chardonnay “Virgin,” and Four Vines describes its own as “Naked.”

Let the dominant flavors of the dish guide you, as eggs fade to the background when matched with vegetables and herbs, both of which suggest a lightly oaked or unoaked sauvignon blanc. Or, if the egg dish is heavy on breakfast meats, such as a bacon-laden quiche Lorraine or a ham omelet, consider a dry Alsatian pinot gris or even a light-bodied red, such as Beaujolais. At an elegant brunch, we once enjoyed a delicious lobster omelet that was magically elevated by its pairing with a white Burgundy.

Sweeter egg-based brunch items such as custardy French toast are well matched by sweeter sparkling wines. Look to demi-sec (semi-sweet) or doux (sweet) champagnes, or the sweet Italian sparkler Moscato d’Asti. (We’re fans of Marchesi di Gresy Moscato d’Asti La Serra.) If your French toast is topped with fruit such as berries or bananas, it would be delightfully complemented by Brachetto d’Acqui, a sweet red sparkling wine. If all you have on hand is dry sparkling wine, which will wilt under the sweetness of your dish, consider adding a compatibly flavored fruit juice, such as pear or litchi, to create your own mimosa.

Few people celebrate eggs with as much gusto as do natives of Spain, where they are eaten at all times of the day. Eggs not only are served up in the ubiquitous Spanish tortilla or fried in olive oil for dinner, but also are commonly featured after dinner, in the form of creme Catalan and other custard-like desserts.

We turned to Spanish native Antoni Yelamos of Jaleo Wine Shop in Crystal City, Va., who also selects wines for award-winning chef Jose Andres’s restaurants, and he recommended a few of his favorites.

Dry Spanish sherry, such as La Gitana (a favorite we share with Yelamos), is one ideal accompaniment to tortilla. You’ll want to drink sherry chilled and fresh, as it doesn’t store well. The Spanish sparkling wine cava is another perfect match, and Yelamos recommends one called 1+1=3 Cava Brut.

“Its depth of flavor brings it very close to champagne,” he says.

For fried eggs, too, he sees cava’s mix of acidity, freshness and bubbles as the ideal accompaniment. A purist, he recommends cooking the eggs soft, not hard, allowing full appreciation of the way the bubbles cut through the richness of the yolks.

Sweet sherry can be a lovely accompaniment to a custardy flan-like dessert. We’re longtime fans of oloroso sherry, but Yelamos turned us on to Bailen oloroso, which starts sweet with notes of chocolate and caramel but finishes dry. “It’s a very nice balance to flan’s richness,” he enthuses.

The old American oak barrels (called butts) used in the making of sherry are much larger than regular wine barrels, by the way, so far less sherry comes into direct contact with the oak. That, plus the butts’ age, means that far less oak flavor is imparted into the sherry – or into the eggs you drink it with.

Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg are award-winning authors of “What to Drink With What You Eat” and several other books.

Talk to us

More in Life

Everett comedian Taylor Clark performs stand-up in 2023 at The Triple Door in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mike Bryk)
Comedian Taylor Clark to film first special Friday in Everett

The skateboarding funny-man will record an hour of his stand-up at the Historic Everett Theater.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

A view of King Street Station in Seattle, Washington from an Amtrak Cascades train to Portland, Oregon from Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ride the rails on Amtrak Cascades from Everett to Portland

Make new friends and let Amtrak do the driving on this 5-hour trip past sea, city and forest.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

From left, Elora Coble, Carol Richmond, David Hayes, Karli Reinbold, Giovanna Cossalter Walters, Landon Whitbread in a scene from Edmonds Driftwood Players' production of "Murder on the Orient Express." (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Driftwood Players opens its 65th season with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Some collectibles are found in nature; some imitate them. If it weren’t for the attached figure, this Royal Dux porcelain vase might pass for a real conch shell.
This shell-shaped vase would make a fine souvenir of summer fun

It may not be a real shell, but this art nouveau piece could still evoke fond memories of days at the beach.

Arlington Garden Club celebrating its 90th anniversary

The club has monthly programs for north Snohomish County gardeners and awards scholarships to area students.

Spouses Franchesca and Don Simpson talk about their baby girl’s “chubby cheeks” and “button nose” as Kelly Fox RDMS RVT performs a live-view 3D ultrasound on the expecting mother Saturday, August 26, 2023, at Wonder Baby Ultrasound Studio in Everett, Washington. The Simpsons are expecting their first child in October. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Glamour shots in utero? Everett studio offers HD ultrasound keepsakes

For curious parents, these glimpses are exciting, but not medically endorsed.

Most Read