And who better than to take the plunge than certified sommelier Jaclyn Stuart and award-winning food writer Jeanette Hurt?
The two have combined their considerable forces to create "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine and Food Pairing," out now in paperback. The 200-plus-page guide pours the basics of wine (red, white, sparkling and dessert) and pairs them with tips for understanding how to match foods with those wines.
Stuart boasts accreditations from the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and teaches wine courses for the Midwest Wine School and is director of education for Third Coast Wine Werks. She also recently launched a consulting company, WineVentures, organizing wine tasting events, fundraisers and classes for consumers, restaurants, and retailers. She's worked with the Bianchini group and helped launch its Indulge Wine Room and developed multiple wine lists that were awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Stuart was also sommelier at The Immigrant Restaurant at The American Club.
Hurt has written for Wine Enthusiast, Wine Adventure, Saveur, Gourmet, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, Relish, Clean Eating, Destination: Vacation, Virtuoso Life and Sante, among others. Among her other numerous achievements, she is the author of "The Cheeses of Wisconsin: A Culinary Travel Guide," "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cheeses of the World," "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tapas" and "The Cheeses of California: A Culinary Travel Guide." You may also seen or heard her on Martha Stewart Radio, NPR, and several Wisconsin television stations.
In their book -- available at all major booksellers and at Amazon for the Kindle -- there are suggestions for ordering at restaurants, shopping for wine and planning for a party, pairing food with beer, coffee and other beverages, and much more. There is also a list of resources that includes a number of Milwaukee-area specialties, like Rishi Tea, Larry's Market and The Spice House, among others.
As part of Alpha's "The Complete Idiot's Guide to ..." series, the book is extremely readable, easy to follow and it's a snap locating key info in a hurry.
Stuart and Hurt launch their book with a book release party at Balzac Wine Bar. Books will be for sale at the event, which runs from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, June 14.
"We will be celebrating the book with free wine -- provided by Third Coast Wine Werks, a Milwaukee-based boutique distributor -- and free hors d'oeuvres for everyone that attends," says Stuart. Balzac will also offer its special "555" deal until 7 p.m. That's $5 classic mac & cheese, $5 half carafes of wine and five half-off wine selections, along with "flight night" specials all night -- 1/2 off cheese and wine flights.
We asked Stuart about pouring her -- and Hurt's -- deep wine knowledge into the new book:
OMC: How did you come to team up with Jeannette to write the book?
Jaclyn Stuart: Jeanette and I met a few years back when I was working as Sommelier at the American Club in Kohler. At the time she was writing "The Cheeses of Wisconsin: A Culinary Travel Guide" and was looking for some information about cheese and wine pairing ideas. The American Club has a phenomenal cheese menu and wine list, so I worked my magic and set up a private cheese and wine pairing tasting for Jeanette. She and I really clicked and found that we shared an extraordinary enthusiasm for wine and cheese -- and food in general -- and we both liked to educate others about our respective topics in a non-pretentious, fun way. We decided to put together a wine and food pairing book proposal, which was quickly picked up by the publishers of The Complete Idiot's Guides.
OMC: Was it easy to divide the duties or did you actually sit side by side to write it?
JS: We would meet at Alterra on the Lake at least once a week and write the book together. Jeanette provided a lot of insight into the food aspect and I provided all of the wine insight.
OMC: Was it difficult to strip away so much and get back to the absolute basics?
JS: At first it was. I had to remind myself that this was our first pairing book, and that it was meant to be a pairing primer. If I started wine-geeking out too much, it wouldn't have the tone we were looking for, but I did sneak in a few random varietals and geeky pairings.
OMC: The links show a certain Milwaukee angle. Were you eager to get the city represented in there or is it just natural since you're here that you'd reference local businesses?
JS: A little bit of both. As a Wisconsin transplant from California, I am amazed at that sense of local pride and have, myself, become very supportive of local foods and products. Nowhere else can you find such skillful and passionate artisans making divine beverages of all sorts, amazing foods, and a plethora of remarkable cheeses. Jeanette and I really wanted to make sure that the rest of the country -- and world, as our book is being marketed worldwide -- were able to get a glimpse into what Wisconsin has to offer. I think a lot of people are blown away by how strong, and advanced, of a "foodie" culture we have here in Milwaukee.
OMC: Who is the book aimed at? I know the title says "complete idiots," but ...
JS: The book is aimed at people that enjoy wine and food, so just about everyone over 21. You definitely don't have to be an idiot -- in fact, a little wine and food knowledge will help -- but just in case you are when it comes to this subject, we cover all of the basics.
OMC: Can you give this complete idiot three great, basic tips for enjoying wine?
JS: First, know your palate. If you have a better understanding of what you like and don't like and why, it will be much easier to create a better pairing experience. Second, be adventurous. I like to say that I am willing to try everything once, so that at least I can say why I don't like something. This has created a couple squeamish situations, but nothing that I couldn't get over without a good glass of wine to wash it all down. Third, spend within your budget. Good wine and food doesn't have to break the bank. There are so many budget-friendly wine and food options out there that you shouldn't have to feel pressured into splurging. For Jeanette and me, it is all about everyday enjoyment -- in fact, one of our favorite pairings is something as simple as potato chips with sparkling wine.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.