What to Drink with a Dish that is Intriguing, Sophisticated, and Bitter....

In the introduction to Jennifer McLagan’s fascinating new book, Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor with Recipes, the author imagines her subject through the lens of the Japanese word for bitter tanginess, shibui.

First she quotes a Kinfolk Magazine article that explains, “When people are described as shibui, the image is of a silver-haired man in a tailored suit, with a hint of bad-boy aura about him.” Then she says, “So bitter is a cultured, intriguing, and sophisticated taste, with a dangerous side. Who could be more fun to cook or dine with?”

Regardless of whether or not you care to break bread with a shibui gent, the question of what to drink when enjoying a dish that is intriguing, sophisticated, and bitter is not at all obvious. Bitter comes in many different guises: grapefruit, olives, artichokes, kale, couscous, and cocoa are all bitter, but taste very different.

The challenge is finding wines that bringing a sense of balance and harmony to a particular dish. Here are a few examples:

The fresh apple and mineral flavors in a young Austrian grüner veltliner like the 2012 Sohm & Kracher go beautifully with white asparagus or bitter citrus, such as Seville oranges.

The hint of sweetness and mouthwatering acidity in a German riesling such as the 2013 Donnhoff Estate rounds out the bitterness in Brussels sprouts and brightens the flavors of many of its tastiest roasting partners, for instance bacon and chestnuts.

The mix of dark berries and woodsy notes in a Rosso di Montalcino like the Il Poggione showcase the smoky bitterness of grilled radicchio drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar.

Even a luscious fruit-forward Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon such as the Chateau Montelena has a touch of bitterness at its core, making it the perfect foil for the most decadent of bitter desserts, molten dark chocolate.