I may run out of superlatives in the course of this review, so I'm just warning you now. What to Drink with What You Eat is absolutely the most spectacular book ever written about pairing food with wine. It will turn you instantly into a world-class sommelier, confidently able to pair virtually any cuisine with a compatible choice. What's more, the recommendations extend far beyond wine to include beer, sake, spirits coffee, tea and different types of water, so even a teetotaler can derive some value. There isn't a food- or wine-lover on the planet who wouldn't benefit from having the book always on hand as a resource.
The secret sauce here is that the authors, who have great credentials themselves, have also enlisted the input of dozens of top sommeliers and other authorities to create an uber-reference, one that gains considerably from its generous tendency to be more rather than less inclusive in offering up suggestions. Think of the principle of "the wisdom of crowds," but here the crowd are all experts and have the chops to back up their opinions. The list of foods, cuisines and beverages that are explored is truly encyclopedic, so odds are pretty good whatever you want advice on will be covered. For example, speaking of secret sauce, you'll even get suggested pairings with a Big Mac.
The crowning glories of the book are chapters 5 and 6, which really should be turned into a searchable database online and made available via PDA. These chapters are mirror images, one that starts with the beverage and suggests foods, and the other that starts with the food and matches the drinks. I'm telling it to you straight: if you've ever had a moment's hesitation about what to bring to a dinner party or just flat out what might go best with your frozen pizza, the answer is at hand. Wanna build the meal around a special bottle of wine? No problem. In fact, I'm not sure this book isn't subversive in the sense that it does such a great job of simplifying a complicated subject and making it accessible that it renders real-life sommeliers unnecessary.
Of course, that's a ridiculous notion; I'm just stating it for effect. You still need a sommelier to put together a wine list, add a personal perspective, precisely match the cuisine of a restaurant to its wines and gauge the "readiness" of any particular client to explore new territory. But if you live in New Jersey, where the only advantage of archaic, Prohibition-based liquor laws is the plethora of BYO restaurants and thus there are very few sommeliers period, this book is like manna from heaven.
I don't mean to imply that What to Eat is prescriptive to the point where you aren't allowed to express yourself and exercise free will. Quite the contrary. The book does a splendid job in the first few chapters of breaking down various pairing conventions developed over the past 20 years (plus of course the most classic matches) and providing guidelines that anyone can build on, and the authors encourage imagination and experimentation.
Let's go with a real life example, my first since I bought the book, and quite an "acid" test at that. I was asked by a hostess to suggest something that might go with roasted sea bass served with a Mediterranean ragout of red peppers, tomatoes, olives, and capers. My first instinct when approaching anything Mediterranean is to go with the "territory," which means for me clinging to the coastline from Provence to Sicily. Here I would have gravitated toward a white because a tannic red wouldn't go anyway and it's summer now and a chill is definitely welcome. Besides, I'm not sophisticated enough to figure out what to do with capers to begin with, so why not let a thousand years of local experience do the hard work for me? Then, I turned to chapter 5 and looked up sea bass. There were 16 suggestions, but nothing related to a Mediterranean ragout, which would clearly provide the dominant flavors to the dish. So with a little trepidation (are they going to whiff on my first challenge?), I looked for "Mediterranean" and sure enough found the following entry: "Mediterranean Cuisine (eg anchovies, olives, peppers, etc) Champagne, rose; Chateauneuf-du-pape, white; Pinot blanc; red wine, esp. tart Old World; rose; verdicchio, esp with onion-based dishes." Not feeling wholly comfortable yet, I cross-referenced the pesky caper and found: "Beaujolais, high acid; beer; Muscadet; Pinot Grigio/ Pinot gris, esp. dry; Pinot Noir, esp from Russian River Valley." That's enough breadth for anyone to find an appealing option.
The genius of the book is the exhaustive number of dishes and international cuisines covered. I'm sure there are some things you can eat that aren't paired here, but I'm not sure why you would want to! Also, while it wasn't true for my sea bass, many if not most of the listings actually go a step further and provide recommendations specific to the actual method of preparation. It's not just one size fits all. Pasta with artichokes? Check. Pasta with sardines? Check. You get the idea.
I haven't been this excited about a wine book in a couple of years, maybe since reading Andrew Jefford's The New France The New France: A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine (Mitchell Beazley Wine Guides). If you have even a passing interest in drinking wine with your meals you'd be crazy not to buy this book. It has the potential to enrich every dinner (and the occasional lunch/brunch/breakfast?/snack) you eat for the rest of your life, and if that isn't enough hyperbole, I don't know what is.