Q&A with 'Odd Pair' Wine Blogger Jane Catherine Collins


[Photograph: Jane Catherine Collins]

I'm officially obsessed with the column Odd Pair that runs in alt-weekly Houston Press' food blog, Eating Our Words. What's not to love about learning that yes, someone else ponders what wine pairs well with Twinkies, tater tots, or black-eyed peas?

Odd Pair blogger Jane Catherine Collins, who also blogs at Last Spoonful, talked with Serious Grape about the best (and worst) of the Odd Pairs, and her endeavor to learn more about wine.

Tell us about yourself... I do food and wine writing. I've probably been doing that particular column for six months now. Prior to that I was a lawyer—I'm a licensed attorney. I was always a communications person. In law school I studied entertainment and copyright law. I spent a little time in New York working on the broadcast side, then decided that writing was really my passion.

I've always had a passion for food and wine. I've always been a home cook, constantly studying on my own. When I had the opportunity to write a wine column for the Houston Press, I jumped on that. I've always been self taught. I took some classes on wine tasting, and really tried to learn the intricacies of wine. It was a great opportunity to pair two of my passions.

What was the initial inspiration for the "Odd Pairs" blog? The interesting thing about wine is, I came at it as a non-professional. I hadn't worked for a wine distributor or a restaurant. What I found is wine is much more approachable than people give it credit for. I like the idea of sharing these great wines that you would have with a fabulous meal with something out of the ordinary, like pizza, or a barbecue sandwich, or even a Twinkie, just to make it an approachable subject.

How do you decide which foods to pair with? (and how do you choose the wines?) I read a lot of magazines and TV, and poll people to find out their favorite junk foods and indulgence foods, and see what they would be curious to read about. It starts with food: I come up with an unusual food, something that hasn't been really explored, and then I choose the wine.

Right down the street, we have a liquor store called Spec's—their Houston headquarters is right down the street. They have an incredibly knowledgeable staff and they've been helpful in helping provide ideas and figure out pairings.

Not all odd pairings work.—once was a Christmas theme. Candy canes you just cannot pair with wine. And really sugary candies, like Peeps, are terrible. They're not my favorite thing to begin with, and pairing them with wine just doesn't work very well.

What are the "oddest" foods you've chosen for pairing? So far, I think the oddest food I've chosen has been a Twinkie. It's kind of a cult classic. There's a myth that they last forever, that you can fry them, people try to do everything with them, so why not wine? It was all right—it wasn't terrible, but it was odd. I paired it with a sweeter white Riesling. You felt like you wanted to wash your mouth out after.

Another, which I haven't written up yet, was pairing a red wine from Spain with a Reese's peanut butter cup, part of the Easter theme. It tasted like a PB&J sandwich. It was really good—I was expecting something horrible. It wasn't super-sweet. A lot of candy gets sweeter when you pair it with wine.

What has been your favorite "odd pair" to date? Being from Texas, barbecue is very good. The common pair with barbecue is beer. I paired a BBQ chopped beef sandwich with a Malbec and it was very good. Most of the wines I do, I try to stay under $15. Part of the appeal of the unusual food is you don't want to pair a $200 bottle of wine with pizza.

What are you drinking these days? Spanish white—it's getting hot here in Texas, and it's not too heavy with the heat.