Matching wine with General Tso

The House’s five-day schedule has members and staff, and consequently the thousands of people who support and influence them, working longer hours. Everyone on the Hill seems to be suffering from stacked meetings and dispiriting deadlines. One of the resulting casualties in our personal lives is a home-cooked dinner. At the end of a long day, after dashing to the dry-cleaner and dutifully walking the dog, we have little time or inclination for culinary calisthenics. So, we outsource the job.

If America is a fast-food nation, Washington is its take-out capital. Though numerous restaurants deliver on the Hill, the frequency with which we experience all of them quickly diminishes their distinctive characteristics. If “Pizza or Pad Thai? Haven’t we already had both this week?” is a familiar refrain in your house, or if delivery people notice when you get a haircut, chances are you can stand to make more out of these meals.

The D.C. metro area leads the country in wine consumption, but surveys suggest many people still regard it as a beverage best suited to special occasions. There is a perception that wine is wasted on simple daily fare, especially when it arrives in a trapezoidal paper carton. Nothing is further from the truth. Properly matched wine enhances cuisines of all pedigrees. Of course, there is an exception to the rule: pickles. Just like no word in the English language rhymes with “orange,” no wine complements things preserved in vinegar.

Wine does not have to be costly to be high-quality, and neither does the food with which it can be paired. Here is a basic list of rewarding combinations that will liven up your next gastronomic house call:

Chinese/Thai: There are numerous competing flavors in Asian dishes, but sweetness and spice are two constants. Gewürztraminer is a rich and spicy grape originally from Alsace. I like the 2004 Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington ($11). Don’t be intimidated by all the consonants — you can and should find this type of wine in grocery stores and corner markets in the neighborhood.

Pizza: If you’re enjoying a traditional pizza with red sauce, a Sangiovese from Italy’s Chianti region is a natural choice. Most people’s knowledge of Chianti doesn’t extend past Hannibal Lecter and fava beans or the ubiquitous straw-encased bottle. Italians take their pizza and their wine very seriously — follow their lead. Try the 2004 Castellani Toscana Biagio ($12). If you fancy white pizza, Sauvignon Blanc is a safe bet.

Indian: Merlot is a nice match with the earthy, smoky flavors of Indian meats and stews. The 2004 Columbia Crest Merlot-Cabernet ($8) is balanced and ripe with a bit of toasty oak on the finish. Your samosa will never taste the same.

If General Tso is an all-too-frequent guest at your dinner table, uncork a bottle of wine and make his next visit a special occasion.