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Oversold and Underappreciated Premise of Wine Pairing

November 27, 2015 10 comments

MWWC_logoThis post is an entry for the 21st Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC21), with the theme of “Pairing”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety.

Let’s start from the mini quiz – is food and wine pairing an art or a science? Or is it neither and the question makes no sense?

I’m sure you can successfully argue both sides, as they do in debate competitions. Technically, cooking process is based on science – heat conduction, protein’s reaction to heat and cold, combining acid and alkaline – we can go on and on, of course the scientific approach to the food and then the pairing can be argued very well. But one and the same dish can be flawlessly composed from the scientific point of view – think about a steak which is perfectly cooked with a beautiful crust – but missing on all the seasoning and having either none or way too much salt – it would require an artistry and magic of the Chef to make it a wow food experience. So may be food and wine pairing is an art after all?

I don’t have an answer, and I don’t believe it is even important. The problem is that in many cases, that “food and wine pairing”, which is typically sought out and praised, is not possible, not universal and even not needed.

Yes, there are rules for the pairing of wine and food. Contrast, complement, balance of the body of the wine with the perception of the “weight” of the food, tannins and fat and so on. The rules work well when you create a tasting menu and pair each dish individually with the very specific wine, based on practical trial and error. However, once you try to extend your recommendation to say “try this stew with some Syrah wine”, that begs only one question – really? And overbearing Shiraz from Australia, or earthy, spicy and tremendously restrained Côte-Rôtie or espresso loaded Syrah from Santa Ynez Valley – which one?

Here is another example, simply a personal one. At a restaurant, my first food preference is seafood – scallops, bouillabaisse, fish – anything. My wife typically prefers meat, and so do many of our friends. Going by the standard rules (white with fish etc.), we are either stuck with water or have to order wine by the glass, and ordering wine by the glass is typically not something I enjoy doing – very often, “by the glass” list is short, boring and grossly overpriced. So instead of trying to pair wine with the food (don’t get me wrong – I like the “spot-on” pairing as much as any other foodie and oenophile), I prefer to pair the wine with the moment – a good bottle of wine which doesn’t match the food is still a lot better than crappy wine which would denigrate the experience.

Still not convinced? Think about a simple situation – old friends are coming for a visit, and you know that these friends like wine. Yes, I’m sure you will give some thought to the food, however, there is a good chance that you will comb your cellar over and over again in a search of the wines to create the meaningful  wine program for the evening, even if the whole dinner would consist of one dish. You will spend time and time again thinking about your friends and trying to come up with a perfect, special, moment-appropriate and moment-enhancing wines.

Wine is an emotional connector. Wine elevates our experiences, making them a lot more memorable. You might have problem remembering what dish you had at a restaurant, but if the bottle of wine made you say “wow” on the first sip, there is a good chance that the special moment will stay in your memory, thanks to that special pairing which took place.

We pair wine with moments, and we pair wine with the people, for good and bad of it. If Aunt Mary comes for a visit, who enjoys a glass of Chardonnay with a cube of ice in it, is it really the time to break out Peter Michael or Gaja Rossj Bass? A Bogle Chardonnay would pair perfectly with Aunt Mary (not that there is anything wrong with Bogle – it is just perfectly priced for such occasions). However, if you know that your friend Jeff will stop by, who you know as a Pinot Noir aficionado, all the best Pinot Noir in your cellar will all of a sudden enter into a “chose me, I’m better” competition. And if none of them will win, the Pinot Noir at near by store will enter the fray. And keep in mind, all of this will be happening whether you will be serving steak, salmon or cheese and crackers…

Yes, when food is well paired with wine, it is really a special experience. But food and wine pairing which doesn’t work is really not the end of the world, it is still just a nuisance – and a learning experience, if you will. When the wine pairs well with the moments and the people, that’s when the memories are created, and that, as MasterCard likes to teach us, is priceless. Let’s drink to lots of special moments in our lives. Cheers!

Coming Up This Saturday: #OTBN – Open That Bottle Night

February 26, 2015 8 comments

wine and time 3Just a quick reminder to all the wine friends, oenophiles, aspiring sommeliers and all the other folks who find wine to be an indispensable part of their lives – OTBN is here, so get your thinking hat on and go visit your cellar (those without a cellar can settle for the visit to the good wine store).

Open That Bottle Night, usually abbreviated as OTBN, is a movement created by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, writers of the Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column. In the year 2000, they declared last Saturday in February to be a special night for the wine lovers – it should be the night when that special, cherished, admired, preserved, treasured bottle gets right on the table – and gets opened. The wine needs to be enjoyed – as the life is unpredictable, we should really create those special moments in the “now”, instead of waiting for them for the eternity.

Since its invention, OTBN became an international phenomenon, celebrated all over the world. This upcoming Saturday, February 28, 2015, is the last Saturday of February – so it is the time to get that special bottle ready and open. I don’t think you need any special instructions, but in case you feel like you need someone to tell you what to do, here is the link to the Wall Street Journal article which will give you the detailed instructions on how to enjoy OTBN.

I know you are hoarding more than one special bottle – it is the time to put at least one of them to the good use. If you care to share what you will be opening, this what the comment section is for. Open That Bottle! Cheers!

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