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Friday, April 12, 2013

Not So Obvious

I’m the kind of person who appreciates certainty and security to an extent - but sometimes I need to change it up - that’s what keeps things exciting and entertaining and interesting.  What fun is there in the obvious?  Not much, I’m afraid.  But there are times for the expected, and times for the unexpected.

Madiran, made from Tannat, with duck
Recently I was pouring a tasting.  Usually I enjoy pouring tastings very much because I love having the opportunity to help people find the wines that are best suited to their preferences, and even help them branch out and find new things to enjoy, perhaps things they’ve never considered before.  I love getting to talk about wine with lots of people.  At a recent tasting, one of the featured wines was a Pinotage from South Africa.  I’ve never been a great lover of Pinotage, but this one was pretty easy on the smoky hickory notes and I felt would be a great wine in the summer when grilling meats.  A man who was tasting the wine (who was already getting on my nerves for a number of reasons) was on the fence about the Pinotage, and he asked me what it would pair with.  I thought for a moment, and said, “well, there’s barbecue...” and before I could say anything else, he retorted, “ASIDE FROM THE OBVIOUS?!”

For the record, I rarely consider food and wine pairings to be obvious.  And since he had never even heard of Pinotage, I doubt he knew it was “obvious” - one thing was obvious to me, however - this man was obnoxious and I pitied his wife for “obvious” reasons.

Maybe the idea of pairing a very rich smoky wine with barbecued meats seemed like a “common sense” sort of pairing, but to me, pairing is not obvious.  It will never be obvious.  Why?  Because sometimes there can be a marriage of aromas, flavors, and textures that we had never before considered, and yet after trying it, we wonder why we hadn’t thought of it before.  We hadn’t thought of it because it isn’t obvious.

While we can be reasonably certain that many white wines will pair nicely with fish, what about some reds?  One of my recent favorites is California Pinot Noir with salmon, but that’s because the salmon is crusted with almonds and herbs and drizzled with raspberry sauce.  (And a Cru Beaujolais seems to work quite nicely with grilled fish dishes as well - don’t even think about that Beaujolais Nouveau.  Try a Villages or Cru, and try it with a light grilled fish dish with fresh vegetables or tomatoes - it’s a fantastic pairing!)  And for years I had been choosing Syrah based wines to pair with duck, until one day at Gilt in Manhattan I tried a Barbaresco with the duck - wow!  And if you haven’t tried Madiran with duck, what are you waiting for?!

Petite Arvine and Erbaluce with 7 Fishes
This Easter (see my last post) we opted for a Viognier, Gigondas, and Saint-Joseph.  I happen to love Rhone wines with lamb for their earthiness, spice, and fruit, and there’s something about the texture of a Rhone wine that seems to bring lamb dishes over the top.  But for some people, it’s Bordeaux or bust, when it comes to lamb.  And for Thanksgiving, every year we have Riesling from Alsace and red Burgundy.  But I hear about so many other wines people choose - Chardonnay, Zinfandel, American Pinot Noir, even Chianti.  And every Christmas Eve we have Italian whites with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and Italian reds with lasagne and roasted meats on Christmas Day.  I’ve picked Erbaluce di Caluso, Petite Arvine, Vermentino, Muller-Thurgau, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, and Nebbiolo in the past couple of years.  Everyone has something else they like to pair with Christmas dinner.

I ask you - while the selections may make perfect sense, what’s so obvious about it?  Nothing at all.

So, Mr. Know-It-All who attends a complimentary tasting, don’t go telling me that you don’t know the grape and that you didn’t know they produced wine in that region, and then go on to inform me that my suggested pairing is “obvious” - if it’s so obvious, why are you even asking?  I’ll be happy to help you - in fact, most of us in the industry are happy to help - that’s why we’re in the industry.  But in my opinion, if there’s anything about wine that’s obvious, it’s that nothing is obvious, and we can keep on learning, and keep on making it exciting.

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