I fell back in love with food-and-wine pairing when I helped a friend (the irrepressible Tony “The Wine Chef” Lawrence) with an outdoor wine / cooking demo sponsored by the Pennsylvania regional chapter of the American Wine Society about two weeks ago (around the same time that the U.S. Congress was simultaneously “working” at raising both the debt ceiling limit and their own internal douchebag limit).
I don’t feel like I talk a lot about food and wine matches on 1WineDude.com, but I’ve certainly contributed my share of recommendations, particularly around holiday times, primarily because people ask me and I feel bad not telling them something when I’m asked. The trick, as the NYT’s Eric Asimov told me a couple of years ago, is to make the topic interesting and continually fresh – because readers do, in fact, want those recommendations.
But the food-matched-with-wine topic, generally, is tired. It’s tired because so many so-called rules proliferated in that space for so long, that the net effect seems to have been a general increase in how confusing wine is for the average Joe, a situation the wine industry needs like my daughter needs another plush dinosaur toy.
The most maddening thing about the pairing “rules” is this: of all the trained chefs that I know, none of them adhere to those rules. Not. One. Single. Chef. So I think the wine consumer can be forgiven for a hearty round of “WTF?” on that one. The flipside of this rule-breaking is the proliferation of the “drink whatever you like with your food, because your preferences are more important” school of advice. And I’ve come to think that this advice – which I’ve given myself quite often – may, in fact, be wrong.
Why? Because there are guidelines for food-and-wine pairing. And while they don’t trump the most steeped, stubborn, and obstinate of our personal tastes, they do in fact work for many, many people. Probably most people. The guidelines are based on your personal preferences, and are general enough to apply creatively without getting too specific.
And when done right, a food-and-wine pairing can elevate even some of the most pedestrian wines to surprising culinary heights…
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Uhm, like what is this stuff?
I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine sample tasting notes via twitter (limited to 140 characters). They are meant to be fun, quickly-and-easily-digestible reviews. Below is a wrap-up of the twitter reviews from the past week (click here for the skinny on how to read them), along with links to help you find them so you can try them for yourself. Cheers!
- 07 Trapiche Vina Adolfo Ahumada Malbec (Mendoza): Sooo much yummy black cherry, sandalwood & leathery complexity. But soooo much oak. $55 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 10 Keswick Vineyards Verdejo (Monticello): Hey, who let that Spanish guy in here? Crisp, tropical, fruity – & very, very quaffable. $18 B >>find this wine>>
- 08 Cooper Vineyards Norton (VA): Brambly meets savory, with a side of red berries & vanilla. The bad-ass anise brings it all home. $24 B >>find this wine>>
- 10 Cooper Vineyards Viognier (VA): Full of peaches & limes, & asking you to run out & buy some VA crab cakes, which it craves dearly. $23 B >>find this wine>>
- 09 First Colony Winery Chardonnay Reserve (Monticello): Cheaper than an aroma fault kit, with just about the same result. Avoid. $18 D >>find this wine>>
- 09 First Colony Winery Petit Verdot (VA): Compelling case built for VA PV on this spice, graphite, dark fruit, tomato leaf & cranberry $24 B >>find this wine>>
- 08 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage (VA): Methodical, pleasant & as structured (ok, & maybe as stiff, too) as the founding father himself. $29 B >>find this wine>>
- 10 Jefferson Vineyards Viognier (VA): If you spent hours searching for the ripest honeysuckle flowers when U were a kid, then try this $24 B >>find this wine>>
- 10 Chrysalis Vineyards Viognier (VA): Floral, classic & a testament to why VA is trying to hang their signature grape hat on Viognier $29 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 08 Chrysalis Vineyards Norton Locksley Reserve (VA): Black licorice, cola; angular & strange, but w/ beauty like an abstract painting $35 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 09 Emma Pearl Chardonnay (Central Coast): Vibrant & accessible style. So many cut flowers it’s like walking right into the flower shop $18 B >>find this wine>>
- 07 Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi (Mukhrani): Classic Georgian (the republic, not the state!); stewed prunes, black pepper & fascination. $18 B >>find this wine>>
Thomas Jefferson had a strong love of wine (and beer), an historical tidbit that seems to have glued itself with more stickiness than an Rutherglen Muscat to our collective national legacy of our third President, right up their with tales of his intelligence, his elegant correspondences, and the fact that he finally checked-out on July 4th – U.S. Independence Day – in his eighties (and up to his eyeballs in debt).
Less well-known is that Jefferson touted Scuppernong as the next big thing in American winemaking, telling Washington Judge William Johnson in 1817 that it “would be distinguished on the best tables of Europe for its fine aroma, and chrystalline [sic] transparence.”
It seems ol’ T.J., in focusing on potential, lacked first president George Washington’s uncanny ability to see things for how they really were (at least when it comes to vino). Because Scuppernong wine is like… well, let’s just say we can poke fun at most Scuppernong because it’s Scuppernong.
Given the beauty of Jefferson’s Monticello estate, which was on full display (along with, less romantically, the oppressive Northern VA heat & humidity combo) at a mass-tasting of Virginian wines held there during the recent 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, one might forgive T.J. for erring on the side of vinous over-optimism.
Given what I tasted that evening (even despite the mile-wide-inch-deep approach that is the bane of any grand tasting), the Virginia wine industry might be forgiven the odd bout of over-optimism as well, because the winemaking situation there is clearly on the right track, if not quite yet delivering fully on its promise as the next big thing in American wine.
Ahh, T.J…. you were only off by about 194 years! But you were a total Mac Daddy with the WBC11 ladies (see inset pic for photographic proof), so maybe we shouldn’t hold it against you.
Anyway… let’s talk about what went well in Virginia, vinously-speaking, of course!…
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As you read this, I’ll be fresh (or maybe not-so-fresh, after thinking about the stamina-melting temperatures, and lengthy after-after parties!) from the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference – and after about 24 hours at the homestead, immediately off to Lake County, CA where I’ll be a judging in the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards Competition.
The deal goes down on July 28 at Brassfield Estate Winery in Clearlake Oaks (gotta love town names that make multiple bucolic references!). It will mark the first time that I’ve been in any way involved in an area’s sesquicentennial celebration, by the way (I’m guessing there aren’t too many of those going around).
Several things attracted me to this gig, not the least of them being the fact that the competition doesn’t really deal in medals or trophies that have little consumer meaning – just the opposite, in fact. From the website:
[On] November 5, 2011, a consumer event will be held at Langtry Estate & Vineyards—People’s Choice Wine Awards—where the people get to ‘blind taste’ the judges top picks and select the “People’s Choice.”
In other words, after the judges’ faves are revealed and promoted, the real winners are picked from that bunch in a large blind tasting where consumers decide who gets top honors. That’s awesome.
The competition is meant to showcase wines that specifically state Lake County or a Lake County AVA on the label. That means, generally, wines from high-elevation vineyards, and for me personally, wines with some pretty high expectations…
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