As wine connoisseurship evolves, I look toward developing ways to express the aspects of wine I love the most. I recognize that wine is a product of nature and science; my goal is as natural as can be: to help make the connection between joy of taste and the bountiful pleasures of life.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

why the culinary smackdown?

I remember very well when I was first taking wine courses and developing my earliest sensibilities about which wines I liked and which ones I didn’t. I also recall quite clearly how many times in that same 2 to 3 year period that I came across or overheard a discussion where the so-called “pairing” of the night or pairing of the course came under fire. There are always two distinct angles that these wine pros of the time seemed to routinely thrash out – the first angle was the prickly, often nonsensical assessment that tore into the relatively insignificant, totally subjective nuances of the wine and the cuisine itself.

This angle was and still is built upon the opinion that for the given pairing, all of the micro aroma, flavour traits and characteristics of the wine are somehow misaligned with all of the dynamic savoury flavours on the plate. The commentary would rant on about shale-like black minerality or shistous slate aromas dominating the attack which prevented the herbaceous-ness on the middle palate to properly delineate the pithy, citrus characteristic of the Buddha’s hand crème fraiche foam that crowned the abalone custard..or whatever.. -it all seemed a bit over the top to me …I recall being impressed in a way at the time but also so utterly intimidated that I often felt as if id never understand all of this magical insight and that id never be one of the guys that really got it and could really make a wine and food pairing sing.

The other angle, which was based in a far less dogmatic and overly complex soliloquy seemed not so artificially ramped up, less fervent and probably a little bit more down to earth. It was all about the overall size of the wine and how, simply put, its sheer size and density just clobbered the food. It was very straight forward almost to the point of oversimplification however it was also often presented in a way that seemed as informed and academic as the other more spiteful, overly critical angle but without all the effusive jargon. This latter opinion or angle was based in the fact that most cuisine simply does not pair well, size for size, ounce for ounce with what was then the new breed of super extracted, massive, lavishly textured wines. The wines were just getting too darn big fer there britches…

The same folks that spoke in these terms were also the same folks that always talked about the raw enjoyment of wine and emphasized the fact that the best moments of a wine experience were made over the table and amid friends and family dining (eating) together. The wine in this classic scenario, without over thinking it, had to be a wine that honoured a wide variety of foods and all at once displayed proper taste of place, varietal distinction and technical correctness. If you rewind the tape a couple hundred years or just go out into the French countryside north of Marseille, you’ll never find a family sitting round the table drinking anything that even resembles the visual look of what is being poured a million times a night all across the world right alongside foods that don’t even try to fight back. I guess, after all these years, just like those old timers claimed and professed years ago when my tastes were tuned to the obvious and overt, I have come 180 degrees. These days, more often than not, I have a really hard time finding wines, especially reds that actually support balance with a plate of food. So,…in turn, I do what ever I can to foster my revelation and keep the youngsters off the lists as much a possible and try to source wines that are even handed and aren’t just gobstoppers. Unless im serving blue cheese, chocolate, charred beef, or BBQ, I want wines with underpinnings of refinement, elegance and finesse. A big young tannic Cabernet?...sure, all alone or with something equally monochromatic, but not with a sauced roast, or anything more complex than a grilled steak.

Critics have driven this problem of wines becoming bigger than big and as a result, most of us young connoisseurs have learned to accept and expect this style. In restaurants, it’s become the norm. So im here to do my best to be one of the new generation of calm collected wine lovers that worship distinction and fruit purity in a wine but want it to relate to what else in on the table. I feel like the selection of wines that do this is narrowing so it’s my/our responsibility to ask about back vintages, order Grenache with your steak instead of a young cabernet and petition our critics to evaluate on balance and innate spirit rather than extract and manipulation. Just like fresh lettuces and farmers markets all across the America, now is the time to fall back to the realm of temperance and moderation. And remember,..the culinary smackdown is a choice not an absolute.

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