Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Perfect Pairings

When it comes to food and wine pairing the absolute most important thing to remember is, it has to taste good to you. What some magazine says, what I say, what Andrea Immer says, none of means anything if what you are drinking doesn’t taste good to you….if you are sitting at the table not drinking your wine then it is a disastrous pairing, no matter what the “experts” say. After watching a woman munch on chocolate during a class featuring Loire reds, (Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay) and listening to her tell everyone that it was a perfect match…the idea of which made my face scrunch up…..I had to say, “Well, you know, pairings are very subjective”.

I watch people fret, stress and generally wig out trying to create a perfect pairing and I just have say, “The only way to ensure perfection is to not invite anyone else to the party and drink and eat what you like” there is really no way to judge what others are going to think tastes good together…..like the chocolate and super dry Loire reds that that woman loved tasted flat out awful to me, so who’s right? The answer is easy, we both are but I think we were looking at in two very different ways which throws a whole other wrench into the already complicated situation….what is it you are trying to showcase?!

When I put that piece of chocolate in my mouth and then took a sip of Sancerre Rouge, (Pinot Noir) my face puckered and the already lean, dry wine lost all of its fruit, tasted sour as hell and had zero by way of complexity, but the chocolate got sweeter and fuller, maybe that’s why she dug it….didn’t do a damn thing for the wine but pumped up the chocolate a bunch. For me chocolate and red wine is a bit like Champagne and caviar, pairings that were born out of a want for decadence, not things that necessarily taste great together….or at least not pairings that are focused on the wine. Just like the chocolate dealie I find that Champagne makes the caviar taste better but the caviar does nothing for the Champagne….not a problem if your focus is the fish eggs and not the bubbles.

So I think that one thing that might help is to remove the word, “perfect” and replace it with the word, “successful” then we are getting closer to something that is doable, I’ve had probably 15 perfect pairings in my many years doing this for a living….successful pairings…..I have had more than I can count! Perfect is when the two things together are better than they are alone, successful is when both things taste really good together….nothing outshines the other, harmony on the plate and in the glass. This can be fun to play with as well, you can pair things that are similar in flavor or texture or play around with contrast; spicy with sweet, rich with lean, powerful with elegant….the possibilities are endless and with that “perfect” bull crud off the table it takes a lot of the pressure off as well.

This poor man came in the other day, he had been instructed to see me, he was told that I would be able to help him pair French wines with his “French” meal, “Sure no problem” I told him, that was until I saw the menu….problem. “I want one white for the appetizers and one red for the main course” he told me, and handed me the list of goodies they would be eating that I was to pair wines with….

Appetizers; Puff Pastry with Cheese, (what kind of cheese…didn’t know…drat) Spicy Chorizo, (“Is there going to be anything else with this?” I asked….didn’t know…okay) Deviled Eggs, Fall Salad with Roasted Nuts and Cranberries.

“So you want one wine to go with all of these?” I asked trying to make eye contact over the frame of my glasses….kinda that. “You’re kidding me right?” look. “Yes, one white for those” he told me flatly. Then he went on to tell me how important this meal was because he had a friend coming that was really into wine, “I want to impress him but I only want to spend about $15.00 a bottle, can I get anything good for that much?” he asked….”Well you can definitely get some great wine for that price, lots actually but there are a lot of flavors going on here and…” “Well that is why I am here to see you” he grinned….dude.

Main Course; Chicken in Red Wine Sauce with Herbs and Olives and Flank Steak with Sundried Tomato Sauce and Crumbled Blue Cheese, (that’s French??) Assorted Veggies on the side. So again I asked, “Now you want one red for these right” “Yup” he chirped the whole time I am looking around for the hidden camera….”This has got to be some kind of test….like, how will Sam deal with this?” I kept thinking but alas, not true, no cameras just some poor dude wanting a night of food and wine perfection…..with that menu.

I did my best and let him know that there was really no way to pair that menu with two wines in a way that would make all 28 guests walk away thinking they had just had a perfect wine and food moment, a successful one, yes (fingers crossed….that was a lot of stuff there) but perfect was not too likely. He seemed okay, that was after asking me for the umpteenth time if I was sure that a Chardonnay and Merlot would not be a better choices….had me again looking for the cameras, felt like a total set up….”What if people want red with the appetizers?” he stressed….”Just put the white out with the beer and cocktails, keep the red in the kitchen and bring it out for dinner. If anyone askes just let them know that you will be serving red with dinner. They should be fine with that. It’s your dinner just take control, breathe deep and everyone will have a great time, you have good food and really yummy wine, everyone will be happy” I assured him.

As he was walking out the door he thanked me and briefly asked about chilling, “A quick 15 minutes on the Cotes du Rhone and a good hour on the white should be fine” I bellowed while walking towards the back room. “So I should keep the white in ice buckets on the buffet table then?”…….buffet? You Have Got To Be Kidding Me!! People were going to be serving themselves, pouring what they want and eating it with whatever they want…I still felt good about my choices, 2005 La Cabotte Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Gabriel, ($16.99) for the red, nice dark fruit, gentle spice and a plump mouth feel but with a light enough body and snappy finish, great all purpose food wine. 2007 Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie de Gascogne, ($8.99) for the white, super bright, loaded with sassy green flavors with a snappy little grapefruit pop mid palate and a crisp very refreshing finish…again a great all purpose wine that frames a variety of food.

Poor guy, poor anyone that spends too much time fretting about perfection when it comes to pairing food and wine….relax everyone! If you spent all day braising or preparing a meal, choose a wine that will not clobber all that effort, something like the little wines listed above and if you have a special bottle of wine that you want to savor….keep it simple on the food, simply roasted meat or fish….let the, “star” be the star and everything will fall into place. Perfection will come and when it does…..you will never forget it.

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