“Sam line 3” I heard over the loud speaker, I made my way to the phone to hear, “Hi Sam, I need some pairing help again” one of our caterers calling to get wine pairing suggestions. I will admit I kind of dig that I have garnered a reputation for being pretty okay at food and wine pairing, Randy even consults me now….massively flattering to say the very least, but it aint always easy. People come in, often with something already in mind and can be rather unyielding about changing their scope. I had this very nice gentleman come in with a whole menu and he wanted me to pair wines with each dish, which is cool, I love doing that but man was he hardheaded! He let me lead him a bit but one dish, one dish he couldn’t jump the hurdle with me on….pork with cream and roasted pears. He came in thinking Pinot Noir and no matter how many times I assured him that Vouvray would be a better choice, he just could not unclench his grip on his pairing idea. “I have this Sea Smoke Pinot and I love pork with Pinot” he protested. “So do I” I told him, “but the pork is not going to be the dominate flavor in this dish, the pears are. If you were doing a simple roasted pork shoulder than yes, drink your Sea Smoke but with pears and cream? I’m telling you….try the Vouvray.”
He begrudgingly bought one bottle of the Vouvray, (he had been buying two of every other wine I suggested) and with a very troubled face said, “I’ll pour both and tell everyone that you said the Vouvray was a better match” I could tell he was saying it more in a “gonna blame you for this” tone, it was fine, the thing was, I had had that dish before, wanna know where…in Vouvray. He came back a week later to shop and give me a recap of how his dinner went, “Great job Sam, everything was spot on…except” I knew what he was going to say, I knew the second he furrowed his brow while reaching for the bottle of Vouvray…. “The Vouvray went really well, in fact the bottle was gone too fast, but I still liked the Sea Smoke” …..the empty bottle was all I needed to hear.
I think what troubled him was that the pork dish was the main course, for him main course meant red wine, I’m fine with that….always am, I am of the, “drink what you like” set but if you’re going to ask me, “what wine will go best with this dish?” then I’m going to tell ya and I um, can be unyielding too. My job, no my goal actually, is to make the customer happy. I will never tell a Moscato drinker that they can’t drink their beloved wine with steak or spaghetti, hey if it creams your cookie…go for it but I’m not going to suggest it to anyone else, nor will I nod or say, “Oh yeah” when you say, “Don’t you think?” um, if I thought it I would have said it, (such a peeve of mine…dontcha think?).
Ultimately the goal is a happy customer, it’s what we do, what we strive for and how we survive. If we give you crap recommendations or tell the “I don’t like bitter wine” customers to drink Sancerre rouge with their meal…because it’s what we “professionals” think/know it is a great pairing…people will either think we are high or give up trying to “get” the whole wine thing, and no one wins there.
We want to do our best to help you, whether it’s doing it your way….like helping you a pick a Syrah to go with your oysters, (gag, the thought of this actually made me gag) because that’s what you want, or doing it our way but oaky, so here’s the thing, if we are doing it our way….we are going to need a tad more information.
So I sit on the phone with the caterer and this is what I hear; “The first course is clam chowder” that was easy…this is where it gets tricky. “Then there are two salads, one chopped and one leaf” “From there we go into the main dishes, a beef dish and a chicken dish, so what wines would you recommend?”
Um…gonna need a tad more information. Salad…well the dressing is the issue, blue cheese, lemon-ginger, balsamic…they taste a little different right? Are there beets or fruit in it? Telling me the way it is cut won’t help me help you, “Chopped salad you say, well the classic pairing for tiny diced veggies is Cote Rotie”…see what I’m sayin? Beef…just beef or are you doing something to it? Sauce? Braised? Prime Rib and Pot Roast taste nothing alike. “Okay, beef…red wine” that enough? Me thinks not. Chicken…C’mon! Is it simply roasted, barbequed, in a Thai glaze…what?
Asking for a wine that goes with “chicken” is a bit like picking up the phone, calling your friend and asking, “What shirt should I wear with these pants?” (which has happened to me by the way. I was like, “Tard, I can’t see you!”) we need all the pieces to put the puzzle together.
So when you are asked to bring a wine for dinner, be sure to ask not only what you are having but how it is being prepared…makes a massive difference.
It’s not geekdom. It’s not snobbery. It’s what we do. Or drink Syrah with your oysters…..(wretch) just DRINK dammit.