Thursday, August 13, 2009

Help Me Help You

“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.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Sam,

You definitely make me cream my cookie. Matching food and wine is one of those talents that it takes years to learn, and then when you get asked for help most people won't listen anyway. It's like giving advice about love. "Hey, leave the guy the next time he drinks Syrah with oysters." "I can't, I love him." "I wouldn't kiss him with Dick Cheney's lips, dump the cretin."

I love Muscadet with oysters and My Darling Sam on the half shell.

Your HoseMaster

Arthur said...

I agree on the Vouvray - especially if it's a few years old. I also like very mature Chardonnay with pork and dried fruit stuffing.

Jessica said...


Forgot to tell you I finished my Advanced Wine and Food Pairing course with the International Wine Guild a couple a weeks ago - you would have LOVED it!

I think I found my true wine passion with the pairing thing and am on a rampage to "help" the restaurants in my area broaden their horizons and actually have wines that pair with their menus, not just wines with "catchy" brand names!

Glad you are back with the living, keep writing, I miss you greatly when you don't!


Richard said...

I think many people don't really want advice, they want confirmation from an expert.

I have to agree with Ron on the Muscadet and oysters. Had a few last night!

Samantha Dugan said...

YUM! One of my favorite pairings, even prefer it to Champagne and oysters...I'm jealous.

Congratulations girlie, that's wicked cool! Good luck with your quest to un-stoopid the wine lists in your area, I'll keep my fingers crossed for you but be warned...they may resist. Glad to be back and I think of you when it has been a couple days without a post, I remind myself, "Jessica is waiting for you"...helps and feels kinda good.

Older Vouvray and that kind of pork dish...damn near perfect.

Is that a cookie in your pocket?! I know they won't listen, just wish they would quit asking me then! Oh, and I take up the WHOLE shell, none of the half shit for me....

Thomas Pellechia said...


I love this subject, mainly because it is the one that allows for the most surprises.

Still, when I had in front of me a recalcitrant who asked but didn't believe, and if I could not persuade I said, "ok, have Dry Riesling for white and Pinot Noir for red, and come back to me with the results."

Usually worked well--those two varietal wines make food pairing for the thick-headed much easier.

I think somewhere I told the story of the woman in my tasting room back in the 80s who said she drank only Riesling, no matter what she was eating. I was new at it then and wanted to do something bad to her...

John M. Kelly said...

"I think many people don't really want advice, they want confirmation from an expert." Oh my god ain't that the TRUTH! Word.

Which is why I will never be anybody's "expert" (I'm not your bitch, bitch!) and why I'm the worst "consultant" ever - I'm psychologically incapable of telling people what they want to hear. I must be some kinda retard or something.

BTW - the guy who drinks Syrah with his oysters? Reminds me of the punchline of the joke where the city slicker keeps missing the bear he is trying to shoot - the bear tells him "you didn't really come here to hunt, did you." (You should hear Penn Gilette tell this one!) Anyway, Syrah+oysters guy? It's not that he has no taste, it's that he f**king HATES oysters! The things guys will do to get laid - it's embarassing - dudes, some of give all of us a bad name.

Sabrina said...

Sam! Best part of my day was stumbling on your writing whilst looking for a new world vs old world map for my wine list. Killer words, very clever & certainly dynamite to read from a witty chick in the industry! I'm looking forward to reading through your archives!

Samantha Dugan said...

Well welcome! Man, what a boost to hear of a new reader and I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that you found me. I'd forgotten about this post but it is an issue for us still.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. As to reading through the archives, well...hope you find something worth reading and I confess to tiny pangs of, "Oh shit, what might she find" as I have not even read though them myself. Welcome to my strange little blog, it's so nice to have you.

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