Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sometimes It Just Doesn't Work Out As Planned

You know those moments when you’re on a blind date and you find yourself thinking, “This is so not going to work out”…yeah, me neither, never been on a blind date. I do have a few semi-regular customers that continuously ask me, “Are you still married?” because they have a friend that is, “perfect” for me. This coming from people that really know nothing about me, I can only imagine what kind of person they have in mind that would be perfect for me….must be some poor sap that is into being bossed around or some sad chubby chaser dude…ugh. I always assure them if my husband should either wise up of keel over, they will be the first to know. Anyway, the point being that no matter how much someone tells you that a match might be perfect, sometimes for you…it just aint.

Same thing is true of the ever desired, ever asked about, ever sought after, “perfect wine pairing”. There are plenty of books, food & wine websites, magazines and an infinite number of fancy wine aficionados that will try and give it to you. They will ooze their years of knowledge, stained palates and confit, (is there a plural of confit? What I mean is…the literal, cooked it its own fat) all over you. They mean well and I’m sure many of the suggested pairings are great, some are okay but some, well some just won’t work….for you, beauty is in the mouth of the beholder and all.

You know those people that say there has not been anything new or interesting in music since like 1963, yeah…well some wine folks, stuck in the same primordial goo. Tossing out pairings that were handed down by old English dudes so long ago that they are almost no longer relevant. Both wine and food have changed so much in the last 30 years, those classic pairings may very well still be okay or even perfect for some people but for some of us….well, there has to be something better. I’ve never been too hung up on perfect but I do truly appreciate harmony and when I look to pair food and wine, for MY palate, I look for contrast, balance and the kind of marriage of flavors that keeps me reaching for my glass…so some of those, “classic” pairings simply don’t work for me.

Pairings I Simply Don’t Get

Champagne & Caviar—Now I understand the inclination here but I think this pairing is more about the “idea”. Both things are special, a treat, decadent and caviar tastes fine when washed down with Champagne but what do those little fishy eggs do for the wine….nothing good for my palate. The caviar is too aggressive for me, kills all the finesse in the wine, masks all the delicate layers that I love in my bubbles. So maybe this is a pairing for the fish egg lover and not as much for the Champagne lover, for me…gotta go with icy cold Vodka.

Red Wine & Chocolate--- I’ve never understood this one and can only think it is much like the Caviar and Champagne deal, decadence. Same problem applies here, the chocolate may taste fine but pairing something sweet with wine does little more than rob the wine of fruit and then what is the point? I once had one customer so convinced that all red wine went with chocolate that she bought some chocolate during my Loire Valley Red Wines class. I tried to tell her that chocolate and Sancerre Rouge, maybe not so much…but she sat there munching away telling me how delicious it was, and kept trying to get me to try it…I took a tiny taste, freaking nasty and whatever delicate fruit was in that wine was destroyed…tasted sour, tart and bitter, as someone that loves and is trying to sell wine…not at all what I am looking for.

Champagne & Cake--- Well no wonder more people don’t drink Champagne, tastes like bubbly piss with cake. Why? Why do people feel the need to do this? Celebrating Granny’s 90th, sweet have some bubbles and potato chips and finish with cake. Stupid pairing, just stupid and this one I do not blame wine folks for…none of us would tell you this was a good idea.

Zinfandel & BBQ--- Had one of those butting heads moments with a staff member over this one. A woman came in looking for a wine for BBQ and he blurted out “Zinfandel” without really even thinking about it. I held back, let him do his wine sales thing and then…I fixed it. “What kind of BBQ?” I asked while ringing the woman up, “Carolina pulled pork” she responded and I grabbed the Zinfandel and put it back on the shelf…”This is so NOT going to work” I told her. Pork, which is meat but super mild, and vinegar, is so not a match for Zin, hell it’s not even a red wine friendly dish, she needed white. The whole BBQ thing is too loose a term, are you grilling or barbequing, makes a difference when it comes to pairing wine and all. I think this “classic” pairing was born with the whole, “all American” idea in mind….not unlike Zinfandel with Thanksgiving, (gag, wretch and gag), sure it’s a cute idea but…..ewe.

Gewürztraminer & Indian Food--- For me this is one of those, “way too much going on” deals. I get the idea but these two things together just crash against my palate and leave me reaching for water or tea. I crave balance and grace, this pairing has neither…kind of like having Godzilla march across my palate…veto.

Sauternes & Foie Gras--- Now I know I’m gonna get shit for this one….but I just hate this pairing. Sauternes and Roquefort I get but to pair something as rich and fatty as Foie Gras with a soft sweet wine, well it just skeeves me out, gives me the shivers and a bit like washing down a piece of fudge with a milkshake, ewe.

I’m sure I have more but I need to get my ass ready for a trade tasting, going to be tasting a crapload of Burgundy this afternoon….poor me right?!


The Wine Whore said...

For me, when it comes to food pairings, there are NO rules!

I'll drink an expensive Cab with a Big Mac and a nice Chard with Mac n Cheese.

Ultimately, as long as YOU are enjoying the food, wine, and company of others, what else could possibly matter?

What is your favorite fast food pairing?


Jessica said...

Hey Samantha!

Let me just say, YOU ROCK! Saying all the things many of us want to say but don't - so on that note I have to sort of stomp (kindly I hope) on the Wine Whore.

I think your post not only applies to these "classic pairings" but to the idea of pairing in general. You point out that the idea is for the two (wine and food) to 1) for sure not compete with each other and 2) to hopefully enhance each other.

So, the wine should not overpower the food and vice versa and as such I am not an advocate of the "drink whatever you like with whatever food you want" philosophy. I guess go ahead if you want, but this should not be considered "pairing", you are basically just having a drink with your food and one that might make the food, frankly terrible or flat out nonexistant...

So - bravo for bagging on these classic pairings and even providing such great analogies - love the milk shake comment! Like me and pancakes with syrup and orange juice - YUCK - clearly needs a glass of ice cold milk!

See you Wednesday...

Jessica said...

Oops, forgot to say a bad pairing may make the wine terrible or non existant too, not just the food.

Now that I think about it, I wonder how many wines people think they don't like because the first time they tried them was with food that didn't "help" them...?

Benito said...


is there a plural of confit?

Yes, confetti, from the Franco-Italian practice of throwing handfuls of greasy duck scraps in the air during celebrations. ;)

The pairing advice that really gets my goat is the overly vague, far too general advice. "Serve Chardonnay with seafood!" It assumes that all Chard is the same (as opposed to sweet/dry, crisp/flabby, oaked/non-oaked, still/sparkling, aged/new, etc.) and assumes that all seafood tastes the same. Grilled salmon on a cedar plank with a balsamic reduction? Yeah, I'm grabbing an Oregon Pinot Noir.

In theory I like pairing wine and food to the same general region or country of origin, but I break this rule more often than I follow it. A lot of Spanish wines go great with Italian food and I bust out the Argentinian and Chilean wines for American fare like burgers and chili.

Quick side note re: Zinfandel & BBQ... We do a lot of BBQ down here, and the good stuff involves sitting outside in the heat for 12 hours next to a hot smoker. By the time you get to eat, the last thing you want is a red wine at room temperature. Any wine tends to be too heavy if you've been cooking and sweating. Hence the preference for cheap, ice-cold beer that's practically water.


Jerome said...

I'm not convinced that every meal has a perfect wine match. Sometimes, we might just try too hard. I'm having a beer with that Thai food thanks(oh by the way, that's probably what they have over there...)

Thomas said...

To throw in a dissonance, Sam, in your quest to tear down pairings that others believe in you do the same thing that they do--only you are definite about how the pairings don't work.

Just about any wine and food pairing can work, provided you think about it beforehand and do the matching. For instance, instead of eating sweet chocolate (never eat milk chocolate with wine) try an 80% to 90% cacao chocolate with some red wines, but figure out which red wines first--preferably with intense berry fruit, like chocolate-covered berries!

I just learned about a Greek white wine that pairs with dark chocolate with almonds--although I haven't tried the pairing yet.

In any case, your post seems to fight a dogma with a corresponding dogma. That's a no-no, dear.

PS: for bbq, I often like Riesling.

Thomas said...

Here's the chocolate/almond Greek wine pairing blog entry: http://www.elloinos.com/

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Of course, the key word in perfect food and wine pairing is "perfect," and You, My Love, are the only thing perfect around these parts.

I once had a famous chef tell me that if you have great food and great wine, that was the perfect pairing. He was being facetious, but there's some truth in there. Worrying the combination to death robs the joy out of both the eating and the drinking. The great matches are few and far between and you know them when you have them, but imagining certain combinations will be perfect is silly. We are all far too different, with different sets of chemistry in our mouths, for there to be any food and wine universal truths.

Though I'd love to test your mouth's chemistry, seeing as how I admire it so.

I love you

Your HoseMaster

The Woo said...

Dude - I gotta say there are couple of those pairings that I love. Namely certain big Cali-Cabs with certain types of chocolate. Definitely not ALL red and ALL chocolate, but I love the right ones. For example, the Ramey Diamond Mountain with good (Maison du Chocolat) milk chocolate. Works well.

And, yes, Foie Gras and Sauterne (esp d'Yquem) is sublime for me. Really works well. Probably my ultimate pairing.

But at the end of the day, it's all about how it tastes in your mouth. For me, the above two works really well.

Champagne and Caviar? Not bad, but nothing special. I prefer Champagne and cheese, or SOME shellfish.

Gewurtz and Indian? No, I'm not down with that. Prefer beer with Indian. However German Reisling with Thai? Dude. Go to Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas and you'll see what I mean.

Welcome back by the way!

Charlie Olken said...

Hi Sam--

The beauty of the wine and food thing is that it is so individual, and also depends on which wine of the type you mention.

Foie Gras and Sauternes. I like any sweet wine with most foie preparations--Rieslings, Tokay, Sauternes, just as long as the acidity is there. Not all Sauternes are soft.

Cab and Chocolate--Okay. Some folks get off on that. Not me. I just don't get it. But, if folks do, good on 'em.

Slightly sweet wines with Indian food. Can't see how GWZ offends in that setting, though I am more likely to want beer as I tend to go for the hot end of the Indian spectrum. But, I don't see how a rich curry gets overwhelmed by GWZ.

Champagne and caviar and I get along famously. I am not a fan of vodka straight, no matter who makes it. By the way, did you know that the perfect foil for caviar is potato chips--no sour cream or creme fraiche with blini. Now, there is a case where the support foods get in the way of the flavors. I like the way the bubbles sort of blend with the salty, savory, earthy flavors of the caviar. No problem there for me.

Oh, and Zin with pulled pork. The vinegar issue is real. Good call on your part. BUT, it depends on the Zin. A big, fat, overripe Zin is a waste, but a firm, tight Zin like a Gary Farrell would work just fine. Vinegar and any wine is a problem. Whites don't solve that problem for me.

Anyway, great post as usual.

Samantha Dugan said...

Sorry for the delay in responding, been in a crazy...French winemaker and, "Holy fuck, was that 7th shot of Tequilla really needed" haze. Could not even feel my gums all afternoon, thinking it was best that I avoided the keyboard.

Ms. Whore,
I think my favorite fast food pairing would be Church's Freid Chicken and Camille Saves Champagne...damn, that just works me.

A rare, "spanking" from you...kinda dig it. I did not mean to imply that My way was better or those pairings are wrong, they just do NOT work for me...was just wondering if anyone else had the same feeling.

Sounds perfect to me dude.

The Woo,
Thank you, glad to be back. Your points, (along with Charlie's) are what I freaking dig about wine....no damn right answers. It works for you, not so much for me, pretty cool no? Also points out that NONE of us have the answers for each other.

You are too freaking cute and I hope my friends did not wreck you this evening. Hope you had a blast meeting my people and we are so hanging when you come back out.

Why is it that I always feel giddy when you post a comment?! Yer like a fancy wine writing guy and the fact that you read my silly blather just stuns me...thanks dude. I get what your saying, not unlike what Woo and Thomas are saying, (think I might have to go back and see if I was thumping my chest a tad too much) and if those things work for you, that's awesome...just something about those specific pairings that simply clash with my super savory palate and make both things taste less...well, just less.

Dude, you paint a picture...totally seeing people tossing around bits of duck. I could not agree with you more about the generic pairing thing...Chardonnay with seafood, like Romabuer Chardonnay?! Ewe, just ewe.

I never strive for the perfect, I am a pretty realistic person and that's why I get my, (perfect fitting) crunders in a bunch about the tossing out of, "classic" pairings...perfect for whom? Just bugs the crap outta me and clearly gets my juices all a flowing and junk. I assure you My Love, I am far from perfect...take as many tests as you like, still a silly chest thumping mess!

Thomas said...


I know. I was chiding for fun.

Despite what Charlie says, Champagne and caviar is a poor pairing--too much salt in the caviar--unless you have the opportunity to taste caviar directly from the Caspian Sea, which I did 30 years ago; that was not salty, more fatty-eggy and fine with the bubbles.

Other than that, sparkling wine almost pairs with everything!