“A couple of people from my wine group didn’t want to sign up for your event because of that one time when you paired a beer with one of the cheeses” a fairly regular customer talking to me as she perused the reservation book for my upcoming class, scribbling the initials of her group next to the names of its members. She didn’t say it in a snide tone, just matter of fact, there were a few people, “wine people” so offended by the fact that I would pour a….GASP, beer for a pairing event that they were going to take a pass on the whole event this time. Say what?! I flipped the pages of the reservation book and was instantly made to feel better when I hit the last page, the full waiting list. Name upon name of people, couples and friends that were hoping to get a seat on the off chance that someone cancelled, “Well I guess they showed me” I said with a smirk.
This is where wine people, or I should say, “wine people” piss me right the hell off. Piss me off and actually show me how not into wine they really are. There are all kinds of wine lovers and while I do my best to respect and value them all, this snooty sub set of wine idealist, well they are the actual wine snobs and I have very little respect for that. These are the folks that look down their nose at everyone waving or sipping a cocktail or a beer at a sports bar while they raise their glasses of Truck Stop Red, or whatever craptastic house wine is being served by the glass, bottle probably open for over a week, doesn’t matter, needs to be wine and almost always needs to be red, you know to prove how sophisticated and classy they are. Asswads. As someone that has been in this business for a very long time, and is fiercely passionate about wine I’m not about to drink a shitty glass of anything just to prove I’m a “wine person”. If the options are, “Red, White or Blush” I’m getting a damn Gin & Tonic, period. Wine isn’t a thing to me, not a drink or symbol, it’s about flavors, both on their own and how they pair with food and as a true wine lover, I know that wine has limitations and I would never disrespect a wine, or worse decimate it, but shoving into a place it doesn’t belong. If you want to, go for it, but don’t act as if you are a “wine person” and don’t get your nose out of joint when a specialist tells you that wine might not be the best choice. It is our job as wine specialists to teach and sell wine, giving crappy pairing advice does neither.
Tonight I am giving a seminar on wine and cheese pairing, we do two a year, one an informal stand up tasting on a Saturday afternoon which is often slammed and rather chaotic and then one on a Friday evening, seated and with much more one on one interaction. These Friday night events sell out nearly as fast as my fried chicken and Champagne ones so I know we will be fielding “Did any seats free up?” phone calls all afternoon. Phone calls from people that are actually into wine and how it pairs with food, not people that would shudder at and toss their nose in the air at the very thought of tasting a beer in that setting. So real wine people that are there to learn, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have them. Only wish I had more space!
These events are always a ton of work, both physically, as we need to slice, scoop, cube and prepare the cheese plates/platters, but they also kick my ass in that brain drain kind of way. Really taxes my skills and stretches me professionally and I must confess, I fucking love that part. Sure I could just throw ten cheeses out there and grab a few bottles of this or that and people might still be happy…ten wines and ten cheeses, what’s not to love right? But the thing is, if I’m going to put my name on this seminar I want it to be as perfect as humanly possible. I have one coworker that breaks my balls every time I do these wine & cheese pairing deals, kind of laughs at me as I scurry about, popping corks and breaking off pieces of cheese, stress over the lineup, “Now if I put the Roaring 40s Blue Cheese before the Reblochon, the wines are going to be out of order” and change the order eight times, “You know Sam, it really doesn’t matter” his chide. May not matter to him and he can do his events as he wishes but I take this stuff pretty seriously and feel I have an obligation to those in attendance to show that there really is a science to these things, a chemistry to why things will and will not work with certain wines, to teach and share what years of being both a wine and cheese buyer have taught me. Not to mention I believe it really does matter and when you have a successful pairing, you not only sell more wine, you know, because it tastes good, but you can also help people “Get it” and that right there, well it can inspire more real wine lovers and there is something so very gratifying in that for me.
None of us are in this business for the big dollars, hell many of us pour a huge percentage of our paychecks right back into the pot as it were, and for me it’s all about my love of wine, cheese, food pairings and the very real pleasure I get from helping others get their happy palate on….even when I have to say, “You know, wine just isn’t appropriate here”. Not going to let myself be too upset by the snobby set that uses wine as a symbol, a class marker of sorts and am instead going to keep doing as I have been, keep focusing on pairing and a wine's place….won’t beat up a wine by trying to smash it into some status hole where it doesn’t belong and keep teaching those that wish to listen. I’ll trade a “I’m too fancy to drink craft beer” person for the, “You know I always liked wine but learned to love it after coming here” one at my pairing events….any day.
As I wrestled with one of my all-time favorite cheeses yesterday afternoon, groaned over how deliciously rich and intoxicatingly luscious it was and then took sips with this wine and that only to have my beloved cheese go starkly metallic, fiercely ugly and unappealing, making me want to do a Tom Hanks move from the movie Big and grab a napkin to wipe the gross from my tongue, wondering where all the beautiful caramel and toffee notes in the cheese went, I knew what needed to be done. I thought of those folks that were annoyed with the last event because I opted to pair a beer with a particular cheese, flinched a little and felt a pang of, “I don’t want to upset anyone but” took another bite of that powerful and mouth coating cheese, let it spread across my palate, “Sweet, deep caramel and toffee, crunchy little crystalline bits, wicked intensity. This needs a porter or a stout”. Beer, it had to be a beer. I played around a little longer, tried a few other things but it was a smoked porter with vanilla bean that was by far the better match. Bit of a quandary considering the last time I featured a beer it left a bad taste in someone’s mouth. Mulled it over, kicked it about but in the end I had to go with the better pairing seeing as it is a seminar about pairings and all.
I like to think that I’ll never be too old or too snooty to learn something myself, I did take a lesson from those beer protesters. I am going to offer two things with that cheese flight, a wine and that smoked porter, a lesson for the group as to why there are times when wine just isn’t the right choice when it comes to food pairing, no matter how much you love the stuff.
Fearing the backlash but believing in and standing behind that pairing….wish me luck!