Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Measuring Greatness

Been thinking about this quite a lot the past couple weeks. Several reasons but the most demanding, (I mean other than the elections) and immediate, the store’s Wine of the Year nominations/tasting/judging thingie. An event that is much anticipated by our customers, (therefore fun to do) but has never really made any kind of sense to me as I fall into Kermit Lynch’s mindset of “The best for what?” as far as labeling of wines goes. 

Okay so Wine of the Year is where each of The Wine Country’s buyers is charged with selecting a red, white, sparkling and sweet wine of the year. We make our selections, based on several factors, (not the least of which is availability) get together one evening after closing, pop corks, make a case for our wines and vote. I do it and as I said, I know lots of our customers really look forward to seeing the results, so it is something I can’t help but genuinely care about and like my other coworkers, take fairly seriously but best, as in “The Best”, within the context of wine enjoyment….well I just can’t be sure that I have that kind of palate wielding power that can make any kind of proclamations of bestiness. Just can’t and moreover…I really don’t believe greatness can or should be measured in that way. 

I sit at the table each year and listen as the results are read, often with a, “Really?! That one?!” look splashed across my mug, wondering who among my coworkers voted for that wine, I mean other than the one that nominated it of course, above all others in the category, my heart often breaking a little as the little bits of folded up secret ballot are discarded and with it the label “The Best” stripped from whichever wines weren’t voted for. Thankfully at our shop Randy lists all the nominees in the December newsletter, and we do a Saturday tasting that includes many of the selections, not just the “Winners” so our customers get a fair sampling of the wines we put forward as exceptional. Of course they won’t be tasting them as we did, one after the next, reds first, with slices of cold roast beef and turkey to clear, or muck with, their palates, so the wines may taste very different to them and their results could be totally different, just another reason these lists and labels make little or no sense to me….

I was feeling a little anxious last night, just bored with being home, over the television, avoiding the internet, (seems to be my new pastime that, avoiding the internet) suffering with a pretty serious case of the blahs which in turn makes me edgy. Did what I often do in those situations, headed to and got lost in my kitchen. Wrist deep in chopped veggies, the sound of my knife landing softly against my bamboo cutting block, my mind methodically clicking through the list of steps and ingredients as I prepped dinner for my family. A good sear on the pork loin, mushrooms thinly sliced, garlic smashed into a paste, vinegar at the ready for deglazing as I tossed the mushroom slivers into the screaming hot, loaded with leftover cooked pork bits pan. Watching the spongy mushrooms expand and retract, change from off white to brown, the scrapping of my wooden spoon, my nostrils and lungs pulling in thickly vinegary scented air as I poured in a glug of stock and gave a twist to the nob on the stove. Pork resting, sauce reducing, mustard and cream awaiting their turn in the skillet I turned my thoughts to wine and what best to pair with this somewhat humble but very flavorful dish. A quick rummage through my little wine fridge and my hand fell, almost magically, on just the bottle I needed….and the pairing, a measure of greatness. 

I sat alone at my dining room table, the guys opting to nosh before the basketball game on television, fork and barely needed knife in hand, cutting little tender bits of pork, taking a generous stab of mushrooms and pushing as much sauce as would stay put upon both before depositing them into my open and waiting jaw. Creamy, succulent, vibrant with acidity and vinegary, mustardy tang, the dish was mouth filling, demanding and genuinely soulful. I sat there once again thinking of all the great wines we nominated this year, “The Best” wines and while I am truly proud of the wines we picked, (actually one of the deepest and most thrilling set of wines we’ve had in some time) I knew not one of them would have paired more beautifully with my dish than the Roland Schmitt Pinot Gris I was drinking. Once again I found myself thinking of Kermit Lynch and, “Best for what?”

I just cannot believe that greatness can be measured by one for all. Greatness, like wine, isn’t a thing to me….it’s a moment and in that moment, that Pinot Gris was The Best. 


John M. Kelly said...

situational relativity = secular humanism. Don't you "believe" in absolutes?

Me neither.

Samantha Dugan said...

There are very few absolutes I believe in but one of them is I adore you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Love,
I just got really nervous at a post entitled "Measuring Greatness." I barely make "Popsickle stick" on that scale.

Turns out you meant wine.

OK, I can still hang out here.

I love you!

middle child said...

I just have to say that your description of the prep, cooking and eating the meal was wonderful. I could hear, taste and smell everything.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
You and your "stick"...or is it "schtick" no matter what size, are always welcome here Love. I love you so!

Middle Child,
Well thanks! Gotta toot my own horn, dinner was freaking awesome last night.

Thomas said...

That dinner must have been fantastic.

"Greatness" a word often motivated by aesthetics, and that absolute renders it meaningless.

If that makes sense, then one of us is sober.

Samantha Dugan said...

I'm far from sober so once again, I agree.

gabe said...

i often have this thought when i see dense, oaky, napa cabernet given high scores in a wine magazine. Sure, it got 98 points from the Spectator, but i wouldn't want that wine on my Thanksgiving table.
You know what I would want on my Thanksgiving table? cheap rose'

Samantha Dugan said...

Gabe Me Amigo,
Is there any article/column/blog post more ubiquitous than the fucking Thanksgiving and wine pairing one?! So freaking over it and the bottom line, no one wine is going to pair with that schizophrenic meal, period. Turkey? Sure, whatever you want, it's a simple and subtle meat, hell I'll even ignore the (half cocked and wonky-eyed crazy) suggestion of Zinfandel if we were just talking turkey. It's the other crap that mucks with wine pairing, so yeah, drink what you like.

This year I am doing Champagne (any idea how much cooler the in-laws are after a bottle of Champagne? No? Oh, then get you some) Vouvray, Lambrusco and a red Burgundy for cheese. Keeping it easy which is what works for me on Thanksgiving. Thanks for popping by kid.

William said...

Mmmmm. I'm hungry now. Thanks. This was a great read. Think I'll try making it.
Miss seeing you. Hopefully I'll get to the store someday soon.

Samantha Dugan said...

It was truly easy to make really and with the weather turning as it is down here, just kind of food that makes me think and feel Fall. I hope you do come in soon, that smile, well it always does me good.

Valerie said...

It's just like when people ask me "what wine is your favorite?" or "What are the best wines?" Hate those questions. Depends on the food, moment, season, company, all of it. Last night you nailed all of those things with that sexy PG. Also agree with you on the Thanksgiving (schizo) meal. Had a decent sparkling (Gamay/Poulsard) from Savoie last week that I thought could only liven up what (to me) is a boring, overdone gluttony and good gawd wash down that ever awful green bean casserole. I'd go Vouvray any day and am infusing some Asian flavors into our (even more schizo) meal. So sue me. xo

Samantha Dugan said...

OH man, Thanksgiving is simply a nightmare wine meal. Too much shit happening all at once on most tables. I have to say that I get neither that horrid sweet potato bull crap or the soupy green bean gunk so my table is actually pretty easy. I was toying with doing a Thanksgiving piece for fun but....not sure I have it in me.

gabe said...

Lol! I love the stupidity of the Thanksgiving wine article. As if somebody is going to write an article about why muscadet is the best Thanksgiving wine, and nobody will ever drink Chardonnay on Thanksgiving again.

I always have a theme for Thanksgiving, more for my wine-geek pleasure than for any other reason. Last year was riesling Thanksgiving, and the acidity provided an excellent balance to the pounds of butter and cream sitting on the table. This year will be rose' Thanksgiving, because it seemed like a fun idea. Champagne does sound fantastic, that might be next Thanksgiving.

Great blog post Samantha. It's nice to read your writing again. You're great at what you do, keep up the good work

Samantha Dugan said...

Awe, thanks kid....think I needed to hear that.

Charlie Olken said...


Sorry to be late to the party, but I know I won't be trying to make that meal--ever.

As much as I like to cook, and love Therry's cooking far more than mine, I don't think we can get to the sounds and succulence of the cooking process as described.

It is truly lovely to see your beautiful writing. No wonder I can't cook like you. I can't write like you.

By the way, your Thanksgiving meal choices are surprisingly parallel to mine--as you know since you were so kind to stop by my blog topic on that subject.

We are doing Champers/sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Viognier--all from CA except a couple of bottles of Champers because, no matter how well we can now make it here, there is still something beautiful and impossible to imitate in great Champers.