The Emperor Has No Wine (April 28, 2016)
Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Maybe it's because I'm becoming less patient as the years go by. Or maybe it's because the Emperor really has no wine.
This is all a prelude to confessing that I no longer have the time or the energy for all the Jesuitical debate over the finer points of wine and food pairing.
When I would go out to dine I used to pore over the wine list before I looked at the menu; and once I had selected the wine I'd engage the sommelier in a Socratic exchange as to the best match for the dish I had finally chosen – much to the irritation of my wife Deborah, who would attack the bread basket to quell her hunger pangs as the discussion reached the half-hour mark.
OK, so I exaggerate, but the point is that wine had become too serious a pursuit. Looking back, I was en route to becoming a wine bore. (There should be a phone number you can call if and when you become self-aware of this syndrome: something like Windbags Anonymous.)
By deconstructing the recipe for, say, osso buco and then trying to find a wine that would marry perfectly with its combination of veal shanks, onion, carrots, garlic, veal stock, tomatoes, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, bay leaf, grated fresh horseradish, grated lemon zest and flat-leaf parsley, you're wasting time that you could use to be having fun (like talking to your spouse/partner/friend over the dinner table).
This obsession with finding the perfect wine match is rather like deconstructing the rainbow colour by colour to understand how beautiful it is. In the words of that great 20th century philosopher, Paul McCartney, "Let It Be."
In short, let's bring the fun back to wine and stop with the tendentious food-and-wine mantras.
The Europeans have the right idea. Order the food; order the wine you like to drink. But then the wine regions of Europe generally offer the wines that they make locally – wines that naturally match the food that's grown locally. What, for instance, could be a more perfect match for tomato-based pastas than the Sangiovese grape of Tuscany or the Nebbiolo of Piemonte? No need for discussions.
In Portugal, where the per capita consumption of cod is 30 kilos per year, they invariably will plonk down a bottle of red wine on the table. And it works even if the cod is covered with mussels.
Trust me when I say that Dionysus will not descend on a cloud and smite you with a vine stalk if you're caught drinking red wine with fish. A red wine with high acidity works well with most fish. And if you want to accentuate the acidity in a red wine, chill it down. A chilled Beaujolais or a chilled Valpolicella will go nicely with grilled salmon.
The concept of a seven-course tasting menu with a sommelier-selected glass of wine with each dish is a recipe for disaster – on many levels. First, your palate is assaulted by a multitude of flavours so that you get sensory overload and if – as was the case when my wife and I visited a friend's restaurant in New York City – they leave each bottle on the table, you roll out of the place hoping you can still find your hotel key, let alone a taxi.
Full disclosure: Like most right-minded people, my wife and I have a bottle of wine with dinner every night. I don't worry about grape varietals any longer; I just ask her what would she prefer, white or red? And in summer, I add rosé. I pour it; we drink it and enjoy life.
Why, you may ask, do we have a bottle of wine every night? The pH of wine is similar to the pH of our stomach acid. Wine aids digestion. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.