A Frenchman Walks into a Bar in Mendocino, and…
My wife and I were recently in a winery tasting room in Mendocino County enjoying several wines and a gentleman from France joined us at the tasting bar. This producer happened to offer a cool-climate Syrah mixed with 20% cool-climate Zinfandel and Viognier. A very light style of wine, with the Zin adding a brighter red fruit character. I remarked that I wished I had a bottle of this wine to pair with our Turkey and stuffing dinner from a few nights before… and wow, both the attendant and the Frenchman laughed out loud!
Is Food & Wine Pairing THAT Different in the U.S.?
At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but it stuck with me and eventually had me thinking about the nature of food – wine pairings. Is a Sommelier‘s job different in Europe vs. the United States? Does the European restaurant patron look for something different, than their American counterpart? I began turning over my Somm training in my head and realized, there really are two separate and distinct points of view to this discussion:
When pairing with foods, wines should contribute to mouth-feel, exhibit balance to complement the food textures, but primarily – the wine should clear the palate between bites. The idea being: clearing the palate with wine allows you to fully experience the flavors of the food in each bite.
When pairing with foods, wine should compliment the flavors in the food and ENHANCE its enjoyment. In this case, a wine is selected based on pairing the wine and food flavors so the whole is tastier than the parts.
I know EXACTLY what that Frenchman was thinking… in his mind, that fruit-forward wine interfered with the taste of the food. I thought back to his preferred wines at the tasting bar. He purchased the most acidic Pinot Noir that was the least fruity and the best balanced (BTW, I enjoyed it too). His thinking regarding the pairing was completely at odds with mine. Lighter Zins (with good acidity) are a great pairing with turkey and gravy, because the wine compliments the food. These two people were so against that kind of thinking, that they had laughed when it was suggested. A strange experience, but very instructive.
Another Wine Job That Requires an Understanding of Cultural Preferences?
Sometime back, I wrote a piece on the cultural differences affecting the wine marketing and media manager position. So, now the Somm position is affected by this too? OK, I am not saying my preference here matches everyone in the U.S., but the wine education training I have done, has shown it to be true – at least in my small sample. Does this mean Somm training and certification should include the regional and cultural preferences of local wine consumers, NOT just regional cuisine? Could this also mean, there is no one definitive training approach to content that will apply to both the Old and New Worlds?
For the professional Somms reading this, what has your experience been? Am I painting to broad a brush on the issue? I don’t read much talk about this on wine related websites. Is this observation and discussion relevant?