A few comments from readers outside the U.S. highlighted the cultural bias I showed in this piece. So, for my readers outside the U.S., I decided to write a follow-up with that in mind…
I have written before about cultural differences and how it affects wine culture and wine jobs around the world. It is difficult to shed the result of our up-bringing. My point has always been – evaluating the quality of a wine is the same around the world, but whether it is enjoyed with or without food… or which foods pair best to local palates – are not simple questions with easy answers.
I took many cultural “liberties” in the previous piece, assuming a shared understanding. Also, I SHOULD have offered an evaluation regarding the best wine-food pairing… As a starting point, keep in mind, all four wines were essentially Bordeaux style blends, the wines were similar in profile and this style of wine pairs well generally with red meat.
When I hold a tasting of varietally similar wines like these, it definitely allows a focus on evaluating structure and balance vs. flavors/aromas. A more technical approach, but one I prefer. If you read my tasting notes, I ALWAYS discuss the structure and balance of the wine – regardless of the pairing. I tend to evaluate wines based on how well they are made vs. how much I enjoy them. This is the FIRST concept I was taught in formal Sommelier training. The French wine was BY FAR the best balanced wine at the table. So, in a tasting of similar style wines, it offered the best wine-food pairing of the four. Which wine did I enjoy the most without food? The 1993 Beringer Private Reserve.
In my opinion, this “Cultural Bias” is the biggest challenge that a wine professional can face when trying to bridge the chasm between Old and New World locations: accommodating the local wine culture. This affects every discipline in the wine industry, affecting how the wine is made, how it is marketed, serving decisions… Perhaps, this thinking explains the importance of an involved U.S. importer to a European producer.
In the U.S., it is more common to enjoy wine without food. One of the challenges I had to overcome in my training, but it also affects how I approach evaluating wine for my U.S. audience. I believe there are a few ideas differentiating wine drinkers in the U.S. from many other locations around the world:
1) A significant share of the wine consumed in the U.S. is enjoyed before, or after dinner, without food.
2) Americans are looking for a less formal and relaxed wine experience.
3) When paired with food, wine flavors should enhance food flavors, rather than just complement the flavors. Wine is not often consumed primarily to clear the palate as is common in Europe.
In closing, I was asked for a better description of the food prepared and enjoyed with the wines. So, here it is:
Beef Short Ribs – braised with a balsamic reduction for 3 hours in a pressure cooker. They were rich, meaty, and very tender.
Mac & Cheese – a uniquely American comfort food. This is an extremely rich pasta dish made with butter, cream and lots of cheese. In this case we made the pasta from scratch vs. pre-packaged.
Succotash – another uniquely American dish. A mixture of corn, butter beans (we subbed cannelloni) and okra (we subbed zucchini) in a light butter sauce with salt pork flavoring.