Tag Archives: Wine Food Pairing

Can You Identify Wines Matching Your Taste? Part 1 – Wine Without Food

2011-07-06-wine

Wine online has become such a gimmicky topic. Today, we have wine questionnaires that profess to tell us which wine we will prefer. If we like strong coffee, or bitter dark chocolate, we will enjoy this wine, or that… such bull. Many trained wine professionals choose to define wine styles by defining categories of wine. I will try something similar, but approach it from the opposite viewpoint: by categorizing wine enthusiast preferences. This two part series will break the issue apart into primary categories: those who enjoy wine by itself and those who prefer wine with food. This will be my opportunity to share a few observations with you from my experience.

With Food, or Not?

The first question your server in a restaurant should always ask is: “Will you be enjoying a beverage before, after, or with your meal tonight?” Next, “Beer, wine, cocktail?” For those answering wine with your meal, the final question should be: “to assist you with a wine selection, which dish(es) are you considering?” These questions are at the core of what a properly trained fine dining waiter/waitress does: pair food and wine… but not everyone in the U.S. drinks wine with food. So, unlike most Old World restaurants/bars, a U.S. wine service attendant has to think differently and broaden their mind to include clients that drink wine before, or after a meal, or those who drink wine like many beer drinkers: “I just want to go out today/tonight, hang-out and have a few.”

Which Type of Drinker are YOU?

Wine produced in Europe in traditional Old World styles is specifically made to taste its best when paired with food. Although, there are many European wines made to drink without food today, all the traditional labels are meant to be food friendly. Keep this in mind, when you are searching out a new wine to try. How do you determine if your palate is geared to wine with food? If you are a “Foodie” that can appreciate nuanced, or bold vs. subtle flavors, or velvetty vs. silky textures, or enjoy sweet & salty together, or appreciate how acidity breaks through richness… if you are not drinking wine with food, you should give it a try. If you enjoy wine on its own, it is likely you experience alcoholic beverages differently than “Foodie” types. I believe there are two categories here. Those who: enjoy how wine (or alcoholic beverages) makes them feel, or those that focus on how it tastes.

All About the Wine Experience?

The focus on experiencing wine without food puts you in the “feel” category. When you prefer to enjoy a conversation over a glass of wine, relax with or without friends taking in atmosphere and enjoying social pursuits, you are unlikely to be a wine drinker overly concerned about structure in wine, or looking for complex/subtle flavors. In fact, many I have run into with this preference, find these types of wines annoying. This isn’t wrong, bad, or unsophisticated, it is just who you are – embrace it. It is probably the largest category of wine drinker in the U.S. It is OK to be all about finding good atmosphere and drinking straight-forward, easy-drinking wines. So, how do you find these wines and stay away from the others? Wine critics are unlikely to review lower-cost, simple wines. This is a serious missing piece in wine culture: professionals typically don’t review this category of wine. In my opinion, this is a contributor to many wine drinkers being turned-off by the supposed high-brow attitudes in the biz. Here are some mandatory descriptors for wines like this, if you can find a review:  low to medium acidity, little or no tannins and fruit-forward (fruity taste first).

All About the Taste?

A little more “complex” may be good for you. This kind of consumer should put a little effort into exploration, attend wine tastings and decide whether you enjoy the common categories of these flavors: earthy (dirt, bramble), mineral (crushed rock), funk (forest floor/manure), kerosene (petrol), herbal/spice (mint, pepper/cinnamon), vegetal (tobacco, tomato) and floral (violets, honeysuckle). For this category of drinker, the next two elements are most critical: residual sugar (sweetness) and high/low alcohol. The usual easy-drinking wine has at least some residual sugar and an average alcohol content in these ranges: reds 13-15%, whites 12-14%. These characteristics contribute to the description you may want to learn that ensures the wine will taste “good” to you. For example, this request to an attendant: “I prefer low acid, low tannin, fruit-forward wines that have some residual sugar and are easy-drinking.”

Suggested Wines

This category of consumer will likely enjoy these easy-to-find U.S. origin wines. Examples: Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine & Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandels, Apothic Red (sweet & buttery – if you like that), Meiomi Pinot Noir (rich style vs. other PN), Andrew Murray Tous Les Jours Syrah, Robert Hall Cuvee de Robles, Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast, Twisted & Chateau Souverain Chardonnays, Handley Anderson Valley Gewurtztraminer or Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling (for a little adventure) .

This is probably the best website on the net to find this type of wine reviewed: https://www.reversewinesnob.com/ . Enjoy!

Next up:

Part 2 – Wine with Food

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New and Old World Style Food – Wine Pairings?

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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:

1st View

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.

2nd View

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?

Feedback

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?

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Filed under Food Pairing, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting