When I heard that Shirley Sarvis died last week at 77, it brought back memories of when I first started to investigate wine and food connections. It was the 1970s and not many of us were writing about it. Wine writers sometimes commented briefly on good matches when they came across them, but seldom tried to explain why they worked. Fewer food writers ventured into writing about wine. Sarvis was one of the rare kindred souls who had sound grounding in both camps.
It looked as if it were just going to be another trade tasting, a collection of importers sampling familiar wines to the trade. Wine Australia, which promotes Aussie wines around the world, expected about 150 sommeliers, retailers and wine media to the event in San Francisco Monday. More than 351 accepted the invitation.
The buzz there was palpable. Imagine, San Francisco sommeliers, notorious for seeking the most obscure wines they could find, excitedly sipping Margaret River Chardonnays, Hunter Valley Sémillons, even a Mornington Peninsula Dolcetto. And yes, Barossa Valley Shiraz. In recent years, as Australia's fortunes took a hit, one could hear crickets chirping at this annual event. Not this time.
Leave it to us privileged foodies to complain about getting too much. The complaint-of-the-month club's latest rant, careening about the Interwebs, zeroes in on famous chefs who keep us strapped to our chairs in their dining rooms, force-feeding us dozens of exquisite courses.
Really. I am not making this up. (Except for the part about being strapped to our chairs.)
Recently I was enjoying lunch with some friends in one of New York's classier Italian restaurants. Asked to pick an appropriate white wine to drink with the antipasti, I scanned the excellent list and homed in on Terredora Greco di Tufo Loggia della Serra 2010, made from an ancient grape variety grown in vineyards surrounding Mt. Vesuvius in the Campagna region of Italy. I knew the wine from previous vintages. It typically shows more depth than most, while retaining the grape's natural freshness.
I tasted it and smiled. Exactly what it should be, no cork problems. Poured around the table, it got almost unanimous approval. Except for one person, a veteran of many years selling Italian wines. He complained that he hated it when Italian winemakers used oak on wines traditionally made to be fresh.
That stunned me. I tasted no oak, and gently suggested that he try another sip. "I don't like it," he insisted. "It's too oaky." The kicker? The wine was made in stainless steel.