Apologies for the minimal blogging lately. I just finished an intensive tasting period in the New York office, often tasting two flights a day, each day of the week over the past several weeks. The bulk of it was Rhône samples which will form the basis for my annual tasting report in the upcoming Nov. 30 issue.
I also got caught back up on submitted samples from the Loire, Bordeaux and South Africa, as well as a few dozen Sherries that will appear in our first formal tasting report on this small but unique category of wines, slated for the Dec. 15 issue.
Whew. After all that, it was time to take a week off and work on my rusty golf game. And of course, drink some wine.
Matching wine and food can be a daunting topic for newbie and seasoned wine lovers alike. Sure, there are basic tenets for some folks—red wine with meat, white wine with fish. But those have been largely eroded: How about a white Rhône with pork? Or Pinot Noir with Salmon? In addition, as cuisines from around the world have been popularized and assimilated in American cuisine, food has become more complicated. It's no longer enough to have a steak. Is it grass-fed or corn-fed? Broiled? grilled? And the sides—how about blue potatoes and pan-roasted okra? Suddenly it's head-scratching time when it comes to pulling a bottle.
Because of this, I try not to over festishize wine-and-food matching. Sometimes I might select the wine first and build the meal around that. Other times the meal comes first and I try to fit the wine. But basically I try to avoid conflict between the wine and food while aiming to just drink and eat what I like.
So the other night as Nancy prepped a tray of Thai-style pork and shrimp balls loaded with scallions, cilantro, Chinese black vinegar, soy and the like, I figured a white would do best. I was thinking Alsace.
"What do you want to drink?" I asked her.
"Pinot Noir of course," she said.
But a Pinot seemed like a bad match. I begged her to reconsider. I tempted her with a Zind-Humbrecht.
"Well, open the Pinot for me, the ZH for you, and we'll have a taste test," she offered.
She's a genius sometimes, I admit.
I opened up a 1999 Robert Chevillon Nuits-St.-Georges Les Vaucrains and a 2005 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Alsace Grand Cru Clos St.-Urbain Rangen de Thann.
The Pinot Noir, on its own, was lightly smoky, with a racy core of red currant and bitter cherry, and bright acidity still coursing through the finish. It was a wine of energy and nerve. In contrast, the Zind-Humbrecht was oily, with bitter almond, persimmon, tangerine and white peach flavors and a slight hint of sweetness. It was rounder and more caressing in feel, but no less lengthy.
For me, the ZH was the clear winner. It married with the food, working alongside the exotic range of flavors. The Burgundy was more of a rapier, cutting through the food while accentuating the hints of spice and salt.
Needless to say, while Nancy liked the ZH (a lot) she actually found the Burgundy to be the clear winning match.
"It cuts through the food, while the ZH just stands around it," she said, echoing my exact thoughts (she can finish my sentences for me sometimes too).
Which just goes to show, there's no need to overthink it. There's no right and wrong when it comes to wine and food. Some wines assimilate with the food while other wines play a different role. And people will like one or the other for their own reasons.
So, it seems having a little time off will have a productive side. There could be a wine-and-food taste test every night …