I was recently reading an article on millennials and how they’re not much into the whole food-wine-pairing mumbo jumbo. They generally prefer to drink their wine away from their food, or aren’t too concerned with how they go (or don’t go) together. I think the author, a millennial herself, is on to something and I can say I have seen this philosophy lived out in the lives of many close to me.
I’m not going to rush to call this error (though I lean in that direction). I will instead illustrate with an analogy that I thought up a few hours after having enjoyed a most congenial food-wine combination on a Sunday afternoon.
Ladies, think of a man of 6-7 ranking on a ten-point scale of physical attractiveness. Have someone in mind? Now you will admit that he is nice enough, but surely no one is thinking about tearing any clothes off on account of him. Skip to a new scene. Now you are at the wedding of a mutual friend and that same semi-handsome gentleman is a tuxedoed groomsman standing at the front of the church. There is a new sparkle about him and suddenly your thoughts are wandering to a less than ‘churchly’ place.
There is an undeniable synergy here. Ask yourself: What do you really want? Just men? Or, men in tuxedos? Or worse, men dressed in neon orange pants, Zach Morris high tops, and their grandpa’s sweater? Wine, wine paired well, or disaster?
Many wines, especially those coming from cultures in which wine and food are nearly an inseparable match (think France and Italy), are designed to go with food. They are made that way. Unless you enjoy the sensation of cottonmouth, who could stand to drink too much of an inexpensive Chianti on its own? But throw it with that spicy sausage lasagna and now we have easy Tuesday night magic.
I don’t always like it, but I insist on maintaining a populist view on wine. Though I choose to follow some rules, I don’t believe in a central board of wine snob dictators. You want a red wine to pair with your sushi? Internally I am going to judge you, but I am also going to try to help you get what you want in a wine. But cleanse your palate of that thought and I am going to talk about a pairing that actually works.
The wine is called Walden and it is an inexpensive red blend of Grenache and Carignan (happens to be one of my fave grapes) from Roussillon. I was looking specifically for a medium-to-full-bodied French red to pair with a beef roast seasoned with herbs de Provence and served with a mélange of root vegetables. If I could grab those herby notes from the roast, especially the lavender, all the better. Walden promised a good pairing.
As I was finishing the roast, I poured a sip of the wine to taste. From the first sniff, Walden was energetic and eager to please. A sip gave me dark fruit, spice, nice velvety texture, and a smile-producing finish. This wine and my roast were going to be BFFs for sure.
When a wine and a food are a proper match you can do the following (excuse the graphic detail): put a bite of food in your mouth and chew it up just a bit. Then take a sip of wine and let them cohabitate the space of your mouth. Suddenly you cannot help but marvel that two are better than one. You swallow and the delightful oneness stays with you. There is no competition, no offensive bitterness, no having to alternate back and forth between bite, chew, swallow, sip water, sip wine, sip water, take bite, ad infinitum.
Wine pairing is as much an art as a skill and it isn’t easy to master (I certainly haven’t). But let’s not throw it out all together as bourgeois and irrelevant. Practice, play with it, learn about it—only delight awaits, and that is reason enough.