Wine tastes different with food. This is a fundamental truth of life. Right up there with F=MA in my book (Newton’s second law of motion). Some wines are meant to be consumed with food, and really aren’t going to taste good on their own. I know this is an unbelievably obvious thing, and so really, why mention it?
Because when most of us go wine tasting we aren’t having wine with food. Okay, maybe those plain water crackers that they give you to ‘cleanse’ your palate. So how do you know if that wine you really think is wonderful is actually going to go with the food you want to serve it with? Or worse yet, what about that wine you tasted that you though ‘blech!’ and immediately poured out – would it taste different, taste better, if you had drunk it after eating something?
This is one area that I think tasting rooms need to address more. I am seeing more events where there is a food pairing. The Four Graces had a great event last weekend – Crab and Pinot Gris. It was for club members, and they had a number of different crab appetizers that went very nicely with their newly released 08 Pinot Gris (and Pinot Blanc). Pinot Gris is usually a semi-dry to dry white, usually with balanced acidity and citrus overtones. A good Pinot Gris is usually really good with somewhat spicy food, and is wonderful with buttery seafoods like crab. It was a great event, you got to taste the wine, get a little taste of food, and then taste the wine again to see the difference. It can literally be like tasting two different wines.
Many of the tasting room notes I am seeing now will tell you what they think will go with the wine they are tasting. A lot of these places have consulted local chefs who have provided a specific dish they think will go well. Again, nice – but what if I have never been to the restaurant, had the dish listed? I’m still in the dark, because let’s face it, some of these restaurants can get a little happy with the name of a dish.
In the absence of the actual food to try, give me a cuisine type – tell me that this sweet Riesling is going to be good with spicy foods, such as Thai. That great red blend? If you tell me that this is a great hamburger wine, I am going to be there for you. A red wine that goes great with burgers is pretty darn wonderful, not to mention a great way to make an everyday meal feel like a special one. Don’t believe me? Try Sokol Blosser’s Meditrina with a really good home made burger. Or Laurel Ridge’s Davids Table Wine. The spiced meatiness of the burger compliments the spice of the Syrah or Merlots that are often used in the blend. These two wines, quite drinkable on their own, become even better with the right food.
When I run the world, one of the first things I am going to do is insist that tasting rooms serve the foods they know their wines work best with. It is somewhat unreasonable, I know. It is expensive, messy, and yet one more thing for staff to deal with (along with drunken bridal parties, large groups dropping in with no warning, and people like me who want to yak). Until then, I will just have to be content with and vigilant in finding those special events that showcase wines with food.