. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: Why did you choose that wine?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why did you choose that wine?

Over time, young men come to know the rule that states, plain and simple: the old guys know the exceptions. This apparently simple phrase has opened up a new horizon in my wine education; I remember the general pairing rules that I learned as kid were - red for meat and white for fish, no artichoke or fennel, and beware of lemon... and caviar goes with vodka. Pretty straight forward, but maybe a little TOO straight forward. One thing I've learned is that exceptions confirm the rule... so where are the exceptions in the pairing world? That is what I've learned with time and casual pairings.
After many bad pairings and few lucky ones, I can still remember a great one from when I was 18 (in Italy we do not have age limits for alcohol - Mom and Dad take care of that) in a small but great restaurant in the Porto Ercole called Bacco, in Toscana. The pairing placed an Alsatian Gew├╝rztraminer next to Mediterranean lobsters, and it was divine. To tell the truth, I learned that combination from my father, an Alsatian wine lover who, along with my uncle Riccardo, used to ravage the vineyards, filling the car with cases of wine at least once per year. They were the ones who told me about crustaceans and aromatic wines.
So, I was saying - after many years I learned slowly but surely the exceptions, the grey areas, the fine line of pairing where you can play with your creativity. Ironically, I was also learning that as a person, although I didn't leave the black and white comfortable ground in my life for few more years. Inside, I had an uneasy feeling of the fear of the new. So I carried on, holding on to my beliefs until I was ready to fly solo. A big help during that time came once again from Luciano AKA Il Frasca, a wonderful friend. When I was in charge of Il Bagatto's wine lists, we had a long conversation about pairing red wines with fish - a conversation that, like a fever, entered my soul and grwe strong with time.
Eric Asimov, in his blog The Pour wrote:
"Twenty years ago – back when critics used to talk of the wine “marrying’’ the food — I used to take this business of pairing foods and wines more seriously than I do now. I used to try for precise matches, carefully analyzing the characteristics of the food and conjuring up wines that offered sufficient compatibility, or contrastability, to achieve semi-perfection. But I tired of this approach. Or more precisely, it bored me out of my mind. My eyes still glaze over when I read some treatise outlining the supposed principles of food and wine pairing. I prefer a far more casual, instinctive approach."
I believe, judging from Eric's sentiments, that he got the same fever I did. He is right about the instinct, which is also supported by years of experience. You don't ask why you choose something anymore, you don't run the rules in your head, but instead you start to FEEL the wine - you have a sip and the pair will materialized in your mind... you think of an occasion and the bottle unveil like magic before your eyes. It's happened many times in my fairly short life with an increasing average as I grow, and I really spent a lot of time analyzing the change. But last Monday, my thinking began to shift. I was having a great lunch at Balthazar (definitely among my top 3 places in New York) with S. and ordered a 1990 Bourgogne Rouge 1er cru (sorry, I didn't take pictures, and I forgot the name:) with "Le Grand": two stories of delicious seafood, including oysters and other delicious raw delicacies.
So S. asks me "have you had this wine before?"
"Nope," I said. "I actually like to pick things I haven't tried before when I trust the list."
Then, innocently she asked "so why did you choose this wine?", and I stumbled a bit on my answer. I thought, well... I knew the plate, because I had had it many times before, and I did experience red wine with oysters (read here). I had also had a heavier wine like the Marion Cabernet Sauvignon with mackerel, and that worked great, but none of those thoughts actually answered her question. So I smiled and said, "I don't know, but it worked, right?!!!"
And indeed, the Pinot Noir was integrating well with everything we had in front of us, including the company.
Then I read the Asimov article, and realized that I followed my intuition, just like I've been following it for quite some time now. I don't have a scholastic approach to wine - I just let the wine or the wine list talk to me, more then trying to talk to it. Yes... a good wine list will talk to you, and allow you to freely choose without preconceptions... and yes, a wine will talk to you about his home, the year, the problems and the good parts of it, the stressful periods and the happy ones and whatever else may have happened during its life, until the moment you drink it. Once you learned how to listen, I believe the wine will actually call to you, wherever the bottle is... in your cellar, in a shop or written on a list.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that instead of just tasting a wine and use your knowlege to formulate a judgment, it might be more useful sit back drink the wine and feel what it has to say to you. Am I being too romantic??? Maybe. But what actually is the essence of wine, other than a never ending romantic story?

Buona Bevuta a Tutti!!!

No comments: