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Wine And Food Wednesday
Is Anyone Paying Attention?

By Stephen Eliot

We usually reserve our rants for Monday, but I doubt that I can contain myself for another week. I worry that my angst will diminish, and I really do not want to succumb to libertarian notions that gastronomic beauty is solely in the eye of the beholder. Maybe, it is that I just cast my ballot in this year’s election, and I am feeling queasy about political puffery claiming that knowledge, experience and expertise are vastly overrated. Today, as it turns out, I am feeling rather reactionary about rules and standards and definitions of beauty. Yes, I still cannot and will not dispute the notion that whatever food and wine combination that excites is just fine, and I would never tell an individual that he or she is wrong, but when bizarre and unpleasant food and wine pairings are professionally pushed, then I shake my head and wonder.

I suppose, first and foremost, the popular press sometimes leaves me baffled and even a bit angry, and, yes Samantha, Food and Wine Magazine’s recommendation of Syrah as a dandy Thanksgiving drink did help trigger these thoughts. Syrah and turkey? Not on my table. Maybe Syrah teams up well with those canned sweet potatoes hiding beneath a blanket of melted marshmallows. I wouldn’t know. Samantha, I do not receive said publication, but after reading your rant, I just might so I can have the satisfaction of subsequently canceling my subscription. The point is not that the writer in question is wrong for liking this food and wine “match”, but that they are recommending it to a very large audience and should know better than to believe that most diners would agree. A professional journalist, I think, has some responsibility for knowing to whom they are speaking and understanding what are, at least, the general outlines of something we might call the “physiology of human taste”.

The lack of the latter is also painfully obvious in professional venues where you would think sensibilities might especially heightened, and, dear readers, you would be truly surprised at some of the perfectly dreadful wine dinners that we endure. Most recently, in fact, and the true genesis of these musings, we attended a gala gathering at a Napa Valley winery and were served a 25-year-old Cabernet as a first-course accompaniment to a cauliflower and brussel-sprout salad bathed in a grapefruit dressing!?!? Then Cabernets from the early to mid 1990s were brought out as a foil to seared sea bass and spaghetti squash. Folks, such pairings are beyond creative and avant garde and into the realm of cluelessness. By the time the lamb course arrived, my palate was dry as dust, my fondness for Cabernet was gone for the night and utter befuddlement had replaced hunger.

I guess that the point of my semi-cathartic ramblings today is to reiterate the notion that a few simple tried-and-true guidelines go a long way in making mealtimes more pleasurable, and, as I constantly remind my culinary students, do not worry that something might be wrong with you when a “professional” comes up with a food-and-wine pairing so discordant that you wonder as to just what and if they were thinking.


by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/3/2010 8:54:24 AM

Stephen, an aged Cabernet and grapefruit dressing....ewe. What the hell was the goal with that pairing?! Sure as shit could not have been to make the food or the wine taste better. Maybe the wines were just so crappy that they opted to confuse? Utter crap. I'm doing a wine and cheese pairing class tonight and I start out by showing people a good and bad pairing. I have them drink Sancerre with Bucheron, (semi aged goat cheese) and explain that the two things together taste as good if not better than they did on their own. I then have them drink the same lovely Sancerre with should see their faces. All I have to say then is, "That my friends is a bad pairing. See, there is something to this whole pairing thing". Now if we could just do the same with chefs.....

Why the cluelessness?
by VickiB
Posted on:11/3/2010 8:43:11 PM

This seems to me like it goes beyond aesthetics or preferences. I don't like Bordeaux or Cabernets in general, but I understand them, and that they have a particular effect on food. It's like art, really. I don't like all art styles, but I can understand and discuss them, and know why they are valued, or good, or valid, whatever.

But there's also nonsense. I know it when I see it visually, and I know it when I read about it (Cauliflower and what?).

and, Sam, what's really the deal with chefs who don't get wine? I watch Top Chef. I pay attention to the intellectual process. These people can conceptualize the relationships of flavors before they even start putting meals together. And they can't analyze wine? And pair it?

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