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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
12/15/2010
Wine and Food Wednesday
Let The Experts Speak
       ~~But Not Too Loudly

By Stephen Eliot

Last week, Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer checked in with an interesting article entitled “Free at Last! Free at Last!” wherein he blasted the latter-day view and practice of food-and-wine pairing as being overly fussy, patently intimidating and largely the fault of the French. A “miserable matter” he claims, and, to some extent, I must admit that find myself in fair agreement. The notion that a good wine will go very well with many foods is a maxim to embrace, and, as long as a bit of common sense is employed (no oysters and Syrah for me, thank you very much), there is an astonishing range of possibilities for pleasure when a fine bottle comes to the table.

The world has become both larger and smaller than it was but a generation or two back, and by that I mean that there is an extraordinary number of fine wines and fascinating foods to be had from all points on the globe, and they are available in most every market. And, as Mr. Kramer points out, but for the caution that the extreme examples of either are likely to make for more limited pairing options, the path to pleasure is a broad one indeed.

At the close of his piece, Kramer takes an unkind swipe at those writers and sommeliers whose “elaborate pairings and rationales” are seen as means to enslave an insecure public and to thus justify their own existence. Hmm, here’s where it gets a little uncomfortable. It too often comes down to this, as we read Kramer, the public needs and wants saving from self-impressed “experts”. It is a repetitive and tiresome call that leads too easily to the idea that everyone should be their own expert—a populist rallying cry to tear down the walls of the elite.

I am and have been for a good many years been a student of food and wine, and I for one do not believe for a minute that I know it all. I am always willing to listen to what a sommelier has to say and read whatever a wine-pairing writer might pen, and I still take enormous delight in learning something new. When I go to a fine restaurant, it is not about calories, it is about entertainment and involving myself in the art that speaks to me most. I could choose to ignore what a sommelier has to tell me in the faith that observing a few basic rules will avoid a wine and food clash, but that hardly ensures those epiphanal, my-god-this-is-good moments that are what I secretly seek. The good sommelier who listens rather than tells, the one that knows his or menu as well as the cellar, and a writer that has acquired a broad base of knowledge seem assets that are a shame to waste.

Now, I do not believe Mr. Kramer meant that we should throw all food and wine pairing advice out the window and that all sommeliers and writers should be summarily dismissed, but I feel the need to offer at least a small voice for their appreciation. I expect that good writers and sommeliers have and will survive because of a simple free market lesson. If what they say makes sense to enough people enough of the time, then they will be heard. If not, well, they will and should be out of business. Experience teaches, and experienced teachers are worth listening to. Most folks are capable of sorting through advice and opinion and finding their own particular truth without the need of “saving”. That’s what wine and food advice is. It is simply advice.

You can find Mr. Kramer's article at http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/44178.

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