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Wine and Food Wednesday
My Balanced Wine Goes With Food—-Does Yours?

By Stephen Eliot

I’m right and you’re wrong. There are objective and immutable truths about which wines do and do not go with food. Nobody out and out says it, but the message, however implicit and veiled, seems to be just that. Alcohol levels and the ethereal, impossible-to-define notion of “balance” are the watchwords of the day, and have become the rallying cries of those altruistic souls who would save us from ourselves. Among the more damnable sins that a wine can commit, we are increasingly told, is that it is too soft, too fruity and too ripe to be enjoyed with food. It doesn’t matter that it may be tasty on its own, but foodworthiness is that which is to be most prized.

Now, I must admit that while I enjoy an occasional glass or two without a plate before me. I do, however, find that the marriage of great wine and great food is what excites me most, and the search for the same is the greatest pleasure of all. All the same, I am perplexed by the oft-heard claims that a wine that cannot be enjoyed on its own can suddenly be made beautiful when teamed with this or that meal; that there are wines that are only good for drinking on their own and others that are good only if drunk with food. In my book, good wine is good wine. A silly notion, perhaps, but one to which I increasingly subscribe.

My latest musings were triggered by a comment by Dan Berger regarding the red Loire wines about which I wrote last week. “The wines all were relatively crisp, light, and aimed at the dinner table. Indeed, before the food arrived, we appreciated the lovely aromas, but the wines weren’t fun to consume. Food, however, transformed them. And a key was that most of them were about 12.5 percent alcohol, roughly 2-4 points below most New World wines.”

Ah yes, the old alcohol bugaboo was again the point, but I am going to leave the issues of alcohol, acids, et al alone for the moment and address the curious idea that “wines that were not fun to consume” can be transformed by some immaculate grace of Bacchus and become sensuous delights by service with food.

There is no question this or that dish can help smooth off a wine’s acidy edges, soften the effects of blatant oak or help tame what at first seems to be runaway tannic astringency, and, I do believe that there are food-and-wine unions that can make a good wine look bad, but a bad wine, I think, will still be bad regardless of the tempering effects of food. At the dinner in question, the wines that tasted good with dinner tasted good on their own, and those that seemed thin when sipped by themselves were similarly thin when matched up with food. What lies at a fine wine’s heart, be it an expression of ripe fruit or place, must, it seems to me, be apparent and constant regardless of whether enjoyed alone or matched with an appropriate food.

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