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Wine and Food Wednesday
Great Wine Goes With Everything

By Charles Olken

I know a guy who says that great wine goes with everything—and to prove it, he will open a great bottle and drink it with everything from soup to nuts.

I am not that guy. But, he, who does follow that unorthodox practice, is a noted chef of a multi-star restaurant, and while I have been the recipient of his great wine and food pairings, he insists that breaking the mold is a good thing.

Tonight, I was confronted with something of a Hobson’s choice. Mrs. Olken had decided that a rainy, windy night in San Francisco called for comfort food and she baked a chicken to simple perfection, made a creamy mash of Yukon Gold potatoes, my new favorite for mash because they whip up so rich and creamy without a lot of added fat, and some fresh peas. I can’t remember the last time we had a meal as simple and simply and completely satisfying and so right for the day.

That’s the easy part. The tougher part came when Mrs. Olken then asked for some wine, and I went to the fridge to pull out the Knights Bridge Chardonnay that has just garnered a big rating (two stars/91 points) in the October issue of CGCW. I had resealed it last week after our second tasting of the wine and put the remnants in the fridge. When I pulled it out tonight, it was a bit oxidized, and I have learned over the years that I may be able to taste through minor flaws in wine and find their good sides but that my better half is less tolerant and expects more from her personal sommelier.

Well, there was no other chilled white in sight, but what I did have was a couple of bottles of very good Cabernet Sauvignon left over from our mid-day tasting. We do tend to pour out most of what we do not consume in tastings and typically give a couple of the better bottles to our neighbors. So, sitting on my counter tonight were Rubicon Red Wine 2008, Beaulieu Georges de Latour Private Reserve 2008 and Monticello Tietjen Cabernet 2008. As you have already guessed, the topic for today was Rutherford Cabernets, and they were delicious. Young, tough, deep and full of the potential for grandeur over time that has made the category so central to the fortunes of California wine.

The Rubicon, I knew, might be a bit on the big side, but it was also very special and how bad could it be to serve great wine with chicken—even when that great wine was too young, too tough, too much in need of cellaring? After all, we were going to drink it with something. And, besides, the Chardonnay had not held up for a week in the fridge, the magnum of Gloria Ferrer Brut that we had enjoyed the previous night had somehow not made its way back to the cool spot it deserved., and the red meat was nowhere to be seen.

I wish I could tell you that the match was a roaring success. It was not. The wine was, as expected, more than the chicken could stand. After a couple of tries at drinking them together, we simply abandoned that notion and consigned the Rubicon to the mashed Yukon Golds. I poured a little of Mrs. Olken’s pan gravy over the mash, a little salt and pepper for gusto and, lo and behold, a foil for the wine had emerged.

The bottom line for me is this. When the right wine, as my sense of pairing does not exist, go for the best alternative around. Maybe it was not perfect. Maybe some folks are reading this and wrinkling up their noses and muttering “there he goes again”. I can take it because no matter what else can be said, we got to drink damn good wine and enjoyed it. I am still not likely to try to partner one wine with everything from soup to nuts, but tonight, with a baked chicken and mash, a great wine was still a great wine.


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