Advice on Food and Wine pairing: Just Relax

foodHere’s a great quote by Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer, from an article on December 7, 2010: “Good wines can take care of themselves if seated next to a food partner that’s the least bit sociable.”

He was writing about what appears to be a growing obsession, often fueled by a Search-for-the-Hole-Grail ardor, to create the perfect wine and food pairing. Sommeliers and wine lovers have gone to incredible lengths to match every possible nuance of a dish with an accompanying wine. It can get kinda ludicrous, as they concoct ever-more-bizarre combinations of ingredients and choose obscure wine varietals.

Well, I’m with Matt. Mind you, I too have thrown out more than my share of suggested pairings, because as a wine retailer I’m frequently asked the question, “Which wine should I buy to go with tonight’s blah blah?”  I also plan and host wine and food pairing dinners, where I wax eloquent about the unique and perfect compatibility of each pairing.

But when I go home at night, I don’t waste any time worrying about what I’m drinking with dinner. In fact, I follow a very predictable pattern: while I’m cooking, I’ll sip on a Chardonnay, hopefully well-balanced with just a bit of oak and a snappy finish. My spouse chooses a crisper white for the cooking session, usually a New Zealand style Sauv Blanc with enough acid to turn my mouth inside out.

When we sit down to eat, we always have a red on the table, even if we’re eating fish or something else I would counsel customers to avoid.

Why? Because we like it.

And because it’s our habit.

Yes, we’re all creatures of habit, because it’s just too darn much work to figure out complicated choices every night after work, when we just want to kick back and enjoy something reasonably good.

We all follow our established patterns until something comes along and bumps us off course. We might see one of those food shows on TV, where exciting and seductive hosts make food and wine seem so sexy. Naturally, we want to get in on the action, so we briefly get caught up in the Pairing Frenzy.

Or maybe we briefly lose our minds and decide to host a dinner party for people who frankly intimidate us with their sophistication and erudition. We’re scared into creating a five-star, gourmet wine and food extravaganza, and work very hard to pull it all off.

But sooner or later (usually sooner), we slip back into our habits. I reach for the cutting boards and the Chardonnay, and grab a Pinot Noir for our white fish. And you know what? It works just fine. We like it. Even if a Sommellier would turn up his nose at us.


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