Put Down the Sweet Stuff

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The most crappy thing I hear from women is that they are wine connoisseurs and when I ask what wines they drink, they answer Moscato.  I used to be into Moscato myself, but I would have never called myself a connoisseur at that time.  Hell, I used to drink jug wine too.  And I remember the days of white zinfandel as well as wine coolers.

Let’s be real, Americans are the biggest idiots when it comes to wine.  We are suckers for advertising, going by people with certain positions or titles, or by heeding the advice of other people whom we think is really up on things.  The more you question folks, the more you’ll realize that their amount of knowledge is so small and narrow that they pretty know about as much as a bum on the street.  Oh, and don’t be too quick to listen to people in the wine industry either.  There are a ton of people who are tasked with marketing and selling crappy product, and then there are the people who will always tout that what they have is the best from its country of origin. 

Sidebar: be wary of olive oils that say bottled in Italy as they usually come from someplace else.

If you think of wine like a color spectrum, sweet would be small sliver at one end of the spectrum and be probably no more than one hundredth of the width of the whole thing.  Like a holiday dinner, you should be sitting at the kiddie table with your tablemates drinking juice if this is the only thing you drink.  You don’t have to like red wines, and you don’t have to like dry wines [though damned near every wine is actually dry, especially Champagne], but don’t even try to come off as you have some wine game if you just drink the sweet stuff.  Oh, if you also have a sugar problem or a weight problem, that’s another reason to let it go.

Now, where do you go from there?  The answer is you start paring down the sweet and slowly transitioning to the heady.  It might take you a year, or even three, but if you do it, you’ll actually be happier at the end of the journey.  You’ll be able to pair different wines with different foods and get more of a savory experience out of each, both the wine and the food.  And to better understand wine, you’re really going to have to better understand food, especially seasonings, herbs and spices.

The one thing to first understand is that when man started to really refine the art of winemaking, wine was made in regards to being consumed with the foods that were being served.  And at the same time, recipes were being developed to make foods that went well with the wine.  To understand the disconnect in the Americas is to know that most of the wines that we drink originate from Eurasian wine grapes species (vitus vinafera) but in the Americas, the native grapes were/are strong and musky and really not suitable for making quality wine.  Nor tasty wine. 

In the United States, we had both a population that over time did not have access to wine and no major amount of wine grapes planted.  Many immigrants weren’t necessarily wine drinkers back home either.  And it is much easier to make beers and spirits than it is to make wine.  The man who would truly start to bring wine to the forefront in the US was Gallo – really the Gallo brothers – and his recipe was for a simple wine that he got right out of the library!  But this was the mass-produced schlock that people consumed eagerly, thinking that they were now a little more cosmopolitan and refined. 

If I focus on the African American experience, which is mine, then the first thing to understand is our culinary history, which was based on not only things that we ate in Africa, but also what we came up with based on the scraps we were given; soul food.  Now we know that soul food ain’t necessarily the best thing for us health-wise.  That’s the first thing to understand.  The second is to know that there is a world of food out there besides it.  And if I address the penchant for Chinese takeout, know that over in China, they are hungry as hell to learn about wine, and they are even buying up wineries in both the US and Europe.

My mother made some great meals, but weirdly her cooking got worse as she got older, but they were still limited in what we had.  Luckily, she did use more spices and different ones than the standard fare.  I am writing this, assuming that how you grew up was pretty much that same as mine.  Who remembers Spam?  I grew up drinking Kool-Aid – sometimes it having slices of fruit in it – juice and/or fruit flavored soda with my meals.

Now, you can pair some wines with certain soul food dishes, but what’s going to be more important are the spices used in them, as well as the sauces used on them.  If something has a darker feel to it, always go with red wine, or a good sparkling wine.  If something is lighter or more herbaceous, go with white [or a sparkling wine].  Fried chicken with a little kick to it might go great with Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Sangiovese.  But if it’s real spicy, a good Riesling (dry) or Gewürztraminer might be great too.

The thing to do is to start not only including more dishes in your repertoire, but to start pairing those dishes with wines which should complement them.  You could start by going with less sweeter wines and then slowly going with what are considered full-bodied red wines and then slowly trying ones with less body.

My first selection for you will be Pinot Gris, not Pinot Grigio.  Though they are the same grape, the style of making the wines differ, and with the former you get more tastes of peaches, pear, nectarine and apricot. 


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Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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