On pairings and the exultation of wine
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
It was most interesting several days ago when I got a call from someone I know
over at Perfect Palate New York (PPNY). As we were talking about my insistence
of marketing wine to a certain demographic, and how nothing is being done with
that target market, our conversation shifted somewhat to the wine tasting experience,
and how I see it as non-reflective of American cuisine.
Now, this is an interesting aspect to look at, because I have to start thinking
of all of the hoopla about pairings of wine with foods, especially on the foods
angle. I am so glad that Sam Adams runs a commercial about pairing foods with
different beers, because as the point out, “sometimes you just want a beer.”
This takes me back to looking at the fact that America is a melting pot, and part
of that melting pot is the combination of different cuisines and aspects of those
that bring more to the table, literally. Even in Italy, there has been a major
progression in the world of pizza because of the immigrants from other countries
that have added other ingredients to the dough that now give it something that
it never had before… and the customers are responding with glee.
And in America, as well as the rest of the world, isn’t it amazing that
we are always “discovering” something new that some other culture
has had for centuries? And in those cultures, what we have newly discovered is
just something that is so regular to them. I mean, what about the new salsa explosion?
This is something that they have been using as a basic condiment in Mexico for
centuries, and we only started to respect it after being exposed to when someone
else has introduced Southwestern cuisine.
It’s so much our ignorance, that people from other countries can come over
and literally make a killing out of serving us what they consider basic table
food in their own countries. In fact, is there much of a difference in the menus
between what many restaurants serve in Chinatown, and what you can get at the
neighborhood Chinese take-out? Okay, there is a difference on certain levels,
but isn’t it interesting that everything that you can get at the corner
spot, they carry at a major percentage of walk-in sit-down establishments?
If you were raised in a traditional Italian family, wouldn’t Sunday dinners
comprise much of what you could find in a middle to high end Italian restaurant?
Couldn’t the same thing be said of a Portuguese, Spanish (from Spain), Greek,
Brazilian or Chilean household? Isn’t some of the best food that you can
get some home-cooked cuisine? I mean, I would just kill for something made with
love, versus made to just get my money.
Now, after looking at that side, let’s look at the other facet of things,
and that is what we drink. I remember when people drank what they wanted with
their meals, whether it was iced tea, lemonade, Kool-Aid, or simply just plain
water, with or without ice.
It’s amazing when you go into a restaurant now, how the wine experience
has been integrated into the dining experience, that in many places you just can’t
get a regular house wine. Oh, I am not talking about the cheapest bottles that
they carry, but something that they made themselves, which in fact, probably rivals
some of the pricey bottles that you can find. You know, if you go into some other
country where wine is just a normal part of life, something that the owner, or
one of his relatives makes that he serves. It’ll come in a carafe, or some
small type of jug with a stopper that also is connected to the bottle by a cord.
And it was just poured in that container from some huge barrel out back or down
in the cellar [if not mounted in the bar].
I even remember that while I was at a nice Italian restaurant in South Philadelphia,
I was amazed and turned on by the basic Chianti that they served. It came in a
small jug bottle and was definitely a good sip. I even asked the bartender what
it was and actively searched out that bottle. Turns out I can get it in Jersey
for about five dollars.
Now bringing it all back together, let’s look at who is pushing pairings
besides people in the wine industry, and that’s people in the food industry,
most notably chefs. And these chefs have been brought up in a system that prides
itself on imbuing its disciples with a yen towards fine dining, which is based
upon what the “upper” class has deemed to be superb.
Let me tell you something, I have known chefs, dated chefs, and sampled their
wares. Executive chefs, pastry chefs, and chefs who have received training in
France; home of the Cordon Bleu. Gourmet food can be good, but if I am spending
so much money and I am still hungry, then something is the problem. In so much
that I am an American, that also means that my food experience is not one that
leans towards a predilection for haute cuisine, just as I don’t care for
haute couture either; I just love my Old Navy jeans, and the price, ooh la la.
And you would be surprised by what these chefs make for themselves on a regular
basis; it’s not that spectacular folks.
Where pairings undoubtedly fail [in America] is that they fail to pair their wines
with things that we eat everyday, and in the end, that fails the wine companies
because they ultimately want us to consume more of their quaff. They tend to try
to elevate wine to something that is so distinguished that it is not associated with
the average American. And for those that think that they are not the average American,
they can’t tell me that they don’t love a good piece of fried chicken,
a peach cobbler, or a slice of sweet potato pie. And that list of items, in the
inventory of American cuisine, goes on and on.
So, in my conversation with this PPNY person, I had him cracking up with laughter,
but also musing what I was saying. Sure, there were people that are going to look
at it with madness, but didn’t the world also look at Tesla that way in
his push for alternating current? Whereas we first were looking at the dilemma
of marketing and exposing the world of wine to my base demographic, this aspect
of my initiative cut across many lines, and more than anything else, it made sense!
How many times do we make a shrimp tort, quiche, or a mini-quiche at home? Oh
yes, it’s fine if someone else is making that, but are we as Americans,
so interested in preparing that ourselves. I mean, if we are Francophiles, or
get off on cooking, then maybe. Maybe to impress people at a dinner party also,
but I think that a mean slab of ribs with the right sauce will humble anyone outside
of a vegan, whether they are the CEO of a fortune 100 company, or the guy who
busses your table. In the end, these people are [all] people, and while you might
not spend most of your time in the same circles with them, you can all enjoy a
good laugh, a good cry, and/or a good yarn, side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder
at some venue of entertainment or at a shared somber moment.
And if you couldn’t do that, would you want to share of bottle of vino,
or lift a pint with them anyway? When I share some good beer, or wine with someone,
I like it to be someone that has an affinity for what tastes good, not what someone
else tells them tastes good.
Would I waste my good reserves on someone that fancies a bottle of Corbet Canyon
white zinfandel, who thinks that it’s such a fine production? Or the person
who likes to have a Corona with a splash of Grenadine? Well, I just might if they
are a good friend (and believe it or not, these are the choices of a couple friends
of mine), but if they continue to still “slum it” when quality can
be had for the same price or a few dollars more, then they have to bring their
own stuff from now on.
But you’re in luck, as I progress with this venture, I will challenge people
to give us pairings that work for us, Americans of every walk of life.