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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.

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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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11:17:56 AM