Dinner Pairing: Four Courses and Forty Wines
I am one of the few people I know who is not a self-described foodie. There are lots of foodies in this business. Don't get me wrong I like to eat, and I love wine pairing, and I can appreciate finer delicacies when they are laid out before me, but in my eating, my cooking, my dining out; a foodie I am admittedly not.
Perhaps my budgetary constraints are holding me back, along with my love of cheap and easy food (give me a crisp white and a thick cheese pizza and I'm in heaven). I also assume that my vegetarianism is partly responsible. There is plenty of excellent meat-free cuisine out there, but I don't often seek it out myself, and I most often find myself dining out with other members of the wine trade, and for some reason going without meat often makes these people grumpy.
A good example of my foodie-ism self-sabotage would this tasting-slash-dinner I attended a few nights ago. I only missed out on a couple of dishes, and was able to direct more of my attention towards the wine, and I did leave happy and full.
We arrived to a walk-around tasting with appetizers. A wide variety and huge number of wines forty or fifty were open for sampling at our leisure. The creamy goat cheese with watercress was excellent and was complimented wonderfully by the toasty notes and lively acidic backbone of the Duval Leroy Cuvee Paris (this Champagne is an absolute steal for $30) and also the Ipsum Rueda, a light and crisp white from Spain that features a floral nose and peachy fruit.
With a glass of 2007 Owen Roe Riesling in one hand and a glass of 2007 Psi in the other, I sat down to the salad course: squash risotto, tiny whole carrots with rosemary, beets with pistachios, and parsley with slices of something white that I might have guessed were small, raw potatoes. Our host identified this as sunflower root, in season and sourced locally. Cool. It was good, but light, and didn't get in the way of the riesling, showing the hints of green apple that might recall the Mosel, only drier with restrained acidity and a floral character. The Psi (that is the Greek symbol Psi) also went well with this course. It's a great value at a fraction of the price of other wines from Pingus. The 2007 is the inaugural vintage of this Ribera del Duero is delightful and modern-styled (you can read more about the project here and here.)
At this point a thought hit me: I don't understand why people get so wrapped up in pairing wine with food. There is no magic bullet to wine pairing; very rarely is there an absolutely perfect wine for a particular dish. I found myself at this tasting with all these different options, this great variety of styles and even of prices, and everything was pairing well. I think the key is to find wine you like, follow the basic pairing rules, avoid obvious conflicts in taste, and enjoy yourself.
As the main course was being carried out to our tables, I mentioned to the host that I don't eat meat. He looked worried. I told him that as long as there's bread, I'll be okay. He frowned.
Um, he said. We don't have bread.
I helped myself to the potatoes, and the creamy polenta, and both were delicious. I passed on the pork shoulder, and on the fish, which still had its head. Can somebody please tell me why people like that? It struck me that with this course and the salad course before it, my dinner consisted mainly of roots and tubers. It was my choice. Plus, it was free.
With this course, I tried the 2005 Torbreck Runrig, 2006 Flor de Pingus (in magnum!), the 2007 Psi again, the 2007 Camins del Priorat, the 2007 K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt, and many more, and many more. These wines are all excellent. The Camins especially is quite a bargain at under $20.
Dessert came in the form of apple cobbler with crème fraîche, and was delicious. I had two helpings. I was poured a 1968 Bual from producer d'Oliveira; I love the zipping acidity in this still young (!) Madeira the style is quickly becoming one of my favorites. We also tasted the Tannahill Passito, a rich honey-like dessert wine from Gewurztraminer. These are two distinctly different styles, Madiera and late-harvest gewurztraminer, but are both traditionally served with dessert. Both were great!
Dessert also came with the one thing guaranteed to make me smile: a good cup of coffee with just a little cream. If I am any kind of snob, if I have any foodie tendency at all, it is my love for good coffee. As I said before, by this time I was feeling happy and full. I reviewed my notes which were scribbled on the back of a Post-It with directions to the place, and then headed home.