My brother-in-law was over recently, relaxing on a fall Sunday in the easy chair by the basket of magazines. He read from an old Wine Spectator (M Chapoutier was on the cover, a saved gem). “It says here, don’t serve a special wine with Thanksgiving dinner.” We went on to chat about the value of pulling something from the cellar to serve with a multi-taste, multi-guest meal. And yes, there is the purist’s value to flawless pairings and well-chosen uncorkings. Agreed, I’d hate to waste a bottle of Clos de Mouches on a pumpkin pie all-spiced up to it’s ears…but…
I’m one of those people who thinks wine is fun. F-word application to wine. Fun.
Might be fun to serve a few special bottles and let the chips fall where they may. Might be fun to introduce my beer-only niece to the best bottle of wine she’s ever had (even if she’s got whipped cream on her upper lip). Who cares if gum-chewing neighbors drink the last glass from the bottle I suitcased back from Bourgogne. Did we have fun? Yes. Then there’s your pairing.
Of course, because I’m a wine-lover (hear my commitment?) there are lots of times when I don’t splash about glasses with abandon. Times with my husband in particular, evenings we spend perfecting the marriage of wine and food (these evenings perfect our marriage, too). But not always. My serving choices are not always respectable. I’ve opened a bottle too soon, or drank something precious when the group was already a couple bottles in. Drink wine at my place and you can expect anything from perfection to hot-mess and everything in between. The pairing is more situational, taken with a broad breath of the room and a decision to pour accordingly.
This, to me is beautiful. A confidence and zest that takes the corkscrew and opens up whatever feels right. If you’ve come this far in your relationship with wine (you are reading a wine blog, in your free time) you know what I mean. If you spend your money and time on collecting wine, then you’ve got a fire in your belly that says drink the stuff. Wine-lovers have an urge to share it, to pour and taste together. To chat and (oh yes we do) to take notes on what we’ve tasted. How is it with this cheese, this beef, these mussels? How was it last year, how will be it be on my daughter’s 21st birthday?
Can we look back on our lifetime of wine and recall moments when everything was just right? Truth is, those moments were never just right only because of the wine…they were just right because of what was paired with the wine. I’m using the term pairing to look back on these times broadly: Not just this bottle with this plate (a Montepulciano paired with thin and floury pizza covered in prosciutto, artichokes, mushrooms and pepper-spiced olive oil) but also this bottle with these people (my husband and dear friends) in this place (Santa Margherita on a chilly spring night, eating outdoors-in under a clear plastic canopy. The basketed Yorkie next to me ate fava beans. A dog, eating fava beans!). It was all those things and more. The waiter’s gentle lean-in to make sense of our accented Italian order. The not-worn-off delight of discovering our hotel for the night was perfect. The let’s-go excitement of being in the middle of a European trip. Hell of a pairing, if you ask me.
Or that rosé, eaten with nothing but a handful of salted almond and a heartful of Provençal sunshine. My husband was there too, his black and grey striped sock peeking out from his jeans. His leg was crossed over his knee and he took his time with his glass. Sipping then putting it down. Another sip, then down. It was only April but la piscine was open for the season.
And now I’m on a roll. I’m pairing this bottle with that memory and I’m planning this drink with this meal…and it hits me. The excitement of it. There is a next level, but it’s gotta come from the heart or it’s callous. Nobody likes I-told-you-so.
Last winter I was invited to a chef’s table at a local culinary institute. This was really gorgeous food (the meal started with consommé with butter poached lobster and fennel, ok, there’s a hint) and we had a wine professional examine the menu and make wine pairings for us. A group of eight to eat and drink. On this evening, the delight was in the exacting examination, the careful application of drink with menu. The building of a well-balanced and beautiful grid. Delicious.
It was cultivated, curated, unbeatable. We had world-class wines from Napa to Beaune and back. We were full, we were happy. We knew where the ingredients were sourced and who made the wine. But I don’t remember my husband’s socks, so I’ve found a hole in my memory. An excuse to think it over, to go back to that evening and pay attention again.
I’ll poke around my personal history of pairings, pulling up memories that make me proud (Thanksgiving 2014, NYE 2013) and memories that make me cringe (that 2011 Côtes-du-Rhône Villages I opened and didn’t finish after Halloween Party 2015). Winemakers do the same: what was it about harvest 2012 or bottling 2010? What did we do then that we want to encourage in the future? What do we wish never had our name on it?
Actually, pairing may be a misnomer because it implies two things together. Two simple things becoming one. But with wine there is multiplicity, deep layers, complexity. Even in each sip we magnify many tiny elements that make a mouthful, then we magnify all the mouthfuls that make a bottleful. And so on, until we have a set of qualities that represent something big, such as harvest 2012 or Thanksgiving 2014.
When you pour your glasses this holiday season, magnify the fun, make some memories. Make mistakes and take risks. And invite me to the party.
This post is in the running for The Drunken Cyclist’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. If you liked it, you can vote beginning December 8th. #MWWC21