Monday, February 17, 2014

So Many Wines, So Much Info

I love wine. I have been learning about wine for the last 24 years. When I met my current husband, I knew nothing about wine, and had just barely learned to tolerate dry reds. I have come a very long way since then. I am no "master sommelier," but I have absorbed a lot of knowledge over these years.

When someone asks me to teach them about wine, usually meaning in 25 words or less, I am stumped. There is just so much to know. This whole topic really hit home in the last couple of days, as I was re-creating my Wine and Food Pairing sheets. A couple of years ago, I had created a couple of sheets, trying to cram all the info I could find into these tiny boxes. They certainly help! Last year when I was asked to prepare foods specifically to pair with certain wines for a local Charity Wine Tasting Event, I went to those sheets, looked down the list of foods and created an appetizer using those specific things. The pairings were absolutely perfect. 

So, in advance of the event this year, my husband wants a few people to come over to our house and do a little trial run, so they know what it is all about. These are people who will be helping out at the event, so it is important they know how a correct food pairing can make such a difference with a wine. I selected 2 wines for this little mini-event; a Chateauneuf du Pape and a Chenin Blanc. The Chateauneuf specifically states it is "Grenache forward." A Chateauneuf du Pape is most often a mix of mainly three varietals; Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, often listed as "GSM." I went to my Wine and Food Pairing sheets and found that neither Grenache nor Chenin Blanc were among those listed! Obviously, I would have to redo / revise my sheets.

I have spent the last 2+ days hard at work on this endeavor. I separated the 2 sheets into five, putting less varietals per page, and adding in some new ones, like Grenache and Chenin Blanc!

One of my new and revised Wine and Food Pairing Sheets
But while working on these sheets, it hit home again just how difficult it is to really pinpoint anything. The list of possible flavors or aromas to detect in a wine could be ones in the French Style or in the US Style; utterly different. A Riesling's flavors an vary widely, for example. A German Riesling of good quality is hard to find in most places, but when you find one, it is a marvel. The balance of acid to sweet makes these wines just divine. Then, you may find a Riesling from California that is absolutely bone dry. Acidity to sweetness is really not an issue at all. The flavor profile is so completely different it is hard to compare. A Riesling from Australia is yet another story.

Sauvignon Blanc also has an array of styles. Sauvignon Blanc is the grape used in the Graves region of Bordeaux. The style is dry and crisp, but that does not begin to explain how another dry and crisp Sauvignon Blanc from California can be so totally different. Or how about Chardonnay? Chardonnay can be made in so many styles. Aside from Chardonnay from California or other states, and from Australia or New Zealand and who knows how many other places, the most amazing thing of all is what is done with Chardonnay in France. In France, Chardonnay is one of the white grapes of the Burgundy region. It is white Burgundy, to be sure, but then you have all these tiny little areas, all with their own specific "terroir," and all with their own unique flavor profile. Most are very dry, but some have the very precise flavors of its own tiny vineyard. Chalk plays heavily in the Chablis area. Others will have flavors like flint. Whether from the Cote d'Or, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Macon or Chablis, or even Champagne, each has a very distinct flavor profile, which in turn dictates the type of food that will pair well. All these little areas, and there are others besides these I mentioned, have their own way with Chardonnay. Positively amazing and mind-boggling. 

Anyone who has tasted California Chardonnays will realize that even here there are wide ranges of styles and flavor profiles in play. Some are round and buttery, while some are almost light and playful. Some are heavily oaked, some are aged, and the list goes on. To try and really make a comprehensive Wine and Food Pairing sheet to cover all these parameters would be completely prohibitive. So, I just lumped all the flavor profiles together, trusting that I know my wines well enough to pick out those that will work when I am trying to put together foods to pair. For now, my sheets are up to date. For now, I am planning to make a Green Pea, Feta and Mint Spread served on toasted No-Knead Bread, and some sort of mini tart including caramelized onion, goat cheese and possibly chicken to go with the Chenin Blanc. I am still a little up in the air on the red Chateauneuf du Pape, though probably flank steak will enter into the picture. I will keep things going and work on my recipes. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.