Sunday, August 06, 2006

Perfect Match?

While Americans in general are becoming more knowledgable about wines and comfortable with their own preferences, I think the question of what wine to pair with specific foods continues to goose the insecurities in most wine consumers.

When I worked in a wine shop, the variations in these questions were endless. I always advised customers to think about matching the weight of the wine to the weight of the dish -- rich foods with rich wines and light foods with light-bodied wines. The big question is always how the food is prepared, what kind of sauce is used, not whether the meat is white or red. After finding the right group of wines, there's a lot of room for personal preference.

Part of the reason for all the insecurity is that many so-called experts insist on certain magical pairings. A lot of Americans probably assume that these codified pairings are logged somewhere and only those who've undergone rigorous training and learned the secret handshake can get access to them. Make an uninformed choice based on your own tastes? Might as well wear a scarlet "P" for philistine.

I got to thinking about all of this while trying to decide what wine to have with lamb chops on the grill last night. I have always had a special fondness for Beaucastel chateauneuf-du-pape with lamb chops, but I have found several other combinations much to my liking as well, like a spicy, earthy cab (as opposed to the fruit bomb variety) or any of the peppery southern Rhone reds.

Part of the reason for my preference is that I like my lamb done simply on the grill with plenty of cracked black pepper and rosemary. Like mint jelly with your lamb (not my cup of tea)? Then you probably want a shiraz or a cab with a little residual sweetness.

However, I decided it was time to break from my personal routine and see what others say about it these days. Some swear by red Bordeaux with roasted lamb and new world pinot noir with grilled lamb chops. Others frowned on the choice of new world reds or (my choice) southern Rhones with lamb. And, a local wine shop proprietor said red Burgundy is the "classic" pairing with lamb.

Since I have some red Burgundies aging in the basement, I decided to give this suggestion a whirl. I was sure red Burgundy has potential because most Burgundies I've tasted have plenty of complexity, and I like an earthy wine with the full taste of lamb. That's why I never seriously considered inexpensive, new world pinot noir with their strawberry bouquets.

I chose a '96 Daniel Rion Vosne Romanee Villages. The aromas of black fruit, leather and earth went extremely well with the lamb, each sophisticated yet soft and enjoyable. The wine had a vibrant, acidic finish that made me wish I was drinking premier cru or grand cru, but there was no denying that the primary flavors matched up very well together.

Was it a perfect match? Silly question. I believe there can be only favorite matches, since this is such a personal business. While I still personally love Beaucastel with lamb chops, I'll just have to keep trying different combinations to see if it's truly perfect for me. That's what wine appreciation really is, experience born of tasting, tasting and more tasting.


Blogger g58 said...

Nice experimentation.

When I think of lamb, mmmm... lamb chops... I'm always reaching for my most expensive red. That may tell you more about how often I prepare lamb than it does about a successful pairing but I'm convinced this formula works every time!

But you're right on about the weight/sauce thing. It's what I'm used to considering when I'm moving from the kitchen to the cellar.

12:45 PM  
Blogger gajvayner said...

I have been reading your blog for the past few weeks and have really taken an interest in what you have to say. I look forward to the new posts each time they come out. I am writing because I thought you might find some interest in this. A few days ago I stumbled upon this video blog and really enjoyed it and thought you and your readers would too. Keep up the great work!

2:10 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Thank you both for your comments. Golb, you could be right about the price point. Maybe that's why the Beaucastel works so well. Gaj, I'm headed to the video blog next!

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beaucastel...I could drink this with any red meat, especially the 89 or the 2001. I think I'll try this match tomorrow. Thanks for the suggestion!

9:53 PM  

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